Acton Institute Powerblog

Peter Heslam on wealth creation among the global poor

Throughout our debates about global poverty and economic inequality, critics of capitalism routinely raise the point that half of the world’s population live on less than $2 per day, while wealth among the other half continues to “concentrate.”

The underlying assumption is clear: For so many to be making so little, someone (somewhere) must surely be taking much.

Yet given that such a statistic actually represents a high-water mark in human history for all people — rich and poor alike — we’d do well to reject the zero-sum mythologies of the day and adjust our perspective around the more positive reality of ever-expanding economic growth and global trade. Opportunities for growth and increased economic opportunity are more available than we tend to think.

“That statistic ought to raise the question in our minds,” explains Peter Heslam in the following excerpt from the PovertyCure series. “What happened to the other half? How did they get to be there? The real question about poverty is the question of wealth.”

Markets are simply channels for creativity and contribution, and the more the global poor become integrated and connected to those channels — whether through improvements in economic freedom or expanding supply chains and global trade — the more we see increased participation and economic prosperity across the globe.

As we reflect on such statistics, then, we needn’t lump this or that “half” of this or that economic grouping in static categories. Indeed, as Heslam points out, many of the world’s poorest are already right in the middle of a journey toward economic abundance.

There is such a thing as an honest day’s work. If we’re talking about the poor, business for them is the most natural thing.

They’re off to sell their goods in the local market and they’re working hard and they’re taking risks and they’re thinking about the future, and they’re doing all the things that an entrepreneur has to to do. It’s the ability to provide for their loved ones, and that is going to include, in one way or another, wealth-generating exercises. They’re not going to get it any other way. These are harsh environments.

We need to make a distinction in our minds between what’s wrong about capitalism and what’s right about capitalism. What lifts the poor is the creation of wealth and the empowerment and the dignity and the self-reliance that comes from that.

If we truly hope to decrease global poverty, it won’t happen by pretending we’re inevitably trapped in a zero-sum struggle between winners and losers, and it won’t happen by viewing or treating others only according to their current constraints or daily budgets.

Rather than creating imaginary wedges between the rich and poor, fighting over select pieces of the proverbial “economic pie,” we can shift our focus on making sure there’s access to the pond. Rather than pretending that opportunity inevitably belongs to the few, and shifting around our resources accordingly, we can focus on creating, innovating, and collaborating with our neighbors, working to expand economic freedom and invite others into circles of exchange.

We can focus on expanding opportunities for wealth creation through increased partnership, sharing in the economic abundance and creativity that’s available for all through enterprise, entrepreneurship and basic trade and exchange.

Learn more about PovertyCure here.

Joseph Sunde

is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.