Eliminating poverty

Mr J.F.X Zahra's article appears weekly on Newsbook

It is a fact that no one single economic system has eliminated inequality. There is always a gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. The question we ask is why do we have poverty? And the definition of poverty has changed with that of complete deprivation of basic needs, to one of living in misery, to living in the “existential periphery” of society as it has been cleverly described by Pope Francis. Poverty has changed in shape and form, but it remains a state of misery which is generally a result of injustice and unfairness resulting from social and economic systems. The landscape is now a familiar one: the family structure collapses, materialism together with peer group pressure are on the rise as we all aspire to behave in a middle-class fashion, governments entertain social liberal values and this results in problems as people seek distractions in spending beyond their means, alcohol, drugs and sexual abuse. This is the definition of poverty today – human poverty defined both materially and spiritually.

Market economics can resolve problems of efficiency and allocation of resources but it does not resolve the problem of inequality.  The market can be misused and abused and the lack of solid values of solidarity and justice propagate an environment where everything is tolerated in the name of progress and modernism.

How can we mitigate against this inequality while not curtailing economic growth?

Education – the belief in human capability and potential, but this can only be unleashed if we give confidence and trust in people. Give them the rod for them to fish, rather than the fish on a golden plate.  Create a sense of achievement and self- fulfilment through a primary education system that implants these values in the very young. Perhaps we can re-define this as a “reform in schooling”.

Welfare reforms – eliminate waste and abuse. Reform the welfare system in a way that it acts as a “spring board” for people who have fallen on the wayside to return to the centre. Aim particularly at those who are materially deprived, the victims of greed and dishonesty, as well as the young.

Union reforms – unions are at present geared to protect the interests of their members who are already employed, but this should change as they can collaborate directly with the private sector and the State to encourage new employment by not impeding new opportunities for jobs.

A much smaller State – the time of high handed and big government is over. There is no further role for paternalistic states and patronising attitudes by politicians. We will all be happier by seeing less of politicians on the media and more action by private business initiative and NGOs. The time for politicians to talk down at their constituents is over. State monopolies are over – they are inefficient, wasteful and misallocate resources.

But we also need more transparency and honesty (and no hypocrisy and double standards) by Governments – for example, in tendering, in implementing meritocracy, in eliminating nepotism. The time of vested interests, be it in government or in the private sector is over.

Provide more space for Choice – we need to give value to human freedom and a person’s ability to choose from different alternatives. Choice unleashes human potential and encourages creativity and innovation. It provides space for minorities and different views and opinions. We must not be afraid of foreigners and immigrants, but these can provide new opportunities and help us mature in living a more tolerant and diversified society. Strengthen the value of solidarity where volunteer groups support the poor and vulnerable as the Church is doing in various fields. Charities can do it much better than the State since they are genuinely motivated to provide support and solidarity.

For us Maltese, this requires a change in culture and values by believing more in personal and community initiatives, by believing more in self- responsibility and common responsibility, and shedding our dependency on the State.

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