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An End to Poverty: New Hope for the Last Billion Poor

March 11, 2008

Is poverty a problem of policy or destiny?

That's the question Mark Lange asks in a new five-part opinion series appearing this week in the Christian Science Monitor. Lange, a former presidential speechwriter for George H.W. Bush, argues that to eradicate abject poverty among the remaining one billion people globally who live on less than $1 a day, we need to challenge many of the assumptions we hold about wealth, poverty, trade, and aid.

In Part 1 of the series, "A First Step for the Global Poor -- Shatter Six Myths," Lange "unpacks" (his word) a few of the myths that cloud popular thinking about global poverty: that it's intractable; that there are too many impoverished people to help; that "moral obligation" is enough; that globalization is hurting the poor; that wealthy nations must work to reduce poverty everywhere; and that if aid is good, more aid is better. (This last was the subject of an interesting Templeton Foundation-sponsored colloquy mentioned in a previous post.)

In the second installment of the series, "Why So Much Aid for the Poor Has Made So Little Difference," Lange argues that the kind of top-down, Marshall Plan approach to international development adopted by the West after World War II is no longer effective. Subsequent installments will look at the best levers for lifting the last billion out of poverty (3/12/08), the potential perils of progress (3/13/08), and what each of us can do to help eliminate global poverty once and for all (3/14/08).

Hopelessly idealistic? Perhaps. But as Lange reminds us:

The world's richest 500 individuals have the same income as the poorest half-billion. The developed nations aren't close to the UN commitment to devote 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to aid. The US is at 0.2 percent, and private and philanthropic sources don't come close to narrowing that gap in the poorest countries. [Moreover] this isn't simply a redistributive exercise. We know more now about the progression from subsistence agriculture to micro-enterprise and light, sustainable manufacturing exports -– and how self-directed growth lifts people out of poverty.

Whether you agree with everything he has to say or not, the series is well worth your time.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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