Poverty of ideas in tackling poverty

TheGuardian.pe.ca – Opinion/Letters-to-editor/2011-12-14
Published on December 14, 2011.    Dr. Palanisamy Nagarajan

Editor:

Our present economic system, while primarily focusing on mindless quantitative economic growth by embracing the so-called ‘Washington Consensus’ economic policy prescriptions of privatization, deregulation, removal of barriers to trade and the opening up of the markets to the free flow of capital, among other laissez faire economic mantras, has ignored the distributive justice.

Now, we are in the midst of a shocking reversal of short-sighted globalization-led economic and financial prosperity. The intractable crisis in the transatlantic economy is ringing alarm bells across the world, and the $65 trillion global economy, which is incomprehensibly complex and interconnected, is facing momentous challenges. All over the world, millions of people are at greater risk of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion for which they are not responsible.

Tackling poverty is a Herculean task for policymakers in the corridors of power at all levels. It is high time to realize that the problem of poverty cannot be solved by mere economic development and conventional Band-Aid solutions. At a fundamental level, poverty and misery are the direct consequences of the way our socio-economic system is organized and resources are allocated. Bluntly put, poverty is the result of our institutional failure.

Besides highlighting the economic cost of poverty (The Guardian editorial, Dec. 9, 2011), one should focus on the glaring gulf between the rich and the poor, with increasing wealth at the top and increasing poverty at the bottom. At the global level, the richest 10 per cent own more than 85 per cent of the global household wealth, compared with the bottom 50 per cent, which owns a minuscule one per cent of the global wealth.

Distributive justice and social cohesion should be increasingly emphasized in the public policy forum. Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the British naturalist who influenced our knowledge of life on Earth, aptly observes: “If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, greater is our sin”. “Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit,” according to Eli Khamarov.

After all, the poverty of ideas continues to be the major stumbling block in tackling poverty in the world of plenty.

Dr. Palanisamy Nagarajan,
emeritus professor of economics and research associate of the Institute of Island Studies,
University of Prince Edward Island

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