The MOST important research on global poverty eradication I’ve ever seen…

Are you ready for it?

It will take 100 years for the world’s poorest people to earn $1.25 a day

I’ll just repeat that.

It will take 100 years for the world’s poorest people to earn $1.25 a day

In the bath last week I decided that, somehow, without any of the right skills or training, I would set about to work out what the world would look like, in the current global economic system, if there was more financial equality… and actually to ascertain if it’s even possible (working on the assumption that the ‘rich’ are only rich because the ‘poor’ are poor). Governments and corporations the world over talk about ‘poverty eradication’, but what does that actually look like, and, when the powerful 1% are only so because they’re being propped up by the 99%, is it ever going to happen under capitalism? I didn’t think so. Luckily for me, I don’t have to: in a Guardian article today Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, highlighted a piece of research by economist David Woodward published in the World Economic Review that demonstrates that our current economic model, built on GDP, “will never be inclusive or sustainable”. Hickel claims that the headlines and statistics announcing that “world leaders have succeeded in cutting global poverty in half over the past couple of decades” are untrue and that “the numbers have been furtively manipulated to make it seem as though our economic system is working for the majority of humanity when in fact it is not.” Is it possible to end poverty under our current economic system? NO.

Let’s assume that we can maintain the fastest rate of income growth that the poorest 10% of the world’s population have ever enjoyed over the past few decades. That was between 1993 and 2008 – after the debt crisis of the 1980s that crippled much of the developing world and before the banking collapse of 2008. During that period, their incomes increased at a rate of 1.29% each year. So how long will it take to eradicate poverty if we extrapolate this trend? 100 years.

And that’s just to get the world’s poorest over the standard $1.25 benchmark poverty line, which, increasingly, scholars are pointing out isn’t adequate for people to live on. Hickel points out that to eradicate poverty global GDP would “have to increase to 175 times its present size if we go with $5/day” (as a ‘fairer’ minimum living benchmark). If this were even possible, not only would it drive commodity extraction, production and consumption, and therefore climate change, to “unimaginable” levels, it would mean that global per capita income would have to be:

no less than $1.3 million. In other words, the average income would have to be $1.3 million per year simply so that the poorest two-thirds of humanity could earn $5 per day. It’s completely absurd, but shows just how deeply inequality is hardwired into our economic system.

Hickel argues that poverty eradication is possible in fewer than 207 years without destroying the planet, but it will require huge changes. He suggests that the abolition of debts owed by developing countries; the closing down of tax havens; the installation of a global minimum wage; a moratorium on land grabs and an end to structural adjustment programmes that “allow rich countries to control the fates of poor countries”, will help, alongside a ‘dethroning’ of the GDP measure and replacing it with “something more rational – like the Genuine Progress Indicator or the Happy Planet Index.” It’s a powerful piece of research and an important article that are desperately needed to question the seemingly futile Sustainable Development Goals and the global elite. Like me Hickel is sceptical that the hegemony will adopt any of the changes needed to truly eradicate global poverty, as to do so would “threaten the interests” of the1%. But, also like me, he believes that we need to be pointing these huge disparities and falsehoods at every chance we get. Please do read the full article on the Guardian Development Professionals Network here. I’d also really urge you to share his important work far and wide. You can follow Jason Hickel on Twitter @jasonhickel (and me at @devtruths). What do you think about this research? How does it make you feel? Do you agree or disagree with Hickel and Woodward’s conclusions?


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