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“Poverty imposes an inability to make choices”
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“Poverty imposes an inability to make choices”

Swapnil Mishra picSwapnil Mishra, 21, a Correspondent from India and currently studying in the U.S., looks at the historic and economic roots of poverty. He argues for the need to provide basic necessities and the opportunity to make personal and economic choices.

After reading the five different individual stories from John Isbister’s “A World of Poverty”, about people from different parts of the third world, there seems to be a commonality between these stories – that none of these people had complete control over any of the situations that were posed to them, which put them in a tragic, economically-unstable situation.

This circumstance can be largely attributed to bad governance and lack of health and education facilities in the developing world. Chronic diseases keep countries poor, as their potential market for a vaccine is not sufficiently valuable to warrant drug manufacturers making the investment which is necessary in research and development.

There is a sense of betrayal of responsibility by developed countries as they consistently cut down on the UN-negotiated monetary funding agreement to mark 0.7 per cent of their GDP annually as foreign aid to third world countries. Moreover, when the agenda before the government of rich countries is to cut their budgetary deficits, more often than not foreign aid seems to be the most vulnerable as it has the weakest domestic constituency.

As far as developing world countries are concerned, they get into various poverty traps such as the conflict trap, natural resources trap, trap of being landlocked with bad neighbors or trap of bad governance. However, should the developed nations be blamed for these natural-seeming situations in those countries? Should colonial states have taken some responsibility to establish democratic and liberal societies in third world countries post granting full-fledged independence, after leaving the countries in major sociopolitical turmoil?

Explaining Economic Inequality Between Nations

As “third world” nations seem to carry a sense of opposition, tension and struggle toward achieving economic prosperity, over time it has taken on the connotation of nonalignment.

As the most privileged countries and societies of the world today are secular and democratic, there is a wide gap between the poor from a first world country and a third world country. In a developed country, the economic condition of a peasant, an underemployed or a factory worker is substantially better than someone who holds the same job in a developing country.

Therefore, what poverty really means is the inability to make choices. Hence, it would be incorrect to call this situation a crisis, as it persists frequently. It should be rather called a tragedy.

Poverty can also be found in Britain and the U.S., although their income is greater than that of a typical person in Asia or Africa. However, this raises a significant question. The cost of living in general is higher in developed countries as compared to developed countries, so does that not even out the difference in living standards of the poor across the globe?

Change can happen in third world countries, but it would have to come from within the societies of the bottom billion. Drawing examples from Korea and Taiwan, they have built their success on a strategy of producing manufactured goods with high-end technology and have exported them to rich countries. They were unabashedly capitalists but had good guidance and support from the government. Before the change happened, both these countries were also poverty-stricken.

Overall, development is about giving hope to ordinary people that their children will live in a society that has caught up with the rest of the world. However, in order to achieve landmark success to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of development, the change should begin from scratch by providing sustainable resources to make basic necessities of human survival readily available in third world countries.

photo credit: barnimages.com Right and left arrow via photopin (license)
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About me: My name is Swapnil Mishra and I am an undergraduate student pursuing a major in Economics with minors in Business (Environmental Management) & International Relations at Knox College, Illinois, U.S.

My ambition is to work in the field of International Development and my interests are cricket and travelling.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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