The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU students gather around a bucket of markers to write an encouraging note to put in “Welcome to the Shelter” kits at event in mid-April on SMU’s campus.
Dallas homeless recovery center, The Bridge, is a home
Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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A lesson in poverty

Part three of a four-part series
A lesson in poverty

As always, the reader is encouraged to use this article only as a starting point on poverty. Seek out opinions on all sides of the discussion and continually question assumptions and answers.

Poverty is arguably the most widespread, worst and fundamental problem facing today’s global society. Every facet of the lives of the billions of people living in abject poverty is effected by their condition. Access to the law, education, health, economic opportunity, social standing and political power are just a few of the areas in which poverty has an impact. Working toward reducing poverty would have large fringe benefits for the poor.

A statistical background is necessary. Bear in mind that most if not all of these statistics are criticized by someone or another but tend to function well as a broad foundation. It is worthy to note that these figures of “dollars per day” are based upon Purchasing Power Parity, or the idea that under floating exchange rates one dollar (or its equivalent) should buy the same goods or services in any country. That being said, in a 1998 report the World Bank stated, “Today, across the world, 1.3 billion people live on less than one dollar a day; 3 billion live on under two dollars a day; 1.3 billion have no access to clean water; 3 billion have no access to sanitation; 2 billion have no access to electricity.”

Defining “poverty” is problematic, though. Someone living in poverty is commonly defined as a person living on less than one or two dollars a day. The world’s financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF, use one dollar a day as a benchmark, which has been highly criticized as arbitrary and insufficient, whereas other institutions such as the UN and the U.S. Census Bureau use varying thresholds from two to five dollars per day.

This is all background information and indeed doesn’t even encapsulate all of the necessary information. World poverty, its causes, and its cures are some of, if not the most contentious global issues today and one of the most remarkably parallel subjects. That is to say those who argue that globalization is a cure for poverty are opposed by those who protest that it is a cause. If one proposes that government economic intervention is the most effective means of curing poverty, there are certain to be just as many stating that interference with market forces is the most fundamental cause of poverty.

There is nowhere near enough room in this column to address these contentions in any satisfactory depth, but general conclusions can be drawn as to the effects of poverty and the impact of raising people out of that wretched state. In almost every country, the poor have little to no political power, no access to a decent judicial system, and no opportunity for education or entrepreneurship. They are victimized and taken advantage of by corrupt, incompetent or simply ignorant officials. Parents have no opportunities to increase their wealth so their children become part of the same cycle of poverty, and so on for generations. This is not to mention the immediate impacts of sanitation, health care and clean water.

A simple metaphor is fairly accurate in describing the difficulties of addressing poverty. Imagine that a team of people have to push an extremely large round boulder some distance across flat ground. The boulder is extraordinarily heavy and even if everyone pushed their hardest it would still take a long time to get the boulder moving. Some strain for a little bit and give up, some push with all their might and keep pushing, and some don’t even lift a finger. It is a Herculean task for those few who try their hardest to move the boulder. So it is with poverty. Faced with a seemingly impossible task, many countries and institutions simply don’t have the will to fight poverty while others maintain a facade of work. If only a few are dedicated to reducing poverty, the task is nearly insurmountable.

Now assume that those few somehow beat the odds and get the boulder rolling. According to the laws governing momentum, forward progress is easier to maintain and easier to increase once that rock is in motion. Seeing this, those who gave up earlier join in pushing, knowing that their task will now be easier, and with this the boulder moves faster and faster. More people help as the job becomes more effortless until they are able to maintain forward progress with minimal work.

Fighting poverty, then, is (roughly) equivalent to momentum. It is nearly impossible to begin, but if a significant start is ever made, it will be easier and easier to consistently bring people out of misery.

This oversimplified idea is a rough starting point. The meat of the debate is in the how of reducing poverty. Nearly every idea has merit; the job is to somehow condense those meritorious aspects into a practical plan of action. That job and its consequences belong to this generation.

John Jose is a first-year accounting, international studies and Chinese major. He can be reached at [email protected].

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