Poverty: the state or condition of having little to no money, goods, or means of support; the condition of being poor. A dictionary definition of the word “poverty” compared to actually seeing or experiencing “poverty” are two very radical differences. What does poverty mean versus what is poverty? Being a rich nation, our country is fortunate enough to not have to recognize the real severity of what poverty really is and therefore normally turn a blind eye to it. We assume that everyone is able to drink clean water; we assume that everyone is given education; we assume that everyone is allowed medical treatment and regular healthcare. This is the epitome of what the rich nations take for granted as these ideals are common, everyday occurrences for us. We do not recognize that we are the very few allowed these luxuries and yet we consistently complain about not having a water bottle readily available, or getting a low grade on a test, or the doctor that takes forever to get into your room. We complain about how our houses don’t have granite counter tops, or that are cars don’t go fast enough or don’t have enough features, or even the temperature of our five dollar lattes from Starbucks. We, not just the United States, but we as Planet Earth, need to take a few steps back and recognize the substantial problems that are festering in our society. Words do not and cannot describe what some low income countries have to face on a daily basis while rich countries do nothing except take advantage of the necessities needed to sustain life.
Let us start with some basic facts. These statements are taken directly from the website Global Issues (www.globalissues.org/issue/2/causes-of-poverty).
- The poorest 40% of the world’s population accounts for 5% of the global income. The richest 20% of the population accounts for 75% of the world’s income.
Take a second to digest that: this is saying that not only is the global income so severely skewed, but that only 20% of the population get to indulge in the benefits of wealth. That leaves 25%, only a quarter of the global income, to be distributed to the remaining 80% of the rest of the global population.
- A mere 12% of the world’s population uses 85% of the global water supply, and these 12% do NOT live in the Third World.
Not only are the vast majority of people not getting a regular usage of the world’s water supply, but a minimal amount of the population are using so much water supply that it cannot be equally distributed throughout the world. Water covers approximately 71% of the Earth’s surface, and countries cannot seem to get clean or fresh water to drink on a regular basis.
- For every one dollar in aid a developing country receives, over twenty five dollars is spent on debt repayment. The poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are being extracted directly from people who neither contracted the loans, nor received any of the money.
Sadly, this is seen more frequently than not in most countries that receive aid. Political corruption and unfair bias enable leaders and high power authorities to take advantage of the money instead of distributing it amongst the nation. Not only would the nation be able to use the money for good uses, such as being able to provide food and adequate shelter, but could possibly lead to technological advances that would be able to provide things like water sanitation, proper equipment for harvesting crops, and production of building supplies for structures such as houses and schools. Yet, the country, not the individuals who took the money, is responsible for the repayment of the aid, and therefore ends up paying out more than provided over the course of time, only contributing more and more to the already abysmal economy and lack of resources
Those are harsh realities of what poorer nations must go through on a normal, everyday basis. Not knowing where their next meal is coming from is a daily concern for them whereas we contemplate where we’ll be going for lunch with our co-workers. How is it though that the poorer nations continuously get poorer and the rich nations seemingly only get richer? What are the rich nations doing differently that the poorer nations cannot take advantage of? A large portion of how this question can be answered lies within the hands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. These two institutions have led to severe inequality of how rich and poor nations are able to function. By implementing Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) in a neoliberal economic ideology, the IMF and World Bank ensures that debt repayment and economic restructuring are made a priority for those who are providing aid. Thus, instead of poorer countries using aid for things like health, education or development, they must focus on how they are going to use the money to make repayment and adhere to the economic policies the IMF and World Bank enforce. For example (these are also taken directly from the website Global Issues (www.globalissues.org/issue/2/causes-of-poverty):
- The IMF and World Bank requires that liberalization of the economy and extraction and exporting of goods is a top priority in order to provide aid. However, poorer countries are not experienced enough to be forced into the global marketplace. Not only must they export MORE in order to make debt repayments in a timely manner, but also forces poorer regions to export goods at an even cheaper price, thus creating nothing but inefficiency of time and money loss.
- The IMF and World Bank require that nations receiving aid devalue their currency, increase interest rates, allow for “flexibility” of the labor market, and elimination of subsidies, like food subsidies.
- The IMF and World Bank require that the government spend less, reduce consumption, and remove or decrease financial regulations, but over time this ends up causing the value of labor to decrease, volatile capital flows, and social unrest.
These examples and facts simply do not include the extreme inequality that is so prominent in today’s society. We see it every day; a wealthy, clean cut man dining at one of the finest restaurants during business hours to discuss business proposals with other members in order to capitalize on gains in profits; a destitute, homeless man that is dirty from head to toe, sitting on the corner of the street with a sign begging for spare change from passing drivers. However the amount that we see is absolutely miniscule compared to the depths of inequality that poorer nations experience on a more normal basis. We experience very surface level variances of inequality, meaning that we all have some degree of inequality, but it is not to the same extent like political leaders hoarding loads of money for themselves, while their country’s people by the millions sleeping on barren ground under a shanty homemade shack, huddling together to provide some type of warmth in order to prevent hypothermia. Some of these people live on barely ONE DOLLAR A DAY, while corrupt leaders are using hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, on personal expenses and outward appearances. It is sickening to know that there is one child dying every 4 seconds, totaling to approximately 7.6 million children dying a year from poverty. On a study done in 1997, less than one percent of what the world spent on weapons alone could be used to put every single child into school by the year 2000, however it didn’t happen. In three short years, the global income could have funded for every child to get an education, a chance to change and better the economy for the future, yet weapons was seemingly more important. Are we so unjust that we cannot provide for our future?
The million dollar question is: who is to blame? Is it individuals, the people of the world that are too greedy or too ill-equipped to stand up and do something positive and meaningful for the establishment for equality for all? Or is it society, the massive forces of power in each nation that either move you into extreme and unnecessary wealth or expansive condemnation of poverty? My answer is simple. It’s neither individuals nor society separately, but a combination of both. Society does not exist without the presence of people and the interaction that is created between nations and cultures. Humans have a tendency to point fingers and blame everyone but themselves, but we need to stand up together as a global society and own up to our mistakes and face the harsh consequences. Instead of dwelling on what happened in the past, we need to learn from it and figure out why poverty is so prominent today, and what we are going to do to fix it. Rich nations need to let up; there is no way that only 20% of the population needs three quarters of the global income. Distribute the wealth and bring an end to extreme capitalism. Make use of all resources, including labor and commodity goods. Let us use our sophisticated technological advances in order to make less complicated, more efficient products for lower income nations. Waste nothing- make use of every scrap we can! Blame no one, and have the courage to step forward and fix our problems. We only get one Earth, one life, one chance. It is time to better our world for us now, and for our future.
Shah, Anup. “Causes of Poverty.” Global Issues. 24 Sep. 2011. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. <http://www.globalissues.org/issue/2/causes-of-poverty>.
“poverty.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 04 Nov. 2011. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/poverty>.