Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Socio-Economic Roots of Poverty

AT the Geneva Institute of Leadership and Public Policy, I was recently asked to speak on this subject. Here is a summary.

I started with my theory of the EXPECTED NATIONAL LEVEL OF MINIMUM PROSPERITY (ENLMP) – the value of the physical resources of a country divided by the population of that country.

In order to achieve the ENLMP, countries need to eliminate looting/stealing/murder - that is, they need to have a culture that identifies and weakens structures of oppression/exploitation, which can only happen if the culture succeeds in minimising pride, arrogance, and corruption.

Different societies have different worldviews, and some worldviews are more likely than others to lead to prosperity.

The colours below are meant to have no pejorative connotations; rather, to help to remember the worldviews, and the differences between them.

A "black" worldview is one in which the fear or respect of nature/gods/fate discourages change but of course allows great sustainability. Many tribal societies have this kind of a worldview.

A "white" worldview considers the next life more important than this one, leading to possibly to great spirituality and certainly to great sustainability, but again, little progress. Examples are traditional Buddhist, Jain, Hindu, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic cultures.

A "yellow" worldview is dominant in empires and dictatorships, where the leadership needs to display sufficient power to prevent threats to their position. There can sometimes be great material progress, but challenging questions are discouraged – the current arrangement is considered in everyone's best interest and is presented as the only one that will work. This includes not merely ancient empires but also, for example, the Russian and Chinese empires today. It also includes current Anglo-American capitalism where, if you question the basic assumptions of the global economic and financial system, you are excluded and punished.

The "green" worldview wishes to balance environmental and human concerns, individuals and society, tradition and progress. The Green worldview originates in the Jewish scriptures, and is mediated to our world primarily as a result of the Protestant Reformation, which liberated individuals from the overwhelming importance of family, clan and society (but made individuals responsible for society). That liberation had an INTELLECTUAL component (the freedom to read and to think and to debate and to come to one's own conclusions), a PRACTICAL component (as this world is regarded as important, the intellect was not merely free to speculate, it was also expected to engage with this world), a SOCIAL component (freedom cannot exist if there is military, economic, political or spiritual oppression - which is why it was essential to deconstruct at least a part of the Holy Roman Empire), a MORAL component (the work ethic for everyone, and an ethic of responsibility for everyone but specially for the rich) and an EMOTIONAL component (loving strangers and even one's enemies). Inspired by Jesus and the Bible, individuals therefore worked to reform society. Secularised versions of Reform were then unleashed as European thought and progress impacted an increasing number of peoples around the world. We could say that the modern world itself has been formed as a result of the impact of the Reformation, whether in Biblical or in secular versions. In Europe itself, from the 16th century, incredible progress resulted, lifting Northern Europe from being one of the poorest parts of the world throughout history, to becoming as rich as any part of the world by the 18th century, and becoming the richest part of the world by the 19th century - in other words, far above the ENLMP. Sadly, wealth often leads to arrogance, and the European elites adopted Rationalism and Evolutionism as battering rams to liberate themselves from the spiritual, emotional, social, intellectual and practical demands of the Green worldview.

The result was the "red" worldview, epitomised by modern America, which thinks that rationalsm, evolutionism, science and technology can solve all of the world's problems. Morality and law are of course therefore considered what I term "necessary inconveniences" which one should find as efficient a way around as possible, while one makes as much money as possible. This red worldview has led to unprecedented material progress, but also to the biggest gap between the rich and the poor in history, and unprecedented damage to the environment.

Today, all countries have a mix of these worldviews. It is up to you to identify in what parts of your country, in what age-groups, and at what levels of their hierarchy in your country, which worldview dominates.

Then you will be able to understand the roots of poverty in your country, and you will be able to identify some key matters that you may not have considered till now, if you want to enable your country to become prosperous. Sphere: Related Content

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