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writing for godot

The world map of wealth is shrinking while the one of poverty is expanding: Human rights to be a bystander? (Herbert de Souza)

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Friday, 06 March 2020 19:37

Human rights: Food for a poor citizen’s thought   ‘Poverty and HR’


Human Rights Reader 519


-Yes, poverty has a spider web of causes; we need to get at the spider that builds the web. (Nancy Krieger)

-Money has rained on jungles and deserts for 50 years+; in the end only poverty has grown. (SID)


1. Much has been said about poverty (some of it good), and…? Here is a sample


-There is poverty, because there is obscene wealth --and vice-versa. Many poor people are needed to make a millionaire. (Louis Casado)


  • The faces of poverty are one and the same everywhere regardless of social and national considerations.
  • The poverty syndrome can be characterized as the systematic denial of opportunities to fulfill people’s potentials and human rights (HR). (Beware: Safety nets do not challenge the system that perpetuates poverty!).
  • Poverty is the most important vector of ill-health and malnutrition i.e., poverty rather than any microbe, parasite or worm is the key vector of disease and malnutrition.
  • It has been successfully argued that what we have been witnessing is rather a process of modernization of poverty in which, closing the eyes to HR, a number of new variables have been introduced that have mostly only confounded the problem.


2. The fight against poverty is a futile exercise; the root of the problem is not poverty, but opulence! (Theo Ruyter)


-Actually, we are not dealing with many problems, but with several aspects of the same problem.


  • The struggle to escape poverty is systematically slowed as growth has been and is not inclusive. (Jomo Sundaram, A. Chaudhury)
  • The possibility of escaping from the vicious circle of poverty for one individual are, at best, remote; but for the majority…?? (It is science as well as political analysis that corroborate these realities).
  • The objective is not to stabilize the problem of poverty, but to make poverty disappear --addressing it from its roots as the HR framework is engaged in!


3. Not less has been said about those rendered poor (some of it good), and…? Here is yet another sample

-Hello! Countries rendered poor are not poor by coincidence or because they are lazy …or because they have not struck oil….

-“It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.”


  • Those rendered poor are urged to hate themselves; they do not love one another, because they do not love themselves. Human beings everywhere believe many things that are obviously untrue; their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy to make money. (“If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?”) Those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. (It is a genuine expression of hatred of those rendered poor who have no one to blame for their misery but themselves). This inward blame has been a treasure for those rendered rich and powerful who have had to do less for ‘their poor’, publicly and privately. They have taken away “the poor’s” dignity in the name of ‘higher designs’ that are actually to preserve the status-quo. (Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five)
  • Being multi-dimensionally poor means showing ominous trends in child mortality, in malnutrition, in years of schooling, in school attendance, in cooking fuel availability, in access to electricity and to clean drinking water and sanitation, in housing and in overall assets --and not least in HR. (UNDP)
  • Those rendered poor lack the ability to assert their rights and are excluded from political and legal processes.
  • Do not forget: People rendered poor are already doing things to escape poverty. Those among us rendered poor are not different from you and me …they just have much less. But, like us, they judiciously make the best of their circumstances.
  • It is our duty to assess what it is they are doing and, together, build from there.
  • In certain scholarly publications, the have-nots seem not to be human, but an ‘x’ percentage of the GNP, or just pawns in a chess game; just a fig that hides the reality of a human group condemned to misery. Many have the misfortune of being born in a household rendered poor in a country rendered poor, but not in a poor world! (George Kent)
  • The rural poor have to struggle against five interlocking disadvantages that trap them in a cycle of deprivation: poverty, physical weakness, isolation, vulnerability and powerlessness. (Robert Chambers)
  • Yes, those rendered poor are permanent losers --and those rendered rich, permanent winners. But, then, excuses are for losers…


There is no reason why there are more ethical and political limitations to tolerate extreme poverty than there is to tolerate slavery


4. In ‘free’ societies where slavery is forbidden, wealth is created by a multitude of laborious people that have been (and are being) rendered poor. For such a society to be happy and the people to be content even with their appalling conditions, it is necessary that the big majority remains both ignorant and poor. (Bernard de Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees).

(Not so) novel paradigms for poverty alleviation (i.e., disparity reduction)?


5. In the early 1990s, the World Bank came up with a new development paradigm: “Poverty alleviation is not just a process to get ‘the poor’ (how terribly pejorative this denomination is…) to cross a given threshold of income or consumption; it aims at a sustained increase in their productivity through their integration into the process of growth; this calls for an increased access of the poor to resources (land, labor and capital) and the right institutions and policies that foster this integration”. (Michael Lipton and Simon Maxwell) Figure this out: Twenty five years+ later, what/how much do we have to show for this?


6. In some later fashionable paradigms, enacted economic policies served only as shock absorbers in bad times where those rendered poor suffered/suffer first and most --their HR at the center of it. Then, quite invariably, as things get better, those rendered poor gain last and least:* The lesson here: No struggle no progress! (David Sanders and David Werner)

*: Those rendered rich are simply living off the back of those being made poor. If this were not enough, the global debt crises are periods of acute impoverishment for the sake of the further enrichment of those being made rich. (John Kenneth Galbraith)


A ‘population of interest’ (as those rendered poor) should be self-defining and not ‘targeted’ in a top-down process:


-We have all endlessly repeated the supposedly Chinese moral tale “Give me a fish…teach me how to fish …” Yes, individuals can pull themselves up by their bootstraps …if only they are given boots! Or, if you prefer a Western version: If we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs …provided we had some eggs. At the global level, this also means we are tired of sermons that exhort countries rendered poor to pull up their socks. (Susan George)


7. Bottom line in self-defining poverty is the households level of perception of what it means for them to have been rendered poor. This, much better reflects the realities of poverty, i.e., its material deprivation, its isolation, its alienation, its dependence, its lack of decision-making power and its lack of freedom of choice, its denied HR, its lack of assets, its top-down policies cooked up ‘for the benefit’ of the people. Ergo, look from the people to the policies!


8. I can only agree with the point that the whole focus on 'poverty reduction' can best be forgotten. Which does not mean that poverty does not exist or that 'those rendered poor' should not be lent a hand. But what has to be done first of all is to stop the  'poverty factory', that is the economic and social policies that render people poor. This can best be done with effective universal social protection** and HR-based policies that tackle inequality and, yes, of course, tackle poverty’s macro-economic determinants. (Francine Mestrum)

**: We are talking here of lifetime employability as opposed to only job security.


A new ethics: those rendered poor as protagonists and not as recipients

9. Pro-poor interventions without changing the system that perpetuates poverty lead to a dead-end. This is why, at the People’s Health Movement (PHM), we reject pro-poor policies; we support anti-poverty policies that unmistakably point towards disparity reduction. We need to grapple precisely with those issues that the SDGs take for granted. We are of the opinion that the SDGs infuse neoliberal priorities into development policies often using just the language of HR; they rather emphasize what is possible for external funders (we do not use the term donors…) and the market. We attempt to ‘wash the face of neoliberalism’ waving the banner: ‘Target not those rendered poor, but the processes that lead to (the perpetuation of) poverty’. (


10. State institutions are too removed from the daily realities of the lives of people rendered poor. They thus need to be brought closer to these realities by claim holders actively and constantly claiming. It is not a decentralization of government that is needed; it is the democratization of power relations that needs to be brought to the local levels.


11. A meaningful mobilization with any chance to succeed will thus have to be through consolidating multiple alliances. (Urban Jonsson)


12. Ask yourself: Who, if not the empowered claim holders themselves, are called upon to act on opportunities to reduce disparities? Who is to expand the economic opportunities for those rendered poor if not themselves if and when empowered? …Certainly not us reading this (with counted exceptions).


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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-Those rendered rich, in particular, are by necessity interested in sustaining the only order of things that can assure them the possession of their advantages. Civil government, as it has for objective securing property, is in reality, put in place to defend the rich against those rendered poor; or said in another way, protect those that have some property against those who have none. (Paraphrasing Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations) One would have to be naïf to conclude that, therefore, the rich religiously pay their taxes to keep this state of affairs. Those rendered rich figured it out that they could abstain from paying taxes if those rendered poor grew in numbers and paid taxes. Those rendered poor have little money, that is true, but there are so many of them…

-Theft is a simple phenomenon of the market. (Vilfredo Pareto, 1848-1923) For there to be millionaires, society must produce millions of poor people. (David Ricardo, 1772-1823) your social media marketing partner
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