Thursday, October 6, 2011

Addressing the ‘moral crisis’ of poverty

I was intrigued by a newspaper article I read this week in The Telegram regarding the need to address the “moral crisis’ of poverty.

A coalition of religious leaders in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Eastern Canada, made up of Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus, made an intriguing claim.

They indicated at a recent news conference that “Ending poverty is not that complicated if the political will is there”.

I agree with them that the poverty felt by people all around the world is truly a crisis.  I believe that one of the key indicators of how “empowered” a society is is based on how well the people at the bottom of the economic scale are doing.

However, there is an interesting conflict in what groups like this one are suggesting.

They say that that poverty is a “moral crisis” (which is true) but look to governments to legislate a solution (oftentimes using higher taxes, increased minimum wages, subsidized housing, food allowances, etc).

However, there is a strategic flaw when one assumes that legislation can cure moral woes.

In many governments, when taxes go up, the increased revenue is directed towards many programs.  Anti-poverty programs are just one of many areas fighting for the same tax revenue in governments that struggle with competing priories as well as wasted spending.

If increased taxes, increased subsidies for the poor and increased minimum wage legislation could fix poverty, we would see advances in our fight against poverty.

Unfortunately, those who are living in a state of poverty continue to grow in ranks, far beyond our ability to address with a legislative magic wand.

So ending poverty is a LOT more complicated than merely having the political will to do so.

There is also the reality that a moral compass cannot be altered by legislation.

And besides, if someone said to me that everything else is figured out and that we just needed to change the will of people, I’d say “Great – you saved the most difficult task of all until the end”.

Most of us know that war is not the solution to the world’s problems but we have war anyway.

We know that love trumps anger but anger exists in the world.

We know that giving is better than getting but greed exists in the world.

We know that collaborating is better than one-man-band syndrome but there are a lot of people who would rather fail than share the glory.

Many people struggle with alcohol abuse, drug addition or other similar challenges and know they should do something about it but then struggle to actually find a way to escape the clutches of that which grips them.

Many religions espouse the need to love their fellow man and then use their religion as a hammer to oppress others.

Many people in poverty don’t want to live that way – but they do so because of many reasons, including lack of education, lack of self esteem because of a lifetime of not believing in themselves, mental illness, multi-generational welfare situations, excessive healthcare costs and a bazillion other reasons.  The studies that have been done are too numerous to count.

Yes, all things are easy if we only had the will.

But therein lies the rub – the will is not so easily tamed or directed.

When I hear people call on the need to have yet another study to find the cure for poverty, they don’t realize (or don’t want to admit) that this has been studied to death.

It’s like receiving a diagnosis of having a bad heart and being told you need to exercise more.  You don’t like the diagnosis and so you see another doctor, and another and another, hoping to find one that can give you a pill that will fix it for you as you ignore the elephant in the room.

The elephant being the notion that external fixes oftentimes don’t exist – many times we are the person who must fix a problem.

As these well-intentioned people indicate, poverty is a moral crisis.

And solving a moral crisis doesn’t start with expecting lawmakers to legislate it away.

It starts within each one of us.

And therein lies the greatest challenge of all.

Forget about whether lawmakers have the will.

The question I have is ….

…. do we?

In service and servanthood,


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