No Hope for Those Most in Need

by admin

Poverty stinks.  Literally. 


When I first started working in China in the mid-1990’s, the stench was often impossible to avoid.  Plumbing was occasionally completely lacking and frequently leaky and irregular.  The smell of human waste lingered in and around the restrooms in many buildings.  For me this was little more than an inconvenience and a reminder as to what is lacking in an impoverished country.  Yet, in reality, for locals such conditions usually represent the kind of unhygienic conditions which can lead to disease.


Extreme poverty is shockingly difficult

The most vivid visual memory I have of extreme poverty in China was “homes” I saw in the coal mining areas.  It was poor everywhere.  But, in particular, driving between the coal mines in the area, one would see hillsides dotted with stone houses.  Not houses, really.  More like huts.  The huts were made from piling stones on top of each other to form walls.  The roof was sheet metal or something similar.  Usually, there was barely any mortar between the stones.  Nothing holding the stones together but gravity.  I could hardly believe people lived in such primitive dwellings.  This was abject poverty.  These people had absolutely nothing.  They likely worked in the illegal, unsanctioned coalmines in the area.  Whenever I saw those stone huts, I would think that this is the reason so many more people die in natural disasters like earthquakes in less developed countries.  They simply can’t protect themselves.


Most Americans simply don’t understand the challenge of extreme poverty

Out of sight, out of mind.  Sadly, that is nature of the human condition.  In a country like America, people might see occasional TV commercials for charities that address global poverty (like the old Sally Struthers spots) and perhaps, even less frequently, a news report which conveys that message.  But mostly people can’t relate to the kind of suffering which accompanies the abject poverty in which most of the world still lives.  Keep in mind, as was mentioned in the other essay in this section, three billion people, roughly 40% of the world’s population, live on less than 5% of a typical person in an advanced economy.  Another 45% live on less than a quarter of what we have.  As a result…


  • Every year six million children die from malnutrition before their fifth birthday.
  • Each year, approximately 300 to 500 million people are infected with malaria. Approximately three million people die as a result.
  • More than 800 million people go to bed hungry every day…300 million are children.
  • More than 2.6 billion people-roughly 40 per cent of the world’s population-do not have basic sanitation, and
  • More than one billion people still unsafe sources of drinking water.
  • Five million people, mostly children, die each year from water-borne diseases.


LDC’s growth collapsed after the commodities boom ended

Many Less Developed Countries (LDC’s) experienced decent growth rates from the mid-1990’s through 2010 or 2015.  With a few exceptions (China, Vietnam, a few others), this was mostly the result of the commodities boom related to the US and China housing bubbles.  Now that commodities have cooled, the gap between LDC’s and Advanced Economies is growing again.  Given the global debt bubble and resulting slower global growth, there is little reason for optimism relative to lifting the world’s poorest out of poverty.


The Progress Crisis means the world’s neediest have little hope for improvement

The “Democracy Crisis” described in the other essay in this section is really a “Progress Crisis.”  Both freedom and prosperity are in retreat.  The biggest casualties will be the most vulnerable which are those still living in high impoverished countries.  Life in such places is not like being poor in a prosperous country like the US.  This is kind of poverty where individual survival is at risk and society has almost no resources to assist.  Life in highly impoverished countries is dismal in a way that is difficult to appreciate if you don’t at least see it up close.  At a time when so many people in the US and other Advanced Economies seem committed to having a “purpose” in life that includes making the world better, it is telling that there is little chance for improvement relative to the world’s greatest challenge—extreme poverty.






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