4/5/08

Fighting poverty--or fighting for development?

In September 2005, former President Clinton launched an initiative "to tackle poverty, climate change and other worldwide issues" during "a gathering of political leaders and activists who are promising to pitch in--and must put those pledges in writing." In early 2005--along with many other times--Mandela was demanding that the world do more to fight poverty. Others have talked about trying to end poverty. And of there is the war on poverty that officially started in the mid-1960s.

Yesterday, on the 40th anniversary of MLK Jr's assassination, John McCain took up Martin Luther King Jr's call for America to fight poverty. McCain said: "I will answer his call, and tell him and the American people today that I will make the eradication of poverty a top priority of the McCain Administration."

Here's a different suggestion--a fight for development rather than a fight against poverty. Okay, for a liar like Clinton, that might sound like a distinction without a difference. To be clear, I don't mean that a Clinton or Obama speech writer should toss in a throw-away line like "of course we care about development." Rather, I mean that development should be treated as a priority.

Saying that you are against poverty may sound great in focus groups and to soccer moms working as journalists and college professors, but if we really want people to live independently and at a higher level, then development is needed.

But people don't often chant for development.

What do we want? Free markets! When do we want them? Now!

2-4-6-8, capitalism now, we can't wait!

Invisible hand, yes! Government meddling, no! Privatize, yes! Nationalize, no!

Hey-hey, ho-ho! Democratic socialists have got to go!

I'm reminded of a documentary in which John Kenneth Galbraith went on for an hour about poverty and ways to fight it. The late Peter Bauer had a short rebuttal: There are no causes of poverty. That is the natural human state. It is the causes of success that must be investigated.

CJL