ST PAUL, Minnesota — As the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals’ 2030 deadline to end poverty draws nearer, the world’s most developed nations are scrambling to find ways to reduce poverty without going against their own self-interests. Various coalitions, alliances and other multilateral efforts have achieved some level of success, but their attempts have still fallen short. With a united fight against global poverty, however, there is potential for more significant feats in worldwide poverty reduction.
The Skewed Distribution of Poverty
The main problem these international organizations face is the distribution of poverty. According to data from the World Bank, an overwhelming 85% of people living below the poverty line live in either South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. Such a skewed geographical distribution presents challenges to foreign poverty reduction programs for a multitude of reasons discussed later. One potential solution, though unlikely in practice, appears to be government consolidation. The question that should be asked, then, is what a world government could do to fight against global poverty, and more importantly, what takeaways from this theorizing could be implemented in the real world?
Methods of Poverty Reduction
Surveying from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, Concern USA and the Center for American Progress indicates that the most prospectful, expert-recommended methods of fighting against global poverty are:
- Investing in people. Across the sites surveyed, this took many different forms including providing a monetary safety net (akin to the COVID-19 relief plan), investing in small businesses, investing in education and directly investing in families through holistic welfare programs.
- Government-provided resources. This category contains much of what the world’s most effective governments do with taxpayer dollars: implementing adequate healthcare, affordable housing and providing access to safe food and water.
- Government initiatives. The most significant poverty reduction method of this kind is fighting climate change, whether through innovation or reducing consumption. However, the survey also found that other types of beneficial government initiatives, such as creating jobs through infrastructure, were consistently recommended to aid in the fight against poverty.
- Humanitarian goals. Outside of the three categories mentioned above, two types of reduction methods stand out: those centered around equality and those centered around global peace. Fighting for the former is integral because, even in developed nations, previously and/or currently oppressed groups (for example, African Americans in the U.S.) encounter economic disadvantages, and thus, face higher rates of poverty. The latter, promoting global peace, matters because of the impact that ongoing wars and foreign hostility have on the economy. A prime example of this phenomenon is Afghanistan where the average life expectancy stood at no more than 65 years in 2019.
While these four categories concisely lay out how to comprehensively fight against global poverty, their implementation is quite difficult for one main reason: every government puts its own self-interest first. The notion makes sense — in every area, people have a government primarily focusing on looking out for their own nation. However, problems arise when taking into account the differing levels of resources.
Resulting from either inferior natural resources or current/historical exploitation of resources, many developing nations are not capable of adequately providing for their citizens. This brings the question of what would likely happen were there a consolidated world government that looked after all of the global population equally?
Baseless theorizing about the actions of a government that does not actually exist would be entirely non-credible, inaccurate and, frankly, pointless. Fortunately, this is not necessary due to the present-day existence of coalitions. The poverty reduction efforts of the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations provide insight into how more consolidated multilateral efforts could accelerate progress in the fight against global poverty.
Consolidated Multilateral Efforts
The African Union (AU), now chaired by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, accomplished many notable feats in its previous term, under the leadership of South Africa. In fact, three of these achievements work directly off of the list of methods to fight against global poverty. The AU helped draw international support to aid with COVID-19 relief, worked off of a “continental declaration” to promote gender equality and found a role as a neutral negotiator, helping to find a viable compromise in the conflicts of Libya and South Sudan in order to strive for continental peace.
In contrast, the poverty reduction efforts of member states of the European Union appear sub-par. As a United Nations report points out, the EU could be doing much more. “Instead of prioritizing investments in healthcare, education and social protection, these [EU policy] recommendations have often imposed budgetary cuts in the name of cost-efficiency.” This lacking effort is seen most clearly in the EU’s failure to meet its past poverty reduction goals.
Room for Improvement
Currently, the European Union clearly covers only two categories: promoting peace and fighting climate change. Through a long chain of events, the alliance between France and Germany led to the formation of the EU. Since then, the union has helped ensure peace, both among member states and internationally, even earning the EU a Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for these efforts.
The EU also leads the world in the climate movement and the transition to renewable energy. As the World Economic Forum’s Head of Climate Change Emily Farnworth states, “being able to speak as one united voice, rather than 28 single voices, helped cut through during climate negotiations.” While necessary, these two domains of poverty reduction, even in combination with exemplary foreign aid, are insufficient.
Finally, the United Nations makes its own poverty reduction attempts. However, to some, it may appear that the organization either has insufficient power and/or does not adequately use the power it does have. The U.N.’s Third Decade plan for eliminating poverty discusses various recommendations and goals such as promoting industrialization and rural economies. While goals and plans are an important aspect of the fight against global poverty, the U.N. merely setting these goals leaves too much up to individual nations.
The Need for a World Government
Unfortunately, as one continues to see today, all of the above efforts are simply not enough. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, approximately 18 million deaths per year can be attributed to poverty. Ongoing poverty reduction attempts are insufficient because governments with the most resources overlook the people most in need.
A world government could address this issue through universal welfare programs to ensure the basic needs of all people. In addition to healthcare, education and other similar programs, such a government could ensure peace, enforce a unified effort to cut emissions and protect the environment and begin to provide for the second-level needs of all human beings. All of the methods of poverty reduction earlier stated could be covered by reallocating funds that go toward weaponry and other international conflicts. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that “just 10% of world military spending” would be sufficient to eliminate global poverty and hunger in time to meet the U.N.’s 2030 deadline.
– Sam Konstan