Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why are the Poor Poor?

There's a great conversation about economics and justice at Scot McKnight's blog Jesus Creed-- created from issues raised in Brian McLaren's book, "Everything Must Change."

This response (comment #13) from Michael Kruse about why the poor are poor is thought provoking:
The answer is simple. It is the way we are born into the world and it is the normal human condition.

The question presumes that our affluence is normal and that the poverty of others is an abnormal condition. The presumption is that we have to fix what is wrong with the system that causes other folks poverty. This characterization is completely upside down. The question is what has made the affluent affluent?

Throughout the millennia of human history, the overwhelming majority of people have lived at bear subsistence. The typical number of children who died before there first birthday was 25%. Death in childbirth was common. Life expectancy was in the forties. There was no retirement. Your children provided for you in your old age (and fifty was old). Famine and plagues were ever present. Having any significant wealth beyond bare survival was very rare.

As I’ve pointed out several times already, annual per capita income (in real dollars) was $90 in 12,000 BCE. It took nearly 14,000 years for it to double to $180 in 1750. By 2000 it was $6,600 a year! The number of people in the world living on less than a $1 a day (in real dollars) was 84% in 1820. Today it is less than 20% and expected to be less than 10% by 2020. All of this during a period when the world population grew from less than 1 billion people to 6 billion people! Furthermore, in all but a handful of nations the number of number of children dying before their first birthday has fallen to well under 10% (less than 1% in developed nations), life expectancy has risen by 50-100%. No nation that engages in open trade with other nations has experienced famine in the last fifty years. Disease after disease is being eradicated.

We live in an era of the greatest expansion in widely shared wealth and health in the history of humanity! By historical standards, the last 300 years of human history are just stunning. And yet, from the framing of questions in Brian McLaren's book, Everything Must Change, you would think we lived in some ancient evil empire where darkness has fallen over the face of the planet grinding people into death and poverty.

The question is how to spread the abnormal condition of affluence not to ask what causes the normal condition of poverty.


Michael Kruse said...

Thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

Ah, I get it! The problem isn't poverty -- it's affluence. What a novel way to look at a major problem. :)

Melissa Weis said...

I've often thought that it is insulting to human beings to disrespect any preferred way of life or culture. Who says every person deserves or prefers a Habitat for Humanity standard home? Jesus commands us to feed the poor because they are hungry. I think food is the issue.