Fast Company

The Poverty Problem: Pinpricks of Insight From Rimini, Italy

Sometimes there seems to be a world of significance packed into a single moment, or a single sentence. At Pio Manzu’s four-day conference about global poverty, the speakers’ roster is packed with smart, worldly people, and there were a half-dozen moments that caught my attention.

Sometimes there seems to be a world of significance packed into a single moment, or a single sentence. At Pio Manzu’s four-day conference about global poverty, the speakers’ roster is packed with smart, worldly people, and there were a half-dozen moments that caught my attention.

That’s how I thought about the statement from Francesco Morace, director of Italy’s “Future Concept Lab”: Optimism too is a form of intelligence. That statement is not only true, it’s also a whole way of imagining the world.

Here are a couple others.

Sir Anthony Giddens, a British sociologist and advisor to Tony Blair: “We need a critique of overdevelopment — while letting the developing countries continue to develop.” It is, frankly, hard to imagine starting a serious conversation in the U.S. about the concept of “overdevelopment.” What has happened to the America of thrift, of self-reliance without credit cards, of conservation with a little “c,” the America where shopping was a task and recreation was possible without spending any money?

Graca Simbine Machel Mandela, a determined advocate for children, women and human rights, and the wife of Nelson Mandela: “I stand before you as an African, and as an African woman. We are often seen as victims, silent victims — in the pictures of poverty in Africa. Silent victims, helpless victims, so broken that we cannot take care of our families or contribute to the community.” As she said this, an image from the previous day immediately popped to mind: A picture just like the one she described, of an exhausted African woman, with the six grandchildren she was taking care of, after her daughter and son-in-law fell to AIDS. Such pictures try to humanize Africa, but they often do just the opposite. “African women are not broken,” said Mandela defiantly, “and neither is the continent.”

Mandela also pointed to what must seem almost ludicrously unjust, from the perspective of the $1-per-day world: “It is remarkable to note what the western governments produced overnight to rescue the banks, in comparison to what they have produced in the last decade for the alleviation of poverty.”

Tariq Ramadan, a prominent and controversial Muslim intellectual: “The global economy is producing poverty.” We don’t often think of poverty in such direct, systemic terms — but as the economy “produces” wealth, and opportunity, and innovation, it also produces poverty. Put in those terms, it’s worth asking how the economy could be adjusted to produce less poverty — as we often “tweak” it to produce more investment, or more home buying, or more trade.

Ramadan also offered what is clearly intended as a cutting critique of Western ideals in international relations: “We all have ideals and practices. We need to be self-critical enough to acknowledge that our own practices fall short of our ideals. And we need to be humble enough to avoid comparing our ideals with your practices.”

Actually, that’s one that sounds good, even reasonable, but isn’t. It depends very much on what my ideals are, and what your practices are.

The most startling thing in all these sessions, presentations, and speeches was something that was never once said. No one — not one speaker — blamed the U.S. for the economic devastation ricocheting from one side of the globe to the other. Imagine if a terror attack had somehow done to our financial system what we have done to it.

Imagine if China’s banks had collapsed, and done to our financial system what we have done to it. The scorched-earth rhetoric on the cable shout-shows would have been unrelenting.

And yet not one of these speakers took the microphone and blamed the U.S. That was, in fact, a remarkable expression of both humility, and, I think, respect.

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2 Comments

  • Eben Carlson

    There's no reason to "blame" the US. The difference between a terrorist attack or a Chinese bank collapse (which likely wouldn't affect US to the degree that a US collapse would affect them)--the difference between these and the current problem is that a) a terrorist attack would have been done with malice and b) a Chinese bank problem would likely have been the result of sub-standard financial practices applied in a sub-standard political economy. The Chinese have all sorts of inefficiencies and anti-market mechanisms in their system. Not to mention anti-freedom mechanisms.

    The current problem is the result of the most advanced financial thinking applied to the most advanced economy--which is what must be done to learn and grow. And make the world more efficient and bring more people out of poverty. Who do you think funds non-profts? Profiteers like Bill Gates, Richard Branson and George Soros. It may even be that the world has gained more from taking the risks that are now showing their downside than it has lost as of late. So looking to blame the head of the economy seems short sighted. The process necessary for growth is to take risks succeed or fail and then learn--for more people to be involved in the world's economy sustainably it must grow.

    To expect the free developed world to voluntarily un-develop out of guilt so that others can develop is a outdated pipe dream and wouldn't even work. The economy isn't an either or proposition. Having money in the developed world doesn't necessitate a poor developing (or undeveloped) world by any means. But the undeveloped world will need the rule of law, education, access to capital, the desire to become modern, and a culture of independence if it is to grow. Some of these can be given, lent or transmitted, some have to be self-generated.

    By the way, many of the sub-prime mortgages were ones originally offered to low income and marginally qualified persons in a deliberate attempt to increase the percentage of home ownership in the US. Look into Henry Cisneros' role for some info on this. Certainly this is an objective that would mesh with your political and social goals--the problem was that not all these people were ready for this level of responsibility. And some of the loans failed. Lots more are still being paid, though--and many with marginal credit have benefited.

    If you are truly interested in what it will take to take the world to the next level, I have been studying the matter for ten years. My perspective is neither liberal nor conservative, and I've discovered some previously hidden knowledge on the matter through a careful study of historical rates of poverty as they relate to scientific paradigms.

    There's a lot more to it, but the short version is that almost everyone was poor before quantum physics came along. The application of quantum principles over the last hundred years has done more for freedom, sustainability, the environment and democracy than all previous efforts over the proceeding 10,000 years.

    With the application of quantum physics' intangible methods (as distinct from Newtonian physics' tangible methods), about half the world rose out of poverty in a very short time. (Hundreds of millions have risen out of chronic poverty in China in the last 30 years and they don't even apply the era's best practices.)

    While intangible systems are more efficient that tangible ones, both have a necessary degree of waste. In physical systems this waste is garbage or lost heat. In human, political and economic systems this waste is physical pain, suppression and poverty. These systems can't be "gamed" to be made more efficient more than a few percentage points, they have inherent rates of efficiency.

    It's inportant to note that the Newtonian world's problems (colonialism, slavery, servitude, universal poverty) were not solved by the application of Newtonian methods, but only through the application of more efficient quantum methods.

    The problems of our current quantum systems will only be solved with the application of a more efficient paradigm.

    So what's the solution? Does evidence of a new scientific paradigm exist?

    In 1998, scientists discovered untangibles. These untangibles zppear to form the foundation of the universe. (If you remember, Einstein's discovery that energy, an intangible, formed the foundation of the universe, sparked the quantum age.) Untangibles are estimated by top scientists to comprise at least 96% of the universe.

    Untangible systems require no waste and a world organized around untangible systems would require no poverty, no arbitrary pain or suppression. All of these would still exist, and be possible, most likely, but global rates of pain, hunger, and hardship would shrink dramatically in a very, very short period of time. Possibly as short as ten years (cycle times appear to shrink by a factor of ten with the introduction of each new paradigm).

    These gains would be accompanied by rapid economic growth and decreasing negative environmental impact.

    This sounds complicated but the mechanism "switch" to get the economy into untangible mode is a market mechanism and very, very simple. It is not necesary for scientists to "figure" anything out. Nor is it necessary for anyone to understand more science. It would require no government action, no non-profit intervention, and no voluntary sacrifice--in fact, it's what we all want.

    Once this switch gets thrown, not only will workers in developed nations enjoy their work much more but the strengths of undeveloped areas such as Africa will be recognized. It will allow the "left out" 50% to participate in the modern economy very effectively if they so chose.

    The details of the "switch" are described on my website: www.whiteg.com. It's just a bit of pricing--easily understood by the layperson.

  • Eben Carlson

    You seem eager to blame the US. The difference between a terrorist attack or a Chinese bank collapse (which likely wouldn't affect US to the degree that a US collapse would affect them)--the difference between these and the current problem is that a) a terrorist attack would have been done in malice and b) a Chinese bank problem would likely have been the result of sub-standard financial practices applied in a sub-standard political economy. The Chinese have all sorts of inefficiencies and anti-market mechanisms in their system. Not to mention anti-freedom mechanisms.

    The current problem is the result of the most advanced financial thinking applied to the most advanced economy--which is what must be done to learn and grow. It may even be that the world has gained more from taking the risks that are now showing their downside than it has lost as of late. So looking to the head of the economy to blame seems short sighted. The process necessary for growth is to take risks succeed or fail and then learn--for more people to be involved in the world's economy sustainably it must grow.

    To expect the free developed world to voluntarily un-develop out of guilt so that others can develop is a outdated pipe dream and wouldn't even work. The economy isn't an either or proposition. Having money in the developed world doesn't necessitate a poor developing (or undeveloped) world by any means. But the undeveloped world will need the rule of law, education, access to capital, the desire to become modern, and a culture of independence if it is to grow. Some of these can be given, lent or transmitted, some have to be self-generated.

    By the way, many of the sub-prime mortgages were ones originally offered to low income and marginally qualified persons in a deliberate attempt to increase the percentage of home ownership in the US. Look into Henry Cisneros' role for some info on this. Certainly this is an objective that would mesh with your political and social goals--the problem was that not all these people were ready for this level of responsibility. And some of the loans failed. Lots more are still being paid, though--and many with marginal credit have benefited.

    If you are truly interested in what it will take to take teh world to the next level, I have been studying the matter for ten years. My perspective is neither liberal nor conservative, and I've discovered some previously hidden knowledge on the matter through a careful study of historical rates of poverty as they relate to scientific paradigms.

    There's a lot more to it, but the short version is that almost everyone was poor before quantum physics came along. The application of quantum physics in the last hundred years has done more for freedom, sustainability, the environment and democracy than all previous efforts over the proceeding 10,000 years.

    With the application of quantum physics intangible methods (as distinct from Newtonian physics' tangible methods), about half the world rose out of poverty in a very short time. (Hundreds of millions have risen out of chronic poverty in China in the last 30 years and they don't even apply the era's best practices.)

    Both tangible systems and intangible systems have a necessary degree of inefficiency or waste. In physical systems this waste is garbage or lost heat. In human, political and economic systems this waste is physical pain, suppression and poverty. These systems can't be "gamed" to be made more efficient, they have inherent rates of efficiency.

    Thus, unfortunately, the current world, with our focus on intangibles necessitates a certain amount of pain and poverty (though small gains are certainly possible--with increasing effort). An accountant's unhappiness and time poverty is no less a part of this than an Indian farmer's hunger.

    So what's the solution?

    Recently, scientists have discovered untangibles. Untangible systems require no waste and a world organized around untangible systems would require no poverty, no arbitrary pain or suppression. All of these would still exist, and be possible, most likely, but global rates of pain would shrink dramatically.

    This sounds complicated but the mechanism "switch" to get the economy into untangible mode is a market mechanism and very, very simple. It would require no government action, no non-profit intervention, and no voluntary sacrifice--in fact, it's what we all want.

    Once this switch gets thrown, not only will workers in developed nations enjoy their work much more but the strengths of undeveloped areas such as Africa will be recognized. It will allow the "left out" 50% to participate in the modern economy very effectively if they so chose.

    The details of the "switch" are described (entertainingly) on my website: www.whiteg.com. It's just a bit of pricing--easily understood by the layperson.