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They say change
is the only constant thing in the world, for me however there is also one other
thing- poverty. Unfortunately,
in every continent and possibly in every country, poverty is present and always
have been present. It is also one of the main problems in our country. For the past elections in the Philippines,
every single candidate for presidency always mentions poverty. They talk about their plans to eradicate
poverty, how they are more sympathetic to the poor, why they care so much more
for the marginalized, and even how they would put an end to poverty. We’ve gone through a number of presidents
and yet our poverty rate only keeps getting worse. With the same consequence happening every election and presidential
term, it made me think that poverty is merely used as a political propaganda
and no one really cares enough about it. This reflects how lightly we use the word poverty and how easily we
throw the word around, and made me question if any of us actually know about
its effect on the world and on us fellow human beings.

 

            But how should we actually address
poverty? What is the right way to “fight” it? The article presents us with one
solution that has been through a lot of heated debates. We’re introduced to Jeffrey Sachs, an
adviser to the United Nations, who believes that foreign aid is key to stop
poverty. He believes in
what economists call a “poverty trap”, where in poor countries are poor due to
the fact that they are, and I quote, “hot, infertile, malaria infested, and
often landlocked.” It is almost
impossible for citizens of these countries to get out of poverty just because
of the unfair circumstances that they are experiencing. According to him, foreign aid can stimulate
productivity in these poor countries by providing the necessary funds or help
that they need.  However, there have been many economists who
have opposed this solution. For example, economist Dambisa Moyo and author William Easterly have
expressed in their book “Dead Aid” that aid does more bad than good. Aid, according to them, gives incentive to
possible corruption in local institutions and prevents people from finding
solutions to their own problems. It creates a problem of dependency when the real idea these countries
should rely on is that “when markets are free and incentives are right, people
can find ways to solve their own problems”. They do not believe that some countries are experiencing unfair circumstances,
thus they do not believe in poverty traps. Now the question is, whom should we believe?

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            The article illustrates an issue
that gives more fuel to this debate. Malaria, according to the World Health Organization, caused 1 million
deaths mostly among African children in 2008. Now studies have shown that sleeping under insecticide-treated nets
reduce the incidence of the disease. So what must be decided is how should these nets be distributed to
these areas with high cases or chances of Malaria. Sachs encourages that these nets should be distributed freely, however Moyo
and Easterly object. They argue that giving these nets freely would make them more dependent
to subsidies and these people would most likely refuse to buy more nets in the
future. So what is the
most efficient way to address this problem? There is no general answer to this
because we would need to observe the behavior of comparable groups of people
facing different levels of subsidy. Pascaline Dupas conducted a study on this by randomly selecting
individuals who will receive different levels of subsidy to purchase the nets. Although the results were not mentioned in
the article, it stated that the findings of the study did a lot to move this
debate and influenced both the discourse and the direction of policy. In other words, Dupas learned not only the
best way to distribute nets, but also started to understand more on how poor
people make decisions.

            Another example presented in the
article is the situation of a Kenyan farmer named Kennedy. He was given a huge amount fertilizer for almost
all of his crops, and he flourished since then. Sachs, who was one of the donors of fertilizer, said that the
fertilizer freed him from the poverty trap he was stuck in. Now he could do so much more with his farm
than he previously did merely because he was given something he couldn’t afford
before. However,
skeptics came into the picture. They asked questions such as, if fertilizer was all he needed why didn’t
Kennedy buy a few of it from what he could afford before and use it to his most
flourishing part of the farm. There are many ways to counter the finding of each side of the debate
but the discussion helps us see an overall principle. Based on the article, a poverty trap exists
when the capacity for increasing income at a fast rate is limited for those who
could invest so little, but enlarges for those who have the capability to
invest more. In contrast,
there is no poverty trap if the potential for fast growth is high among the
poor and gradually decreases as one’s wealth flourishes.

 

            Personally, I do believe that there
is such a thing as poverty traps. Maybe not in every country, but there are
areas which are suffering from this. I’ve read many papers, articles and journals
on poverty and, from what I’ve read, the best description of it by far is: “Poverty
is not a personal choice, but a reflection of society”. There are no two
countries or let alone two government system that are the same. Moreover, not all
countries have the same privileges, benefits and, most specially, opportunities. Therefore, I agree
with the findings mentioned in the article that a single experiment doesn’t
supply a definite answer that a program would work universally. This means that a
series of studies conducted in different locations could strengthen the
possibilities of finding solutions to poverty (more on those specific
locations).

This should be more encouraging than discouraging because we would find out that
there are factors why people get trapped and that by addressing these specific
problems instead of focusing on poverty solely could set this people free from it. This is what policy
makers should focus more on.

           

            Going back to the argument on
foreign aid, I believe that it is really helpful in the process of addressing
poverty. However, there
have been cases wherein foreign aid has been beneficial but there are also
cases when they weren’t. Supposedly, foreign aid must be for the greater good since it could be
used as a foundation or start-up of various projects that would be help
eradicate poverty or help the poor. However, this then becomes a problem because we don’t really know if
these funds are being used for its main purpose. There have been instances when the funds from these aids were not
solely or completely used for the poor but have rather been used for other
government projects, or maybe these funds also found their way into some of the
officials’ pockets. So the real issue here is tracing where will these funds go to or which
projects should be funded and which governments and government officials should
be trusted with these aids.

 

            In the beginning of this paper, I’ve
mentioned that I’ve questioned if any of us actually know about poverty’s
effects on the world. What some people don’t understand is that poverty doesn’t just affect
the marginalized, but it also has a great effect on every single human being in
our world. Sometimes it
may not have a serious effect but I know for sure that in the long run, the
effects could be massive. So even if this article presented us with all the controversy and debates concerning
poverty, this shouldn’t blind us from the real and actual problem we are facing. This is why
we should care all the more about making poverty not a constant anymore (as I’ve
mentioned earlier). Experts who have been so vocal for
the past years have always been fixated on the “big problem” of poverty, and
sometimes this can steer people to the direction that there is no point in
trying to end poverty because the fight against it is so overwhelming. Therefore,
our thinking must shift from asking the broad questions to addressing the much
narrower ones. Taking it one step at a time, or one problem at a time, doesn’t only
help us find the most feasible solutions to ending poverty, but it also
enlightens us on how the world works from the lenses of different perspectives.

 

 

 

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