Pi Attitude Zone: Ethics & Altruism

An Outlandish Idea To Fix Poverty

One of the major issues to be highlighted since the onset of global recession is social inequality.  Debates about how to deal with the rich getting richer and stop the poor getting poorer are dominating news headlines, think-tank conversations and even national elections.

There are those who believe that simply punishing the plutocrats is the sure-fire nostrum for fixing the world’s problems.  Pi is not among  them – it’s an awful lot more complicated than that.  The idea of helping poor people out of poverty, on the other hand, shows distinct promise as a direct specific for curing economic and social problems.  So how to help the impoverished, and start to mend the world’s socio-economic imbalances?

The Brazilians came up with a startlingly simple idea:  give them money.

It is over ten years since Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took over the presidency of Brazil, after his predecessor tamed the country’s hyperinflation.  The national economy grew fast during the Lula years, and for the first time in Brazil’s history the benefits were shared around among pretty much everyone.  Social programs like Bolsa Familia (the family allowance) put money in the hands of desperately poor families, and raised people from poverty in their millions.  There were virtually no strings attached to the cash handout, except the quid-pro-quo that mothers had to get their kids vaccinated and make sure they attended school – both social and economic “good things” in themselves. 

Of course there were voices denouncing the scheme as an unjustified give-away of taxpayers’ money to undeserving loafers.  But history has already proved those voices wrong.  The Bolsa Familia transfers of cash helped diminish income inequality in Brazil.  Ten years on, incomes for the poorest fifth of the population have grown two-and-a-half times faster than Brazil’s top earners.  Even the middle quintile of society has been seeing its income rising at double the rate of the richest 20%, comparing 2012 to 2002, the year before Lula took over.

It turns out that the best solution for lives blighted by poverty, and the societal miseries that accompany impoverishment, is – surprise, surprise – money.  Since Lula’s accession in 2003, around forty million Brazilians (out of just under 200m) have joined the country’s burgeoning middle class.  Whatever else he did or did not do, Lula's policies gave the “have-nots” in Brazil new hopes and expectations, a feeling that they could take their place at the table, and a new conviction that they deserved it.  

Other nations should take note: sometimes the simplest expedients are the ones that actually work.

Zone: Ethics & Altruism Country: Latin America Product –