HEADLINES OF THE DAY: ANOTHER 15,000 PEOPLE DIED YESTERDAY BECAUSE THEY WERE TOO POOR TO LIVE. THE RICH INCREASED THEIR WEALTH YESTERDAY BY $0.3 BILLION. THE 21st CENTURY VERSION OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION IS ONE DAY NEARER.
“O Ye rich ones on earth! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.”
A preview of the unpublished book A CIVILIZATION WITHOUT A VISION WILL PERISH: AN INDEPENDENT SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH by David Willis at email@example.com. CHAPTER 1: INDIFFERENCE TO POVERTY (Part 84). This blog is a continuation of the review of ENDING GLOBAL POVERTY: A GUIDE TO WHAT WORKS by Stephen C. Smith, published in 2005.
The Fourth Key: Access to functioning markets for income and opportunities to acquire assets
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 17 of the Declaration asserts that: “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others” and “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”
A step to equal opportunity
If every poor person has these rights, with real access to functioning markets, it would provide a great foundation – a step to equal opportunity. But many of the poor simply cannot take part freely in economic life. Opportunity includes the ability to start a business. But when economic power is overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of elites, the natural entrepreneurial abilities most people are born with are snuffed out. The rich may find ways to skim or steal the newly growing assets of the poor. In Mozambique, registering a new business requires 19 steps taking over 5 months – showing that part of the problem also rests with government bureaucracy. To end global poverty reforms are needed both of government policies and of markets and the distribution of wealth.
Genuine land reform
The need of the poor for land is critical, and is also emblematic of problems gaining access to markets and productive resources. Genuine land reform on economically viable farmland is an essential part of the struggle to end global poverty. Most of the poor are still rural, often living in remote areas. If you ask the rural poor what is most important to them, what would make the biggest positive difference in their lives, they frequently say owning enough of their land to make a living, and holding it securely. This is an overwhelming concern in densely settled South Asia, but also in Latin America and Africa: Remember the Nigerian who said, “all our problems stem from lack of land.”
Where land reform has succeeded for poverty reduction
A UN study has concluded that at least a half a billion people – 100 million households – depend for a living on farming land that they do not securely own, whether as day laborers, sharecroppers, tenants, or as squatters (in the eyes of the law, however long they have been farming there.) when farmers have insecure land tenure rights, there is also an incentive to treat land as a short-term resource.
Landless farmers or those eking out a living on a tiny plot of land cannot directly purchase land from the big landowners. This is because credit markets do not function adequately enough to provide a loan.
Even if they did, the price of land is too high, because the big landowners are unwilling to dilute their holdings.
Ownership confers many additional benefits beyond the income from farming activities, such as disproportionate political influence and social prestige.
Only an active policy of land reform can provide the needed changes.
Where land reform has succeeded, such as in Taiwan and South Korea, it has made an enormous difference for poverty reduction.
It is still common to come across regions in low-income countries where many farmers live on paths impassable by vehicles, miles from the nearest functional road.
As a poor person in rural Ecuador said, “a community without roads does not have a way out.” Roads give people essential connections to markets – and a way out of poverty.