Strategies to Eradicate Poverty: An Integral Approach To Development – II

Roar Bjonnes

8.2 Long Term Strategy
There are currently three explanations for why there are so many poor people in the Third World. One school of thought blames it on cultural factors. Something in the work or savings ethics, this theory hails, prevents them from developing like their Northern counterparts. The second theory claims that much of the world never learned to implement capitalism right. According to the third school, both these theories are condescending and plain wrong.

The third school looks at poverty as a chronic disease, as a systemic failure of the socio-economic organism caused by the cancer of greed and its manifestations throughout the economy. The cure for poverty, it claims, requires nothing less than an integral restoration of the whole organism. This long term, integral treatment consists, among others, of the following set of remedies: equitable distribution of wealth, justice through both political and economic democracy, a decentralized, ecological and self-sufficient economy, a balance between cooperation and competition, a constitutional right to life’s basic necessities, culturally appropriate education, a consumption-motivated rather than profit-motivated economy, agricultural reform, a philosophy of life that supports all being’s interests rather than self-interest, and a worldview that sees the spiritual unity of all life.

Economic decentralization: From sustainable development theorists to environmental activists, from bio-regionalists to natural capitalists, from Thomas Jefferson to P. R. Sarkar, increased economic decentralization is seen as the only panacea for the economic exploitation caused by centralized economies, whether capitalist or communist. Hawken’s natural capitalism speaks of the need to “replace nationally and internationally produced items with products created locally and regionally.” The main reason for this, according to Sarkar, is to avoid a policy of economic centralization that is merely an effective strategy to accumulate increasing capital in the hands of the few. There is, according to him, only one way to effectively stop economic exploitation and alleviate the plight of the common people, and that is to implement a policy of decentralization in all sectors of the economy. Economic decentralization is also more benign to the environment as less resources are used for transportation of goods and raw-materials, and because local people are less likely to pollute their own neighborhoods.

While a centralized economy’s focus is on its expanded markets, concentrated capital and increased profits, a decentralized economy concerns itself with its small-scale, localized units of cooperation. The goal of a decentralized economy is the welfare of all, but first and foremost to alter the plight of the poor. A decentralization strategy, therefore, attempts to raise a country’s or region’s poverty threshold from the bottom up–to immediately increase people’s purchasing capacity, even if that entails starting less profitable and labor intensive industries. In the long run, profitability cannot be ignored, of course, but it should not be the central rationale of the economy. The primary interest of decentralization is that all natural resources of any given area is controlled by local people. This principle is in stark contrast to today’s globalized economy where cheap labor and raw materials in one region are exploited by business owners from another, often causing great inequities and poverty.

Production for consumption, not profit: A consumption economy is an integral aspect of a decentralized economy and should not be confused with a profit-oriented consumer economy. A consumption economy is an economy where goods are produced as per people’s need. A consumer economy is an economy where goods are produced and sold solely for profit. A consumer economy, according to the famed retail analyst Victor Lebow, demands that we make consumption a way of life…that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.” A consumption oriented economy, on the other hand, produces goods not to be consumed and discarded but to satisfy the true needs of the local people. Such production will ensure economic stability, no capital flight, goods at affordable prices, and a continuous increase in people’s purchasing capacity. Finally, as the consumption economy’s main goal is to satisfy basic human needs, it also provides the economic security needed for people’s non-material sources of fulfilment–family, community, culture, and spirituality.

Cooperative enterprises: The Darwinian notion that competition promoted the evolutionary survival of the fittest individual is outdated. New research reveals that evolutionary success had more to do with the survival of the fittest community through interwoven cooperation. Dubos and other biologists argue that cooperation, teamwork, collaboration, and federation has been inbred in our genes over hundreds of thousands of years. Thus, many social observers argue that cooperation, not competition, will be the cornerstone of a more equitable economy.

Indeed, recent business management studies indicate that the most effective production incentives are profit-sharing, equity, and decision-making participation. In worker owned and managed cooperatives all three of these production incentives are maximized. Not to be confused with inefficient, unprofitable, Soviet-style communes, cooperatives are best suited to elicit the productive potentiality of workers, and should therefore be the predominant form of economic enterprise. Cooperatives also minimize worker alienation, promote equitable distribution of wealth, and support economic decentralization. Moreover, a cooperative economy is a natural extension of a spiritual worldview. According to Sarkar, “The wonts of the human heart are joy, pleasure, and beatitude. In the physical realm, the best expression of this human sweetness is the cooperative system.”

Small-scale private enterprises: Proponents of today’s free market capitalism seem to have forgotten that their mentor, Adam Smith, proposed a competitive market structure in which there were no corporate businesses with monopolistic powers. Similarly, Sarkar claims that excessive inequities can best be avoided if private enterprise consists mainly of small businesses such as restaurants, stores, artisan shops, service and cottage industries with no more than a few dozen employees. That is, small-scale, private capitalism stimulates the entrepreneurial spirit and purchasing power of individuals and families, yet avoids the gross disparity and poverty so often caused by unbridled concentration of wealth in the hands of corporate monopolies.

Economic democracy: Concentration of wealth and economic power corrupts the political process. In Third World countries, especially, money buys votes outright, and the moguls of capital maintain the ultimate veto power of capital flight: if government policies are enacted which threaten their financial interests, they can move their capital out of the local or national economy and wreak economic havoc. Economic power must therefore be dispersed–it must be extended beyond the political sphere and into the economic sphere.

Self-sufficient, regional economies: People can best collaborate in social and economic development if they work together within regional socio-economic units that are defined on the basis of uniform economic potentials, common economic problems, similar geographic features, ethnic similarity, and common sentimental legacy. For such locally sensitive development to take place, there needs to be regional autonomy in certain collective spheres of life. In particular, regional economies need to control their resources and capital and be totally free from any kind of domination by outside economic forces.

Culturally appropriate education: Illiteracy and poverty are often synonymous. Education is therefore an integral element of creating economic self-sufficiency and social harmony. Using essentially the same curriculum the world over, however, modern education is often training children to become “better servants” of the global economy. Promoting regional and local adaptation in the schools, instead, would be an essential part of the revitalization of local economies. Trade schools and higher education must adopt to local needs and conditions. “Training in locally adapted agriculture, architecture, artisan production (pottery, weaving, and so on), and appropriate technologies suited to the specifics of climate and local resources would,” according to Nordberg-Hodge, “further a real decentralization of production for basic needs.” Since one’s mother tongue is the most natural medium for the expression of ideas, primary education should be in the local language, but appropriate, secondary languages can be supplemented later.

Environmental balance. Over the past 30 years, we have seen how the environment suffers when people have either too much or too little. The rampant consumerism in the Northern countries has been remarkably effective in destroying the earth’s ecosystems. Yet the opposite extreme–poverty–is equally destructive, as hungry people in the South put forests ablaze and steep, erosion prone slopes to the plow. The ultimate solution to all environmental problems, however, lies not so much in finding so-called sustainable development solution, but, rather, in developing a world-centric consciousness (Wilber), a deep spiritual understanding for what nature is and how it operates. From this deep understanding of human psychology and spirituality, on the one hand, and the natural world, on the other, humanity can develop a genuine environmental ethics. In other words, develop a balanced socio-economic philosophy based on the dynamic interrelationship between the fields of ecology, economy and spirituality. At this point in history, this is one of humanity’s most urgent tasks.

Free trade: The giant globalization efforts by the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank is promoting “free trade” and “free markets” as a panacea for creating prosperity and sustainability. In reality, current economic globalization efforts have, for the most parts, delivered exactly the opposite of what has been promised. Today’s so-called free trade between rich and poor nations, between the North and the South, has widened the gap between the rich and the poor, as well as increased environmental degradation. In order to effectively reduce disparity and dependency on loans from outside sources, free trade should be discouraged until fair and free trade can be attained between self-sufficient and economically resourceful countries or regions.

Population balance: It is commonly believed that world hunger and poverty is caused by “too many mouths to feed.” According to the Institute for Food and Development Policy, this is simply a myth. Rapid population growth is not the root cause of hunger and poverty. Rather, both increased population growth and poverty is caused by economic inequity. The real challenge, then, is to bring human population into balance with economic resources and the environment through decentralized, economic planning.

Cultural vitality: The irony of material development is that it has created what Paul Wactel calls “the poverty of affluence.” While consumerism has enticed people in the North into gorging on material things, it has failed to provide a sense of inner fulfillment. This lifestyle, whose “bottom line” is “looking out for number one,” has created a superficial culture of fame, wealth and success that justifies selfishness and breeds alienation and loneliness. Yet the opposite extreme–material poverty–is also devastating to the human spirit. Not having enough creates hopelessness and forces many into lives of beggary, prostitution, and thievery. Both these extreme conditions signify a loss of the deep sense of belonging and inner beauty a vibrant culture has to offer, including non-material treasures such as sharing, service, friendship, family, community, meaningful work, artistic creativity, and spiritual communion. Restoring a community’s non-material treasures and cultural roots is an integral part of overcoming poverty–whether spiritual or material.

Sustainable globalism: Decentralization, self-sufficiency, and smaller scale industries does not mean neglecting a global agenda. But, while contemplating globalism’s new information technology and the liberal capitalist, multinational economy, it is important to remember that most planetary citizens do not yet have a telephone, let alone a computer, nor do they need, nor can they afford, the foods served by Burger King or the running shoes advertised by Nike. Today’s economic globalism is not in the service of the poor, and it has little relevance to their cultural, economic and spiritual aspirations. Instead, the world’s poor need a global movement with two, separate, yet integrated goals: 1) a strengthening of the global polity through the UN, combined with a gradual movement toward a global federation, or world-government that can safeguard the needs and rights of people and the environment, and 2) the formation of self-sufficient, socioeconomic regions of free trade zones–that is, a global grid of sustainable and self-sufficient trading partners.

Spiritual globalism: Environmental destruction, due to ignorance, is nothing new in human history. According to biologist Rene Dubos: “All over the globe and at all times, men have pillaged nature and disturbed the ecological equilibrium, usually out of ignorance, but also because they have always been more concerned with immediate advantages than with long-range goals.” What is new, however, is the presence of more dangerous means to destroy the environment. In return, there is increased public interest in saving our planetary home. But how? The solution, according to Wilber, is not to “reactivate the tribal form of ecological ignorance (take away our means), nor to continue the modern form of that ignorance (the free market will save us), but rather to evolve and develop into an integrative mode of awareness that will–also for the first time in history–integrate the biosphere [nature] and noosphere [spiritual] in a higher and deeper union.”

9. Conclusion

A truly sustainable development program–and thus the solution to eradicate global poverty–will only emerge in coalition with sustainable spirituality. From this union a more equitable and environmentally sound globalism can emerge. From this source, a newly fed, a newly bountiful, and a newly awakened family of global citizens will draw its present and future inspiration.


basic necessities–human needs required for survival, i.e. clothing, shelter, medical care, food, education, and employment

consumer economy–economy based on production of material goods according to the human desire for economic profit

consumption economy–economy based on production of material goods according to human needs rather than economic profit

decentralized economy–the opposite of a centralized economy, it signifies a small-scale, localized economy designed for the welfare of both people and environment

economic liberalism–economic paradigm that promotes free markets and globalization to the detriment of local economies, belief that sustained economic growth is the foundation of human progress; also termed neo-liberalism

economism–a worldview that defines progress in material terms only, i.e. a country’s level of civilization is determined based on its ability to produce material goods

material poverty–lack of basic human needs usually required for survival within one’s society

material progress–a gradual increase in the production and consumption of material goods; an increase in the quality of material goods, often with detrimental side-effects to human culture and the natural world

neo-humanism–spiritual philosophy that expands humanism to include the welfare and existential rights of animals and plants; sees all of existence as bound together in an ecology of consciousness

PROUT–socio-economic theory that calls for a society’s dynamic and balanced use of material, mental and spiritual resources within the context of a strong ecological ethic

psycho-economic exploitation–when the use of advertisement or other propaganda makes indigenous populations believe their own culture, dress, food, or language is inferior and thus become easy prey for economic exploitation by outsiders

purchasing capacity–an individual’s economic capacity to purchase material goods in one’s society

spiritual poverty–a psychological state, generally among the affluent, expressed as a constant hunger for more material things; a sense of alienation, loneliness, and spiritual emptiness

spiritual progress–a gradual increase in inner well-being, peace and harmony that culminates in a state of enlightenment and bliss


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Carter, Philip (2000) Lie of the Tiger, article in The Ecologist magazine, pp 60, July/August issue, London. [Describes World Bank sponsored development project, and its destruction of tiger habitat in India]

Dolan, Kerry A. (2000) Waking Dead Capital, pp 99-112, article in Forbes magazine, May 15, New York. [Describes economist Hernado de Soto’s efforts to grant land titles to the poor in Manila, Philippines]

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Korten, David C. (1996) The Mythic Victory of Market Capitalism, pp 184, essay in The Case Against the Global Economy, edited by Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. [Argues that the original ideas of Adam Smith have been distorted beyond recognition by right-wing economic ideologues]

Logan, Ron (1995) A Brief Survey of Concepts of Development, pp 27, article in Common Future magazine, No 2, Ashland, Oregon. [Describes various forms of sustainable development models]

______. (1995 Frontwords, pp 2, editorial in Common Future magazine, No 2, Ashland, Oregon. [Five reasons why neo-liberalism has failed to achieve a sustainable society]

Moore Lappe, Frances (1998) World Hunger: Twelve Myths, pp1-178, New York: Grove Press. [Examines the economic and political causes of hunger and poverty]

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McNamara, Robert S., (1981) The McNamara Years at the World Bank: Major Policy Addresses of Robert S. McNamara 1968-1981, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Nordberg-Hodge, Helena (1991) Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, pp1-192, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. [Describes the effect Western development has had on the culture, economy and people of Ladakh]

Renner, Michael (1996) Fighting for Survival, pp 136 and pp 184-185, The Worldwatch Environmental Alert Series, New York: W. W. Norton. [Argues that poverty, unequal distribution of land, and the degradation of the environment are the most pressing issues undermining security]

Sachs, Wolfgang (1996) Neo Development, pp 239, essay in The Case Against the Global Economy, edited by Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. [Describes why the term sustainable development calls for the conservation of development, not the conservation of nature]

Sarkar, Prabhat Ranjan (1993) Proutist Economics: Discourses on Economic Liberation, pp1-395, Calcutta: Ananda Marga Publications. [Describes the principles of a sustainable economy whose goal is to free human beings from economic, social, and environmental problems in order to increase intellectual and spiritual potentials]

Schumacher, E. F. (1973) Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, pp1-297, San Francisco: Harper & Row. [Describes an alternative, sustainable, small-scale economy rooted in ecology and spirituality]

Wilber, Ken (1995) Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, pp 1-830, Boston: Shambhala [Describes the course of evolution from matter to life to mind and the common patterns that evolution takes in these three domains]

Copyright The author 2011

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