Let’s End Poverty [?]

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I have not posted in a little while, but I can assure you I have been journaling. My red Moleskine has a sizable chunk scribbled in, with mindful thoughts interspersed between the TBB journal questions. I am on my fourth TBB read now; it is called The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities of Our Time by Jeffrey Sachs. Since Ishmael I have read John Perkins’s Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I began the latter book in February 2013, nearly 18 months ago. I had approximately 75 pages to go when I picked it back up for TBB. It is a favorite of mine, filled with shocking anecdotes of female oppression. As for Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, I devoured the book. Half the book is highlighted and annotated. I felt like I had a VIP behind-the-scenes look at my AP US History class. I highly recommend it if you find history, politics or economics the slightest bit intriguing.

With all that said, I have written a journal entry I thought would be of value or intrigue to share. We only need to read certain chapters of Sachs’s book, but this one is from Chapter One.


What is poverty?

     My heart grows heavy when I pass the many poor, rural areas across my state, South Carolina. But my head grows guilty, too, as I subconsciously lock my doors and grip my wheel a little tighter. I wonder if this assumption is a by-product of growing up in the South or simply a by-product of growing up American/human.

     I am a lower middle-class white American. I know some of the struggles of being under financial burden, if only because of my expensive college and travel dreams. But then I wonder if those who live in poverty–even the “relative” poverty Sachs speaks about–I wonder if they even entertain such dreams. I wonder if they know they could still obtain those dreams. And once again my heart grows heavy and my head grows guilty.

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     So what is poverty? When I google it, the responses include: “The state of being extremely poor,” and “the state of being inferior in quality or insufficient in amount.” Let us accept the former, not the latter. Jeffrey Sachs places poverty into three categories: relative, moderate, and extreme. All that is good and fine. Yes, they are the technical definitions of poverty. Yes, when the question is asked, that is indeed the answer. But, I still don’t truly understand poverty. I have not lived it, so I cannot truly know it.

     Reading this book, I am shaken awake by questions. Does this not go against everything Ishmael taught? Yes, I wish we could end the suffering of a billion people, but for a least some of them, wouldn’t we be imposing our culture upon them? Technology has done wonders for the developed world, but do the so-called “under-developed” and “developing” worlds want all that “progress” has brought? Are they happy as “Leavers,” or do they wish to be “Takers?” In the end, who are we to tell others how to live? People say that money doesn’t create happiness. In fact, one study shows that if a person wins the lottery, the following year they will be approximately just as happy as they were before their win. So should our aim be “end poverty,” or should it be “end unnecessary death?” Or even yet, “provide the option and availability of health.”

     Let us lead them to the watering hole, but let us not force them to drink. 

     Like so many of my other journal entries, I am left with more questions than I have answers. I am currently in chapter two of my book, but suddenly my thoughts on how we attack the poverty situation are jumbled. Perhaps I will find some answers with TBB. Or perhaps I’ll simply find more questions.

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3 thoughts on “Let’s End Poverty [?]

  1. Agree that increasing availability of health would help end poverty. Curious: do you think Sach’s approach is too “us” centric? That he wants us (rich countries) to solve world poverty with a larger focus on what we do than on what the poor can do?

    • I would agree with you there. . . I’m currently reading William Easterly’s White Man’s Burden, and he definitely combats with Sachs’s ideas considerably. And yet even he too phrases it as the Rest versus the West. Easterly does highlight Sachs’s inability to recognize the problem with bad government. It seems like it might be better in the long-run to focus on these failing governments and create more stability. That way, perhaps Sachs and his Millennium Development Goals wouldn’t feel the need to force capitalistic ideals on the “Rest.”

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