More on addressing poverty

I’m going to write more about this issue of poverty because I want to explain why I’ve experienced a change in thinking. And really, my thoughts are still evolving on the subject.
In this post, written when I was living in Berlin, I thought that international aid should be limited because it only contributes to the problem. While I still feel that way in some ways, my views have changed. I believe I was limited in my thought at that point because I had never seen true poverty. And since it’s in my face every day here, of course I can’t help but think about it more.
I still am not converted to the idea that anyone in America is really “poor.”
For example, In 2007, 46% of poor households in the US owned their own homes, 30% had two or more cars, and 63% received cable or satellite TV. What’s more, education in the US is free; clean water is free; welfare stamps are available. Opportunity knocks for people to rise above their situation. I just can’t be as passionate about the poor in the US. Heck, I don’t own a home, a car, or get cable.home
Furthermore it is often pointed out that the poor in the US often can’t “even” afford to own a home. I don’t believe owning a home is a right or even a necessity. In Europe a significant number of people rent, not own their homes.
Reasons why I have changed my mind on international aid

bill gates 
It started when I read that Bill Gates congratulated Obama on the fact that we were continuing our international aid even as we experienced economic problems.

I really admire Bill Gates. One, he’s a genius and an entrepreneur and one of the richest men in the world. Two, he uses his wealth as one of the most philanthropic men who ever lived. Three, he votes about equally Republican and Democrat and I admire people who can see both sides of the political question.

                                          elephant  donkey

I still think while the ideal would be for there to be an NGO to address every need of each impoverished nation in the world because they would run more efficiently and be able to focus more specifically on problems…right now that is not an option. The problem of global poverty as I can see it is much too big for the number of NGOs that currently exist and the financial support they receive.
Besides the overwhelming nature of the problem, the American government has the power to pressure other governments and to legislate and to dictate our foreign policy in a way that no NGO could.
In my last post I asked a question.

question mark
“Why aren’t there politicians addressing the questions that really matter?”

In its wake I am forced to question if these issues are not at the forefront of political discussion because American politicians would prefer them to be hidden.

Exploring more causes of poverty…

Government corruption and ignorance
I used to have an awfully romantic view of the American government. Not the politicians themselves, but the way the process is set up. But any amount of research will show you that while we often provide a lot of support, money, education, what have you around the world, our policies in dealing with other countries often cause a lot of violence and corruption. It is our ignorance as Americans that allows these practices to continue as politicians and business dealers privately wheel and deal and pay people off. If we want to make a purchase of something, let’s be aware of what price it comes at. For example:

Oil
oil 

Many countries that are rich in oil, gas and other minerals are nonetheless mired in poverty and poor government because the public revenues earned from selling these resources have been squandered through corruption and lack of government accountability to citizens.
Citizens of resource-rich countries cannot hold their governments to account, and ensure that mineral resources are used in a fair and sustainable way, unless they have full information about the management of these resources.
(Source: an interesting-looking NGO called Global Witness.)
Possible solution: Minimum standards in governance, transparency and human rights that must be fulfilled before approving oil, gas and mining projects in institutionally weak countries.

Diamonds
bride and groom 
The practice of having to purchase a diamond ring when getting married never used to bother me. It’s just one of those cultural things that you take for granted. Of course, you get a diamond ring when you get married. So what…you have to go into debt to buy it. So what…when you get married you probably are going to be relatively poor and young. So what…it would probably be better to invest in your 401k than a diamond. So what…come to think of it, you don’t even like diamonds. Oh well, you will probably get one. Everybody does it.

Diamond rings are one of the most fantastically successful advertisement campaigns ever created. No other country insists on this practice. Here in India, married women put red chalk in their hair. Now that sounds like that would be tiresome to have to do that constantly, but the point is, diamond rings are cultural—Not a sign of love.

.Indian_woman
Diamonds are the cause of some of the bloodiest African conflicts. They have caused civil wars. They have resulted in the death and displacement of millions of people. That fact seems to be ignored, because, I mean, if you LOVE her you’ll buy her a BIG one! I’m going to post a picture of my beautiful ring on Facebook that only cost $2000 (plus 5 African lives).

diamond ring
I have a diamond ring, but honestly if I knew all of this at the time I probably would have insisted on an alternative. I don’t mean to be scathing. I think that people just honestly aren’t informed about the history of diamond rings.
Possible solution: Buy her a mutual fund. Okay, so that’s not romantic. Not all diamonds are blood diamonds. Do your research. Buy conflict-free or cultured (fake) diamonds. These are certified and traceable to be blood-free. Supposedly.
Drugs
The drug war is the cause of fighting all over the world. There is money in drugs. There will always be money in drugs. There is scarcity because they are illegal which increases demand.illegal-drugs2
Possible solution: Legalizing illegal drugs, regulating and taxing them. I honestly don’t know if that is the solution. I haven’t researched it enough. But right now a majority of the residents of our jails are in there for drugs. I feel like that is a huge cost to our economy and if they were legalized the trade would actually go down. It is a huge loss of revenue right now.
And if they were legal perhaps violence would abate…I would be interested in any opinions out there to influence me. For example how well has legalizing drugs worked out for the Netherlands?
Loans
Credit companies have been known to lend to Africa and other impoverished places knowing they would not be paid back, increasing the debt of both countries substantially.
Possible solution: Regulating more tightly international loans. Comprehensive debt relief should only be granted to countries that have demonstrated a basic commitment to good governance and tackling corruption.

Solutions to Poverty
I believe it comes down to education. A good education will make people more employable, develop skills, and bring power to the individual. Education of Americans in their actions in relation to the rest of the world will prevent them from acting contrary to their principles.

book open 

Currently, nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. We could use our vast resources by creating literacy programs and schools in these countries.

door   
Transparency in government. The media needs to dig into these deals that are going on behind closed doors and bring them to light. Politicians need to be held accountable for what sort of transactions are taking place behind closed doors.

A change in US foreign policy. Poverty in other countries is not at the forefront of our foreign policy. I think it’s more like “might is right”. We’ve got military stations all over the world. We do huge arms deals. We glorify war. We glorify our soldiers.

army

I know to some this is a treasonous idea. But perhaps if there was not glory in war less of it would occur.
A change in US budget priorities. Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000. Of course that didn’t happen.
The 2009 U.S. military budget is almost as much as the rest of the world’s defense spending combined and is over nine times larger than the military budget of China.
That makes me sick.
A change in the US media priorities. When have you ever seen in the national media that the policies of our countries could actually be the cause of the equivalent of a Haiti earthquake in the form of poor people’s deaths every 9 days?

haiti

Why does the kidnapping of one rich American news make the news for a week, but the death of I don’t know how many children every second in sub-Saharan Africa rarely if ever make the headlines?
Why isn’t it talked about that the global financial crisis, caused by rich countries, will cause an additional death count of 200,000 to 400,000 children in poor countries?
Why is this not talked about?
I want an answer…
I think that one answer might be that the US has to be primarily concerned with their own interests. But I see country lines as arbitrary distinctions. They didn’t always exist and they will change over time. Humanity can’t be divided by country lines.
I’m afraid that the answer is that if you are poor you don’t matter…at least not in the eyes of the United States. I’m afraid we believe that the life of one rich white American teenager is far more significant than the lives of 20 million uneducated, unrepresented, impoverished black children.
I have hope that this can change.

In an upcoming post I hope to delve deeper into American foreign policy and the reasons we choose to invade other countries.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 366 awesome articles for us.

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