How to End Poverty

21 Mar

Can it really be as simple as Australian author Peter Singer suggests in a new book called The Life you Can Save? As the review of this book in a recent issue of the Toronto Star pointed out, books about how to end poverty — the most well known probably being Jeffrey Sach’s The End of Poverty — are tempting to write. They are also tempting to believe in. Yet I find that most of the ones I’ve read continue to put the question in terms of what the non-poor can do to save the poor. Singer, for example, says the extra cash we more fortunate people spend on a Starbuck’s coffee or yet another pair of shoes could, and should, be donated. I find it strange, meanwhile, that looking at what the poor are doing to try and end poverty themselves is so rarely talked about. 

Certainly it is a complicated question, and perhaps one of the complications is political. The grassroots social movements that really do attempt to end poverty are also raising the issue of rights. In Brazil, the landless peasant movement, the MST, is  overtly anti-capitalist, taking land from those who have a lot and don’t use it for anything through occupations, and dividing it up among the rural poor so that they can make a living. The Movement of People Affected by Dams, or MAB, has a similar politics, as does the SPI in Indonesia. What these organizations do is go to the root of their members’ poverty. They are poor because they don’t have land to farm, can never afford to buy it and cannot find jobs that will pay them enough to live decently. Some have had their land or homes taken away from them for dams, airports or big corporate projects, like plantations. Across the global south, the poor squat on unused land in urban areas so that they have some shelter while they work at low-paying jobs or run small businesses, raising their families, going to school and buying their food in these slums, which in many countires can be larger than the ‘normal’ part of the city itself. So addressing that huge imblanace should be obvious — but of course it’s not. It challenges some of the main underpinnngs of the system we live in. Poverty is caused by capitalism, not consumerism.

So is it possible for us to support those grassroots social movements that attack the root causes of poverty? That take on the imbalance by taking land, for example? I don’t see why not. Most of the social movements already get donations from charities and NGOs. These help them organize and in the case of the Indian Alliance in Mumbai, provide loans or grants that help pay for building new housing.

So the important thing is to educate yourself about poverty, and that may mean something as simple as educating yourself about the poor people who have found a way to fight against it.

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One Response to “How to End Poverty”

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  1. Topics about Airplanes » Archive » How to End Poverty - March 21, 2009

    […] Global Kiosk placed an interesting blog post on How to End PovertyHere’s a brief overviewCan it really be as simple as Australian author Peter Singer suggests in a new book called The Life you Can Save? As the review of this book in a recent issue of the Toronto Star pointed out, books about how to end poverty — the most well known probably being Jeffrey Sach’s The End of Poverty — are tempting to write. They are also tempting to believe in. Yet I find that most of the ones I’ve read continue to put the question in terms of what the non-poor can do to save the poor. Singer, for ex […]

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