Friday, August 31, 2007

Poverty and development redux

Two contrasting perspectives on poverty and development for your consideration. 
The first addresses the idea of poverty in the North American context and how the use of the term "poverty" must be used with caution in a relative sense.  The bottom quintile of the North American population would be considered at least middle-class in a large portion of the globe.  Poverty ...remains a permanent excuse for further government intervention. The fact remains that poverty, by design, will never go away. And it gives radical egalitarians (yes I'm on a radical egalitarian kick) such as John Edwards the political leverage they need to use the government to "fix" a problem that will never be fixed.
The second is a discussion from the perspective of an African teacher in Britain to promote a documentary on development and debt relief and his observations on the reactions and attitudes he discovered when showing his film.  The conclusion of the film is that the West's environmentalism, which puts nature above human beings and despises true development, leaves Africans living off the land and remaining as poor as ever. The West's association of corruption with Africans and their leaders is racial discrimination in disguise – it is an idea which sweeps global inequality and underdevelopment under the carpet.
The common link in both stories is the extent to which ideology has infused the popular narrative defining how both poverty and development are both perceived and portrayed within the mainstream media and education.  Infusing the discussion is a heavy dose of guilt, of morality and of parsimony, and an absence of rational perspective.  In the words of the Samizdata quote of the day:

The reason welfare is bad is not because it costs too much, nor because it "undermines the work ethic," but because it is intrinsically at odds with the way human beings come to live satisfying lives. Charles Murray, US author

The prevailing Western attitude towards both poverty and development can be seen similarly as fundamentally at odds with the way human being live satisfying lives.  We achieve satisfaction by striving towards goals and seeking to improve our situation: happiness comes from having hope in a better future, from having someone to share that future with and by undertaking something meaningful towards the attainment of that improved future.