Like Chris Blattman, I’ve just been ‘interviewed’ by email by a journalist writing a series of articles about poverty. She wanted, by return, some answers to some pretty preposterous questions. My answers are below. I’m sure readers of this blog would have interesting answers, so please put them in the comments below.
1. It is realistic to think that poverty can one day end?
It depends what you mean by “poverty”. I certainly believe that it is feasible in the near future for everyone to have enough to eat; to have access to clean water; to have access to basic healthcare which prevents them from dying from easily preventable and treatable diseases; to have shelter and sanitation; for every child to go to school and for mothers to face low risks of dying in childbirth.
But poverty is also a relative idea; there will always be people who need help. We should plan to have permanent, well governed mechanisms of global solidarity so that those who are fortunate, wherever they may be in the world, can support those who are less fortunate, whoever they may be. We may hope that particular individuals will need help only temporarily, but we need permanent systems to ensure that they get it.
2. What are the best global solutions?
The countries of the rich world could do much more to create the conditions for poor countries to accelerate development. For example they could, at very little cost to themselves (indeed, with some benefit) improve trade policies and reduce agricultural subsidies to enable poor countries to trade their way out of poverty; permit greater migration from developing countries, so that the benefits of globalisation are more widely shared; adjust government-created intellectual property rights to enable poor countries to share the benefits of new technologies; close tax havens and clamp down on corruption, tax evasion and tax avoidance by multinational companies; open up detailed information about financial flows including aid, payments for extractive industries, defence spending, and climate change, so that citizens of developing countries can ensure that those resources are not squandered; create markets for environmental assets, especially by setting global carbon emissions ceilings and agreeing to equal per capita allocations, so that the rich world pays a fair price for their use of more than their fair share of the world’s natural resources; and reduce exports of small and large arms to the developing word.
As industrialised countries help create the conditions for developing countries to make faster progress, it will be for the people of the developing world to use their own ingenuity and hard work to develop social, economic and political institutions that enable them to make progress in their own way; but it is hard to imagine success that does not involve much greater investment in the rights and status of women.
3. How urgent is it to act?
Twenty five thousand people die each day of preventable and treatable diseases. If those people were citizens of Europe or America, we would have declared a state of emergency.
4. Do you believe there is hope for the future?
Of course: hope for the future is amply justified by the extraordinary progress which developing countries are making. The last fifty years has seen the fastest progress in human history on reducing poverty and improving living standards, from reducing malnutrition to providing access to clean water.