VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia — Although poverty reduction seems to be an unquestionable goal around the world, it wasn’t always this way. According to economist Martin Ravallion, Europeans throughout the 16th to 18th centuries believed that poverty was “socially useful” and that if workers’ became better off, they would lose incentive to continue jobs that help the system remain.
Having cheap labor was viewed as a necessity. Even when children from poorer families were educated, they were sucked back into the cycle of manual labor, because that work still needed to be completed by someone.
English writer Arthur Young stated, “Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor or they will never be industrious,” implying that there is a constant need for lower class workers, and that poverty benefits society as a whole.
It was also viewed as useless to attempt to help the impoverished, as it was widely believed that poor people suffered solely because of their actions, decisions and lack of potential to change themselves.
When did this thought process change? According to Martin Ravallion, the late 19th century enlightenment brought in new visions of human thought.
These new thought processes include Immanuel Kant’s discussions about human dignity, Karl Marx’s argument that the system encouraged poverty more than each individual and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s belief that poverty and inequality reflect poorly on institutions.
It was also realized economically that children in poor families could not contribute to future investments, and therefore universal schooling became a new goal.
After the end of World War I, anti-poverty programs were promoted as something necessary, a complete turnaround from the previous belief that it would disrupt the working system. It was even stated that poverty reduction was a task the government should be responsible for.
After the Great Depression hit, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the New Deal, with the “3 Rs” of Relief, Recovery and Reform. Policies were set in place to aid the unemployed and newly poor, in order for the country as a whole to revive itself.
Following World War II, the U.N. drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stated rights that should be held by “all members of the human family,” adding to the U.N.’s stance on fighting for the rights of everyone.
A new wave of “Poverty Enlightenment” (coined by Martin Ravallion) occurred between 1960 and 1980, in which the global population became increasingly aware of the world’s poor. While the belief that the poor were at fault for their situation was still intact, it became a widely accepted belief that global poverty was morally unacceptable and further efforts at poverty reduction should be made.
New technologies and a stronger incentive to create political change from the ground up mobilized citizens.
In the year 2000, the U.N. enacted the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, setting benchmarks in the realm of global development. While the deadline for these goals is quickly approaching, the U.N. is working to alter their new goals to continue striving for better human conditions.
With worldviews shifting toward ending poverty, the relatively new poverty reduction efforts have proven successful. In the early 19th century, those living on less than $1 a day was over 80 percent of the world’s population, while today, that percentage has dropped to 20 percent. Poverty is at its lowest level than any other point in history.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has released statements about poverty and their method for working with developing countries in order to attack poverty from the root, so it can truly decline in these areas.
While the success and improvement of the world as a whole is something worth celebrating, there is still more that can be done. Bills are working their way through congress, like Food Aid Reform, Energize Africa Act and Water for the World Act. Simple steps can be taken to convince congressmen to vote for a better tomorrow.