by Robert Maynard
Last year I had the opportunity to meet with the Director of External Relations for the Acton Institute for Religion and Liberty. We discussed approaches to the questions of poverty and social justice that did not see the poor as a victim who is destined to be dependent on an ever expanding government. She told me of an exciting new initiative called “PovertyCure – From Aid to Enterprise.” In going through their material it is clear that the common theme is that an aid based dependency model to addressing poverty has failed despite the overwhelming resources poured into this approach. Their idea is to move to a model based on enterprise that sees the poor as potential victors, rather than as mere victims. This is how the group describes what it is about:
PovertyCure is an international network of organizations and individuals seeking to ground our common battle against global poverty in a proper understanding of the human person and society, and to encourage solutions that foster opportunity and unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that already fills the developing world.
We know there is no single solution to poverty, and good people will disagree about methods, but we have joined together to rethink poverty, encourage discussion and debate, promote effective compassion, and advance entrepreneurial solutions to poverty informed by sound economics, local knowledge, the lessons of history and reflections from the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Christ calls us to solidarity with the poor, but this means more than assistance. It means seeing the poor not as objects or experiments, but as partners and brothers and sisters, as fellow creatures made in the image of God with the capacity to solve problems and create new wealth for themselves and their families. At a practical level, it means integrating them into our networks of exchange and productivity.
Their vision for development uses more of an empirical approach than a theoretical one: “The PovertyCure vision for development isn’t based on untested theory. It’s founded on decades of successful, sustainable practices employed by organizations from every continent. Explore our network to learn how our 190+ partners spanning 142 countries are making a difference.” Here are some of the insights that inform their vision:
- There is no magic bullet for the poverty that plagues many nations, but history teaches us some of the important factors necessary to create wealth.
- The economy is not a fixed pie or zero-sum game where people can only get richer if they take from someone else. History and economics teaches that economies can grow and one person’s wealth does not mean another’s impoverishment.
- Malthusian predictions of overpopulation have proven false again and again. Population does not cause poverty. “Besides the earth, man’s greatest resource is man himself.”
- Poor countries grow economically when they are allowed to compete in the global economy and are linked to networks of productivity and circles of exchange.
- Honest competition within a moral framework creates opportunity for the poor.
- Business and entrepreneurship are keys to prosperity and economic growth.
- Transparent and competitive markets, within a moral framework are beneficial to the poor. A market economy requires, among other things, certain formal and informal institutions in order to be just and sustainable. These include private property rights and the rule of law for rich and poor alike, the consistent enforcement of contracts, free association and free exchange for everyone and not just for the privileged few, a culture of trust, vibrant community life and a rich vision of man that goes beyond homo-economicus or man as rational maximizer. We recognize that no market economy will ever be perfectly just, but where these institutions are weak or missing, the poor are especially harmed. Hence, in order to effectively encourage human flourishing, efforts must be made to foster these institutions.
- Good economic development is sustainable and should be environmentally sensitive.
- Economic progress is the fastest path to an economically and environmentally sustainable future.
- People have a right to migrate in search of new opportunities. This dovetails into the Christian provision to love the immigrants among us.
- Liberty is more than the right to exercise one’s will. True liberty is achieved by acting in accordance with truth and reason. Freedom for excellence is achieved through hard work and discipline.
- People have the natural right of free association. They should be allowed to form businesses, charities, schools, unions and NGOs without facing suffocating regulation.
- The West needs to move away from a neo-colonial vision that views people in the developing world as helpless children.
- Nations and cultures have the right to resist radical secularist morality.
- The free market is not government in cahoots with big business. This is the unhealthy subversion of free markets and free competition.
- Developing countries may have sound reasons to pursue short term protection of an industry, but long-term import substitution policies are ineffective and reduce opportunity for the poor.
Here is a statement of their vision:
When we put the person at the center of our economic thinking, we transform the way we look at wealth and poverty. Instead of asking what causes poverty, we begin to ask, what causes wealth? What are the conditions for human flourishing from which prosperity can grow? And how can we create and protect the space for people to live out their freedom and responsibilities?
It is time to move:
- From aid to enterprise
- From poverty alleviation to wealth creation
- From paternalism to partnerships
- From handouts to investments
- From seeing the poor as consumers or burdens to seeing them as creators
- From viewing people and economies as experiments to pursuing solidarity with the poor
- From viewing the poor as recipients of charity to acknowledging them as agents of change with dignity, capacity, and creativity.
- From encouraging dependency to integrating the poor into networks of productivity and exchange
- From subsidies and protectionism to open trade and competition
- From seeing the global economy as a fixed pie to understanding that human enterprise can grow economies
Since I met with Judy, they have come up with a curriculum on DVDs that is perfect for showing in Churches as a way of sparking a discussion on how to creatively address the problem of poverty without creating dependency. The whole curriculum takes just under three hours to view. They are also working on a feature length film and are looking for willing partners to screen the film when it comes out. Both the curriculum and the movie focus on poverty in developing countries, but the website contains insight on the problem of poverty here in the U.S. as well.