I give thought to what I can do to help those people. I have been interested in micro finance and have contributed money that way in the past. And yet I have read articles that lead to me believe that those avenues may not be as helpful to lifting people out of poverty as we would hope.
So it was with great interest that I became aware of a book The Poverty of Nations by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus that was published about a year ago. It was on my reading list, and my daughter bought it for me for Christmas. I've begun to read it and will give a summary as I go.
Within my lifetime (55 years) the Western world has given at least 500 billion dollars to Africa, yet that continent remains mired in poverty. What has happened? Surely that much money should have raised the average African to at least being out of poverty. But that's not what has happened. In this book, the authors show how nations (not individuals) can leave poverty behind them. They examine these factors (seventy nine total) and show both economically (Barry Asmus) and Biblically (Wayne Grudem) why these principles work.
The authors want to provide a sustainable solution to poverty for nations. It is important that the solution last - so it must be sustainable. The authors realize that within nations there will be inequality of wealth, and that some nations will be wealthier than others. That is the way life is, but it is important (and Biblical) that people not be left in poverty. The focus of the book is on "national laws, national economic policies, and national cultural values habits because we are convinced that the primary causes of poverty are factors that affect an entire nation." (p. 26)
It is important that these changes come from within the poor nation itself. Outsiders cannot impose solutions, nor should they act in ways that will lead to dependence by the poor nation (paternalism).
The authors recognize that wealth is not all that there is to life. Many poor people may be better adjusted and happier than many wealthy people in their own countries or in other countries. It could also be argued that although we in the USA may be very wealthy materially, that we are in fact very impoverished spiritually and in our relationships. Nevertheless, it is not good that there are so many poor people in the world who are unable to feed themselves and their families, or who are stuck with the barest essentials while others have so much more.
Why don't economists agree on the solutions(s) to poverty? The authors list six reasons and interact with them.
- Some do agree with our authors, and they list several works that could be read.
- Some economists are "professional donors." That is, they give away others' money and have a stake in the system continuing as it is.
- Pure economists only address economic concerns and do not address cultural, moral, or spiritual values. The authors of this book believe that all these factors are important for lifting people out of poverty.
- Some people do not believe that certain cultural values are better or worse than others. All cultural values are equal.
- Some people believe that wealth comes becomes of accidents of geography. The book Guns, Germs, and Steel is one such approach.
- Planners (I am so glad they included this part) believe that government experts can adequately plan economies and thereby create wealth. If it hasn't worked well before (or at all) it is because the wrong experts have been in place. Sounds like the current administration in Washington!!
So what can I, as an American do? First, it is my hope that by reading this book and summarizing it for you, I can raise your awareness of the issues. Perhaps an influential person in a poor country will read these posts, and then read the book and take action in their own country. Second, you and I can influence our leaders in the West and businesses that deal with poor countries to put in place policies that will actually benefit these poorer nations. We can also encourage the elimination of policies that do not help and may actually keep poor countries in poverty. Third, as we work through the book, hopefully there will be other ways that we can help that become more obvious. Lastly, we in the West are not guaranteed to remain prosperous. We may be leaving some of the principles that have helped us create our wealth. So it would be wise of us to examine our own culture to see what we can do to not squander the wealthy inheritance that we have been given.
Dennis Prager interview with Wayne Grudem on the topic and the book.
Chapter 1 is next