Has poverty Really been reduced So much ?

As nations attempted to recover from two devastating world wars within 40 years the good and the great of the victorious countries applied their minds to the myriad problems facing them. The European continent was on its knees, physically, economically and monetarily and in other parts of the globe the levels of poverty in restless colonies was crying out to be addressed.
Firstly, national and international institutions were established to tackle these various challenging issues and to ensure that we did not sleepwalk our way into WW3.
It would be remiss not to recall that after WW1 the League of Nations was established, its goals included “ disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation, diplomacy and improving global welfare.” Very laudable but clearly unachieved goals but to be fair many believe that the seeds of WW2 were planted in the terms and conditions of the Treaty of Versailles.
Moving along to the years immediately following the end of WW2, many of the institutions established then are still with us and continue to operate with varying and questionable degrees of success. Those major institutions are United Nations {UN}, International Monetary Fund {IMF}, World Bank {WB} and World Health Organisation {WHO}.
In addition to assist in the orderly transactions of international trade and payments the Gold Standard was agreed upon with the price of gold pegged at $35 an ounce, an arrangement which continued until 1971 when the cost of the US involvement in Vietnam became an major issue for them and eventually everyone else!
In Harry Truman’s inaugural speech, the first ever on television, he raised the issue of world poverty, “more than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery, their food is inadequate, they are victims of disease and their economic life is primitive and stagnant”. As the only member of the Allies to come out of WW2 with its economy booming and with an intact monetary system he confidently continued “we must embark on a brand new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas,,,,,,,,,,,,it must be a worldwide effort for the achievement of peace, plenty and freedom”. If I could add sound to this note I’d stop right now and play the American National Anthem.
Various presidents and other world leaders have echoed these sentiments over the last 60 years. Poverty reduction programs and targets have been set, Millennium Development Goals agreed at UN level and an army of economists and statisticians have produced a tsunami of data to measure progress over the years.
At the first UN Food Summit in 1974 US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger promised “world hunger would be eradicated within a decade”. Well we know that didn’t happen by 1984 and 45 years further on we know it still hasn’t happened.
Fast forward to 2015 when the UN published its Final Report on the Millennium Development Goals in which it boasted that the poverty rate had been halved since 1990. As with most reports and statistics the devil is in the detail which the authors can be fairly sure the majority of readers will not delve into too deeply. Most of the media in the developed world read this as a positive summary, condensed it into a warm and fuzzy headline and then moved on quickly to find a more digestible circulation boosting news piece.
Without getting into nitty gritty figures too much there are 3 main problems with the UN good news report.
1. The majority of poverty reduction was achieved in two areas China primarily, then India and East Asia whose economies had grown as they became the busy workshops producing cheap products for the developed world. EG. China has a world wide distribution network of 8,500 stores {5,400 in USA} provided by Walmart, and that’s only one company’s distribution network.
How about my old favourite? Inditex has 7,300 stores worldwide selling clothes made mainly by women earning peanuts so we can all have cheap disposable fashion. {Zara, Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Pull and Bear, Stradivarius, Oysho, Uterque and Zara Home}. Bangladesh has over 5,000 garment factories employing over 4 million workers who received a huge wage increase of 51% in Dec 2018 taking their monthly wage to $95! As I write this note tens of thousands of them are on strike asking for a liveable wage of at least $160. Working weeks can be 6 days of up to12 hours.

2. The MDGs (Millenium Development Goals), as the name suggests, were drawn up at the turn of the millennium so why was 1990 chosen as the start date to compare progress? Why not the logical date of 2000 or even 1980?

This diagram from the World Bank gives us a clue. 1990 is clearly the date which shows that developing countries were much worse off than in either 1970 or 1980.
Loans and interest in 1970 represented 55% of all debt, by 1980 this was 65% and by 1990 85%, thus leaving only 15% available for imports {often food} and reserves.
This diagram is from a World Bank Report, a later 2010 report shows the 1990 $281Bil figure to have ballooned out to 4 Trillion!! Repayments are $1.5 Bil per day.
Best advice from gurus at IMF and WB has been “tighten your belt”, the people in these most indebted countries cannot even afford a belt!

3. Perhaps the most questionable aspect of the WB, IMF and UN’s claims of success in reducing numbers living in poverty is that they are measuring the numbers living on $1.90 a day. The 2005 figure of $1.25 and eventually $1.50 was again upgraded to $1.90 in 2011 to reflect that one needed $1.90 in 2011 to buy the same basket of goods which could be bought for $1.50 in 2005.
Since most of us have travelled to and experienced life in developing countries we have a realistic idea of just how far $1.90 will take you. While you reflect on that, I’ll cut and paste a Paragraph from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Article 25.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”


While the adjoining Chart is from 2005 it gives a general picture of how many in the world have to live on so little. Extensive research I have looked at suggests that at $5.00 a day close to 50% of the world could not experience the kind of life described in the above Article 25.

About tryingtobefair

More than a little interested in how we can all make the community we live in a better place. "The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed" Gandhi. Let's all learn what's enough.
This entry was posted in Odd Bits, Politics, USA. Bookmark the permalink.

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