Efforts to lift people out of poverty and the worst kinds of harship on the planet are entirely noble and should be supported more. Education, empowerment and helping people to become self sufficient is important and valuable – I would never suggest otherwise.
Do you feel a ‘but’ coming? Well there isn’t one. There is a ‘however’ however..
The basic problem is that these are good people (I am assuming) and groups engaged in actively trying to do genuinely noble, positive and much needed work to help others lift themselves out of suffering at the sharpest, roughest, darkest end of life in our capitalist money-driven world. They are good people fighting an un-winnable fight – at least on the game board upon which they are playing.
The issue here is that their work is – in essence – a ‘band aid’ measure, one that does nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem – capitalism. In fact I would go further to say money itself.
The answer to poverty is not more money. As counterintuitive as it sounds, the answer is to get rid of money entirely. The system – however you rig it – is always going to be skewed by the innate quality of capital to attract more capital. If you hit the reset button it would only be a matter of time before the same situation arose again.
For example, providing aid to countries in times of disaster is a wonderful thing to do and saves millions of lives. The fact that quite a few of the ‘disasters’ that happen would never have become disasters in the first place if these people had been given the support they needed to develop their own resiliency is never really talked about much.
Sending foreign aid to developing nations doesn’t address why these places are poor in the first place. Who is profiting from their resources? Why don’t they have stable political and judicial systems? Why can’t they trade fairly in the global market? Who’s exploiting them? Whose keeping these countries poor? Every situation is different but you follow the roots back far enough the stories all start to look a bit familiar I think.
If all the money in the world was divided equally, each person would get under USD10,000 (some say under six) – either way it doesn’t really matter as before long inequality will arise again. Money simply attracts more money. Capital gives you something to leverage to make more of it and debt is even better. The more debt you own the more money you create and the more debt is created and on it goes. If you are the wealthy then you never really have to even pay it. (For more on this, take a look at the Money As Debt documentary).
Expressed in (admittedly simple terms), this is how it works. For an example just look outside at the window at the world you live in. It’s not an accident things are this way, that’s how it’s ‘supposed’ to work. That is also why the wealthy and powerful (same people?) wish to preserve the status quo, it works to their benefit.
Personally I think the kinda crazy bit is when people believe strongly that their wealth is a sign of their superiority, and hence that they are somehow entitled and deserving of their elevated status. To be rich is the same as to be successful and vice versa. (This is often Americans for a variety of cultural reasons – the USA is culturally a meritocracy in that sense). The fact that this belief ignores who is actually paying for them to have the conditions they enjoy to become wealthy in the first place is neither here nor there apparently. But anyway, back to poverty.
It seems sensible that to cure’ poverty you must throw money at it. Poverty is a lack of money after all isn’t it? The fact is however that it’s somewhere around this point where most people’s thinking seems grind to a halt. They say to themselves that this is the way things are, the nature of economies etc and move on. What they don’t seem to do is take it to the next step and ask if it actually needs to be that way and (more importantly) is this really the end result we desire?
Most of us can see the problems, and how pervasive they are if we are interested enough to look. The sticking point just seems to be that most of us are too conditioned by the present way of doing things that it never occurs to us to challenge the idea of money and that if we do it seems too ‘far out’, too radical. But why is it so radical really?
We talk of all kinds of tweaks to the macro economic models, more and more complicated engineering of an imaginary system to try and make something that is inherently unequal – more equal. Then when it doesn’t change anything in any meaningful way, we wonder why it’s not really working very well.
The simple question of how to build a better system that does not have oppressive inequality built into it doesn’t even seem to get raised.
I suspect that it’s something that if you bring up in public you’d be shouted down as a lunatic radical communist etc and called much much worse, but that in itself is an interesting point. There are many of people who can point to what is broken about the system and what they think should be done to tweak it so that it’s better – but hardly anyone ever challenges the basic premise of a monetary systems itself. But why? The flaws are so obvious and becoming only more and more alarming.
Nobody – not even the most intelligent and respected economists in the world – have yet put forward a credible sustainable, macro economic model that reconciles the desire for infinite growth in a universe with finite resources. More peculiarly even than that is that no one has called them on it. This cannot last but no reasonable alternative is put forward. Whether you agree with my political views or not, that is a pretty big question that needs an answer don’t you think?
When “the richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth” you know something is broken, don’t you? Poverty is a dramatic and epic problem that requires equally dramatic and epic solutions in my opinion.
You really want to end poverty? Advocate a sustainable society without money. Get rid of it entirely. We don’t actually need it. As hard as it may be to imagine a world without it, it’s actually where we started and ultimately where we’re heading (I believe). From a galactic civilisation sort of timescale perspective it’s just a phase we’re going through. Soon we’ll realise that it is more hassle than it’s worth, a pointless illusion and just move away from it towards something that doesn’t require us to maintain an elaborate and confusing communal fiction.
The majority of the developing world and striking percentage of the developed world live in unnecessary hardship. This hardship is all too real, but it root causes are imaginary. Food is grown, water, energy and shelter are produced but there is a barrier that we invent to prevent people getting it, something they must give in return.
Manu of these people in fact grow food themselves but struggle because they are obliged to participate in capitalism. Some of them starve as a result of speculation on food futures in the commodity markets while grain or other necessities for food production sit in warehouses, are left to spoil or are sent somewhere where they are perhaps less needed. [More on this in future posts].
I recently heard that the 40-50% of the food in the USA is discarded as waste (depending on whether you measure it at point of production or consumption). Half. Meanwhile everyone talks about population being the problem. I’m not sure that it is.. not at the moment anyway. There is a number that is too much.. absolutely no doubt. The truth is that we probably aren’t there yet but it’s going to be very hard to tell one way or the other because our problems aren’t actually how many of us there are, it’s the way we run things.. The way we live, the way we share (or don’t) the resources we have and the methods by which we apportion them. The drive to produce more than we need, to extract and trade for the sake of itself – the pressure to think short term; one election cycle, one financial quarter, one human life at a time – all for the sake of profit.
Remove these sorts of incentives and greed (if and where it exists at all) takes a completely different shape. Security isn’t produced by having more money in the bank, it’s about having strong communities, sustainable, reliable access to food, water and shelter. Opportunities to pursue meaningful activity, find love etc. All these things are free at the point of production. We all know that money wont keep you dry in a storm, wont fill your belly unless there’s something to buy with it, and won’t provide you directly with any of the other things in life that we all truly value. The purpose of it as an intermediary device for attaining these things however is also – as it turns out – ineffective for the vast majority of people and, most of all, completely unnecessary.
Poverty is a huge global problem, but I can’t see how you can get rid of poverty and still keep money. You can push the problem around, move it, but you cant ‘solve’ it without changing the system because the basic rules are that for one to have more, another somewhere must definitively have less. If we could reset the clock, wipe global debt and all have the same, then we wouldn’t really need money anyway would we?
Strip the problem right back. What do we actually need?
Do we need governments? Do we need money or is there a better way for us to get what we all really want anyway? What do you think?