BECK index

Alleviating Poverty

by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book BEST FOR ALL: How We Can Save the World.
For information on ordering, please click here.

The essential philosophy of this book is that what is best for all is also best for each person. Thus if we are wise and love all humanity as we love ourselves, then we will act in a way that is best for everyone. From this spiritual perspective we can see that most people in the world are suffering unnecessarily because of cruel and irresponsible political, social, and economic policies.

More than half of humanity is suffering in poverty on less than two dollars per day, and more than 1,300,000,000 people are in extreme poverty living on less than one dollar per day. Each year six million children die of malnutrition; 2.2 million children die because they are not immunized; and 1.4 million children die because they do not have safe drinking water or adequate sanitation. The number of people lacking access to clean water is 1.3 billion. Two billion people do not have electricity, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.

At the same time that this ghastly poverty is increasing in the developing world, the wealthy are becoming even richer. The gap between the richest and poorest nations has gone from 3-1 in 1820 to 11-1 in 1913 to 44-1 in 1973 and to 74-1 in 1992. The combined wealth of the world's 7.1 million millionaires is $27 trillion, which is equal to the total annual income of every person on the Earth. By 2005 the world had 691 billionaires with a combined wealth of $2.2 trillion, which is more than twice as much as the gross domestic products (GDP) of all the nations in sub-Saharan Africa. In 1960 Africa was a net exporter of food, but now the continent of Africa imports one third of its grain. More than forty percent of Africans do not have enough food. The twenty percent of the population in the world's developed nations are consuming 86% of the world's goods.

Attempts by capitalist institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to alleviate poverty in the third world by loaning money to their governments and capitalists have made the situation worse. In 1999 the World Bank reported that for every dollar the developing countries received as a grant they had to pay $13 in debt repayments. The World Bank and IMF have imposed structural adjustment on debtor nations, forcing them to reduce their governments' social programs and causing what economists call a "race to the bottom" for the benefit of the capitalists. Governments are pressured to produce more exports even while their people are suffering deprivation. These policies caused Argentina, for example, to sell the people's assets owned by their government to private corporations, resulting in an economic melt-down in 2001. Protests by the people ended the government's austerity policies, and Argentina defaulted on its $155 billion debt. Having become a bankrupt country, Argentina has been rebuilding itself gradually with more sensible policies of mutual cooperation that brought about annual growth rates of 8%. By 2005 Argentina had restructured its debt.

In September 2000 at the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York the leaders of 189 nations signed the Millennium Declaration, promising to achieve the following eight development goals by 2015:

1) cut extreme poverty in half,
2) achieve universal primary education,
3) achieve gender equality in education,
4) reduce infant mortality by two-thirds,
5) reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters,
6) reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases,
7) ensure sustainability and reduce lack of safe water by half,
8) create partnership for development aid, trade, and debt relief.

At the Monterrey Financing for Development Conference in March 2002 leaders proposed the goal of the wealthy nations increasing to 0.7% of their gross domestic products their annual contributions to developing countries by the year 2015. Although Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden have already met this goal, others lag far behind. Currently the United States contributes only 0.16%. In 2003 the 22 richest nations gave only $69 billion to developing nations. US President George W. Bush promised to increase annual US funding for development assistance to $5 billion by 2006; but the actual 2005 budget was only $1.5 billion, and his budget for 2006 called for only $3 billion. Although many people responded to the tsunami disaster at the end of 2004, the efforts of the Live 8 concerts in July 2005 to raise awareness on these wider poverty issues had little effect. The leaders of the wealthy G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States) meeting in Scotland pledged to increase aid to Africa by only $25 billion by the year 2010.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) now includes 148 member nations. Although it attempts to operate by consensus, since the Seattle protests of 1999 this has been difficult to achieve. Its Dispute Settlement Board almost always takes the recommendations of its Dispute Panel because reverse consensus is required to block them. If the offending party does not change its policy in a reasonable time, the usual enforcement mechanism is by authorizing retaliatory measures. However, this allows the larger economies to ignore the complaints of smaller nations. For example, in March 2005 the United States was reprimanded for its cotton subsidies but has refused to alter its policy. Critics contend that the WTO favors the multinational corporations as well as the wealthy nations. Some of the WTO treaties have been considered detrimental to workers and the environment.

These global economic policies and circumstances seem to me to be unjust and even cruel because the wealthy nations and corporations have designed the globalized economy in order to enhance their profits at the expense of the majority of people on Earth. The pressures of increasing population and diminishing supplies of fossil fuels and now also less fresh water because of global warming are making this enormous misery worse. We need a radical change of direction in order to do what is best for everyone. If we think of the human race as our family, we could begin by helping to take care of those most in need first. Our top priorities should not be increasing the wealth of those who are already rich but making sure that everyone has their basic needs so that they can survive. This goal makes much more sense and is more sustainable because by helping people to reach a minimum standard of living with good education they will be able to become self-sufficient and contribute more. Statistics show that people who are educated are not as likely to succumb to malnutrition and diseases because they tend to take the steps necessary to avoid those problems.

This horrendous situation can be alleviated in many ways. We need to educate ourselves and others as to the problems and generously contribute to solving them, both privately and through governmental institutions. When the people assert their democratic rights within their nations and globally as well, then we will be able to implement policies that are more merciful as well as more just for all. Also as we shall see in other chapters, by disarming the weapons of war and eliminating warfare, humanity will have more resources available for humanitarian needs. Some people seem to believe cynically that widespread famines and epidemic diseases are ways that the increasing human population can be drastically reduced. Yet modern trends have shown that the most effective and the most humane ways of controlling population growth are by providing people with security, health care, and education so that they can reduce the number of their children by conscious family planning and birth control. The poor who feel insecure often make their poverty worse by having many children in the desperate hope that perhaps some of their children will be able to help them in their old age. Recent trends in Latin America, for example, have shown that the birth rate has been reduced from more than six children per family to less than three by using birth control. This has happened in predominantly Catholic countries even though recent Popes have opposed such birth control.

In my view the best investments we can make to improve every society are to make sure that everyone has decent health care and good education. Yet the wealthy United States has resisted implementing health care for all its people even though despite its expensive health care costs, the health of the US ranks near the bottom of the industrialized nations. The United States ranks 23rd in infant mortality, 20th in life expectancy for women, 21st in life expectancy for men, and 67th in immunizations. Yet the United States spends at least 40% more per capita on health care than any other industrialized country with universal health care. Because it is much more efficient than privately financed health care which spends about a quarter of its premiums on administration and profits, single-payer health care would save the United States about $200 billion per year or more. Medicare, for example, spends only three percent on administration. How much more misery must go on before we realize that providing health care prevents much more costly problems? The United States could also convert its more than seven hundred military bases in other countries into hospitals, clinics, and schools.

After the tsunami in December 2004 people around the world contributed money to relieve those who had suffered from this natural disaster, and nations even began to compete with each other to see which are the most generous. This motivated many to contribute more, especially in the United States. Yet the chronic problems of widespread poverty still persist. Why not have a world competition to see who can contribute the most charity to help people instead of the deadly arms race that we have known for the last century? Surely those nations that give generously to help others will have friends instead of enemies. Opinion polls have shown that many North Americans believe that the United States gives a substantial portion of their taxes in foreign aid, perhaps a quarter or more. Yet in reality if military aid is excluded, the United States Government spends less than one percent of its budget on foreign aid, and much of this is used to promote propaganda through the National Endowment for Democracy or Voice of America programs.

The world is currently spending nearly one trillion dollars each year on the military and weapons of war. By eliminating most of these expenditures humanity would be able to afford to provide good health care and education for everyone in the world. The results would be a better standard of living not only in the poor countries but everywhere as these resources were converted to beneficial purposes that improve the lives of people. When the poor become healthy and well educated, they will not only be able to provide for themselves, but also their work will provide better goods and services for the world economy.

Copyright © 2005 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book BEST FOR ALL: How We Can Save the World.
For information on ordering, please click here.

Global Emergency
Alleviating Poverty
Disarming Weapons of War
Creating Global Democracy
Reforming the US Constitution
Restoring Justice
Sustainable Economics
Freeing Communication
Spiritual Awakening
Nonviolent Strategies
Global Disarmament Treaty (first draft by Beck)
Constitution of the Federal Earth Democracy (first draft by Beck)
Constitution of the United States Revised (first draft by Beck)

BECK index