Poverty and Growth – Believing two contradictory facts at the same time!

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There is an interesting conundrum facing us, created by our human capacity to believe in two contradictory facts at the same time.   And what do I mean by that statement?

On the one hand…

In the recent Report on the progress of the Millennium Development Goals at the end of their first 15 years, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon stated the “Millennium Development Goals have produced the most successful anti-poverty movement in history.   The landmark commitment entered into by world leaders in 2000 to ‘spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty’ has helped to lift more than one billion people out of extreme poverty, made inroads against hunger, enabled more girls to attend school than ever before and protected our planet”.   (The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015).  He is right to celebrate the achievements.

However, inequalities persist and progress has been uneven.  The world’s poor remain overwhelmingly concentrated in some parts of the world.  In 2011, nearly 60% of the world’s one billion extremely poor people lived in just five countries.  Too many women continue to die in pregnancy or from childbirth related complications.  Progress tends to bypass women and those who are lowest on the economic ladder or are disadvantaged because of their age, disability or ethnicity.  Disparities between rural and urban areas remain pronounced.

On the other hand…

The movement towards continued, unfettered, unregulated growth as the way we will lift countries and people out of poverty through a trickle-down effect is known and recognised as being false and unsustainable.  The rich are richer and the poor are poorer.  Unchecked, rampant greed, unrestricted consumption, and the demand for the newest, latest, brand continues to ensure we have millions of people involved in human trafficking and slavery to deliver our latest goods at cheap prices so they can be thrown away and we can start again.

Human trafficking and slavery is the world’s fastest growing global crime and is one of the largest sources of income for organised crime. The profits are high (est. over $150bn in 2014 in one year alone) and the risks are low.  It is a system based on greed, control, violence and power. It is a system based on having no value on human life.  It is a crime against humanity and it is one we contribute to with our demand for access to unchecked movement of capital around the world that is not transparent or accountable and similarly with our investments, superannuation funds, our insurances and our banking systems which all contribute to our consumption.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are supposed to help trade, but in reality they have everything to do with power and enhancing the power of the corporations and reducing the authority of parliaments and the rule of law.  Banks and corporations are breaking down any barriers to greed and consumption in secret to ensure the top 1% profit while the remaining 99% are kept at a distance.   The movement of capital and trade to benefit the wealthy ensures slave labour is entrenched and accepted.

The notion of ‘manna and mercy’, where those with little or nothing are given enough, and those with too much have a little less is, you would think, a logical, helpful way of thinking about how we might help those out of poverty and for those with obscene wealth make do with a little less and not even notice it.   Yet our capacity to believe in two contradictory concepts, that is, reduce poverty through unsustainable growth appears a great deal easier to believe than the concept of making do with less and being a little more generous.  Learning to live less greedily in God’s creation is barely making a mark on our leaders’ thinking here in Australia, let alone in the rest of the world.

No wonder Jesus had such a tough time of it as he spoke about wealth and pointed out the inherent contradictions of what was happening around him. He was eventually killed for it.  Not a lot has changed in the responses among those with wealth and power.

Research has also shown that providing women with an education and access to better health shifts whole countries out of poverty.  Invest in a woman and you invest in her and her children and the generations to come; invest in a man, and that’s as far as it goes.  The working principles of the Grameen Bank have proved this beyond doubt.

However, we still appear surprised to find women still face discrimination in private and public decision-making.  Women are more likely to live in poverty than men.  About three quarters of working age men participate in the labour force compared to only half of working-age women.  Women earn 24% less than men globally.  In 85% of the 92 countries with data on unemployment rates by level of education for 2012-2013, women with advanced education have higher rates of unemployment than men with similar levels.  Even today about 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger and this burden is born predominantly by women.  Their suffering from violence, oppression and discrimination means our journey towards a fairer society still has a long way to go in our country and around the world.

I guess it’s easier to believe in two contradictory ‘facts’ than it is to believe in a better world.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Helen Salter says:

    Lucy, thank you for setting out so clearly the falseness of the growth imperative. For 40 years now, the “first world” has been following this illogical path including the accompanying TINA mantra. It has improved the lot of the 1per cent with little trickling down to the 99 per cent. It is time for a swing of the pendulum in the other direction.

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