The End of Poverty

‘The End of Poverty?’ is an essential film which takes an uncomfortable look at the root causes of ‘global poverty’ and points the finger squarely at the wealthy Northern hemisphere. Fundamentally, it describes the problem as man-made – our economic system has relied and continues to rely on the continued exploitation of the world’s poor and at the core of the issue is economic justice. It’s all-too-rare to hear this when poverty, particularly in the ‘Third World’ (a difficult term, certainly) is discussed – we’re encouraged less to think about why these countries continue to suffer extreme poverty and more to see them as fundamentally broken. They’re poor because they are, essentially. Yet as one person observes in the film, in stark contrast to the favoured narrative of the ‘First World’ sending aid to the Third, what we have actually seen (and continue to see) is a massive transfer of wealth in the opposite direction. Our wealth is largely predicated on their poverty. We aren’t going to solve this by signing petitions, buying Fair Trade produce or giving more aid (which isn’t to say these things are pointless) but rather only by challenging the “power and structural violence” which dictates the (abusive) relationship. As the film makes clear, the First World countries have no qualms about interfering when democratically-elected leaders in South threaten their wealth and interests; more, they demonstrate stark hypocrisy in making the right noises about aid and ‘reform’ while institutions like the IMF and World Bank continue to exacerbate the problem behind the scenes. As War on Want noted, Cameron has been trumpeting his actions in tackling poverty which increasing it both at home and abroad, intervening on behalf of multinationals to strengthen their stranglehold over global food production. 

War on Want is one of the only organisations I’ve come across which addresses these issues at their political roots and, as such, I whole-heartedly recommend it. More, one of its central tenets is that it works in partnership with those affected. This is one of the best aspects of the film above – it may be voiced by Martin Sheen but its running time is overwhelmingly taken up by discussion with the residents, workers and leaders of Third World countries. It’s definitely worth your time.

We always want to believe in the ‘quick fix’ and critical thinking is so frayed that anyone being seen to ‘do good’ is invariably taken to be altruistic. This is how we as societies can live with our reliance on brutal exploitation  – as the narration states here, “our economic system is, and always has been, financed by the world’s poor”. Yet economic justice requires uncomfortable changes to our lives and accepting the fallacy of the notion that we can keep consuming as we do while slowly ‘raising’ those in extreme poverty to these levels. It’s similar to the issue of global warming, which continues to be presented to us as solvable by re-using plastic bags when, again, it’s our inhumane economic system which is at the root of the issue. I’m no better than most in these aspects but if we truly want anything to change, we’re going to have to start addressing that at a societal level.