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On This Day - 2 MARCH 2012
Have we been fooled into poverty?
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A rational approach suggests that if a solution doesn't work, it is best to reconsider it. Wrong solutions are often a result of an incorrect understanding of the problem. This seems to have happened in the case of poverty. Most economists think of poverty as an original sin. Poor people are seen as those who have not been touched by the magic wand of economic growth.
But is this the right way to look at it? Noted Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva shares an interesting perspective on this. According to her, most Western economists have a false view of the history of wealth and poverty. The countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America that are poor today are not so because of the lack of industrial progress. They are poor because they were robbed of their resources by Europe and North America. It was this forceful exploitation of the Third World resources and markets that created enormous wealth in the North and poverty in the South. So it was the industrial economy that actually elevated the problem of poverty instead of solving it. And yet today, the world continues to look for solutions in mechanisms which very much resemble the economic colonists. Our obsession with GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth figures has grown even more. But there is a serious problem with such indicators. For instance, if you consume what you produce, it does not contribute to GDP growth. For Westerners, such sustenance living means poverty. Economists and policymakers have misguided the world away from self-reliance. And into a system that more often than not leads to monopolisation of resources and power, concentration of wealth, unproductive debt burdens and environmental destruction. The colonists of yesteryears are very much present even today in the garb of transnational corporations. As long as the disease is offered as the cure, poverty will continue to live on.
Though Shiva has some very valid reasons for the causes of poverty, she does not present the picture in its totality. Several factors such as attitude towards work and savings, investments, political institutions, intellectual curiosity, etc. also go a long way in determining the wealth of a nation. Moreover, the industrial economy cannot be blamed for all the evils in society. In fact, some of the best innovations and developments have happened because of it.
The genocide was so brutal that the entire middle class of Rwanda is believed to have been wiped off. But the land locked African nation seems to have come a long way since those days. Thanks mostly to its controversial yet charismatic president, Mr Kagame. He has been credited with making the country free of red tape and has also given it one huge advantage over other African nations. The advantage of the rule of law. Consequently, business is flourishing and foreign investments are pouring in. However, immense challenges still remain and the way Mr Kagame will go about overcoming them will determine whether the title of Africa's Singapore will adorn Rwanda for a long time to come
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