Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Western Affluence: At the Expense of the Impoverished?

This is less of an argument and more of a discussion... For a long time, I always assumed that our affluence in the "West" came at the expense of those in less fortunate circumstances: cheap labour for cheap goods, etc.

Right now I am reading two books:
- A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark, which examines the state of the world prior to 1800. Basically, up until the Industrial Revolution, the world was stuck in the "Malthusian Trap," meaning there was no gain to real incomes, since any increase in production was offset by an increase in population. He then examines the causes of the Industrial Revolution, and goes on to describe why some nations are affluent and others are impoverished.
- The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, which discusses the factors causing extreme poverty, and what we can do about it.

These books may seem different, but they actually cover very similar material. Ironically enough, I had put down A Farewell to Alms last night (since it has many graphs and formulas and I wasn't in that head space) and picked up The End of Poverty, and it was discussing the factors and implications of the Industrial Revolution.

Anyway... all of this is helping me to start seeing poverty in a new way. Sachs, who I would originally assumed would have thought opposite, said explicitly that poverty in underdeveloped nations is not a result of the exploitation by affluent nations.

And, you'll have to bear with my reasoning here... Clark attributes "modern growth" to an increase in innovation... now, theoretically, if there are more countries contributing to innovative ideas and processes, that will simply increase production for everyone!

This is all just food for thought... Any other thoughts out there?

Monday, July 07, 2008

The End of Poverty

"The destinies of the 'haves' are intrinsically linked to the fates of the 'have-nothing-at-alls'." - Bono, from the foreword to The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs

Although I am certain I've posted quotes from Bono regarding the end to extreme poverty before, since I have started reading The End of Poverty, I am coming across them again. And they are still as poignant and powerful and they were when I first heard them. It is pretty intense to think of the immense privileges that we enjoy, as the richest sixth of the world. And I say 'we,' because if you are reading this, you probably have access to a computer, Internet and leisure time.

There are many people in the world who lack the tools required to pull themselves from extreme poverty, with extreme poverty defined as the state in which one fights daily for survival, facing struggles that many of us never worry about: malaria, TB, AIDS and malnutrition.

There is hope, though, and as I am reading this book, I hope to take more time to blog about the weighty issues involved. This is an issue that I have been processing and slugging through as much as I can, accessing as many resources as available so that I can do SOMETHING. Something big.

Here are some more quotes from the intro by Bono:

"..we could be the first generation to outlaw the kind of extreme, stupid poverty that sees a child die of hunger in a world of plenty, or of a disease preventable by a twenty-cent inoculation. We are the first generation that can afford it. The first generation that can unknot the whole tangle of bad trade, bad debt, and bad luck. The first generation that can end a corrupt relationship between the powerful and the weaker parts of the world which has been so wrong for so long."

"We can be the generation that no longer accepts that an accident of latitude determines whether a child lives or dies - but will we be that generation? Will we in the West realize our potential or will we sleep in the comfort of our affluence with apathy and indifference murmuring softly in our ears?"

"Future generations flipping through these pages [of history] will know whether we answered the key question. The evidence will be the world around them. History will be our judge, but what's written is up to us. Who we are, who we've been, what we want to be remembered for. We can't say our generation didn't know how to do it. We can't say our generation couldn't afford to do it. And we can't say our generation didn't have reason to do it. It's up to us. We can choose to shift the responsibility, or, as the professor [Sachs] proposes here, we can choose to shift the paradigm."