The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Poverty, Inequality, and the Post 2015 Agenda

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It’s time to move the discussion from absolute to relative gains.

Is it better to gain absolutely or relatively?

For example, free trade agreements promise all members economic benefits (absolute gains); although some members will benefit more than others (relative gains).

In terms of poverty, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a lesson in absolute gains. In sheer numbers, we’ve halved the world’s population living below the $1.25/day poverty line, and millions more joined the ranks of an emerging global middle class.

Yet, the victory of absolute poverty gains masks the pernicious relative inequalities that have grown alongside poverty reductions.

In many countries, poverty reduction and economic growth were unequal. In China, for example, the urban poor along the industrial coast made much greater gains than those in the vast, rural interior. In other places, prejudices and discrimination excluded groups from the benefits of growth and social services because of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. Globalization and growth accelerated the creation of new, exclusive classes of upper middle and high income earners. Yet, the impact escalated prices on food and essentials, leaving the near poor vulnerable to slipping back below the poverty threshold.

To the right of the tennis courts and swimming pools, is Paraisópolis, a favela or shanty town, outside of São Paulo, Brazil. Translated, its name is Paradise City. Source: Google Maps You can see another view of the area by photographer Tuca Vieira here:

As we gear up for a post 2015 agenda, our generation is in a unique historical position. Eradicating global poverty is no longer a fantasy. It’s within our reach. However, the next challenge is reducing chronic inequalities between those subsisting just above the poverty line, and those securely apart of the middle class, or higher.

As the UN’s High Level Panel meets in Monrovia this week to discuss the post 2015 agenda, let’s laud the MDGs for helping to deliver the absolute gains made eradicating poverty.

But, let’s not allow world leaders to shy from the difficult challenge of creating relative gains for those heretofore excluded from economic and social opportunities.

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  1.'Richard (Dick) Tinsley

    I have always admired the work of OXFAM and their efforts at poverty alleviation across the world. I do wonder if they might want to take a closer look at a couple issues effecting rural poverty alleviations. The big concern is the general assumption of labor surplus in smallholder communities that encourages labor intensive interventions. I closer look might indicate that most smallholder communities are severely labor deficient, with farmers not having access to the 4000 kcal/day needed to undertake a full day of agronomic field work. More typically they will only have about 2000 kcal/day barely enough to meet basic metabolism needs. Thus is that fellow loafing around the village in the afternoon lazy or hungry having expended all the calories he was able to consume?

    Similarly, are we relying too much on cooperative business model to assist smallholder farmers? Or is the cooperative business model just too administrative cumbersome and too inconvenient to be competitive in most developing country economies. Resulting in most members diverting the bulk of their business elsewhere, leaving the cooperative with too small a market share to make any substantial inroads’ into poverty alleviation, but this is effectively cover-up with some substantial spin reporting.

    The net result is that while substantial gains have been made, considerable more gains may have been possible with better designed programs that concentrated on drudgery relief, or more competitive business models.

    Please visit the website listed above and review some of the webpages. Of note are:

    Thank you.
    Dick Tinsley

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