Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Being Truthful with Ourselves: global poverty and education

My fellow RESULTS partner shows us how to show constructively show our outrage about global poverty in an op-ed. Nice one, Ken!
Being Truthful with Ourselves
By Ken Patterson

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. When I talk to people about the US helping the 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day, inevitably there are those who say, “We shouldn’t be sending aid to foreign countries because we need to take care of our own here at home first.” I reject this rationale because it represents a false choice—like somehow helping the world’s poorest people in addition to taking care of our citizens isn’t possible. The truth is, even if we kept all foreign aid dollars at home, and then discovered a mountain of gold somewhere that helped us wipe out all of our national debt, the needy in the US would be no better off. The reason? It’s plain and simple--because we haven’t chosen to resolve the problems of poverty. We have chosen to do many other things with our resources, but eradicating poverty isn’t one of them.

In the late 70s the National Academy of Sciences reported that the world was producing enough food so that nobody would ever have to die of hunger. The report concluded, though, that the barrier to achieving a hunger-free world was a lack of political will. We produce even more food per person today than we did 30 years ago, yet people still go hungry, so we clearly have not found the political will to end hunger. We also have not found the political will to stop nearly 10 million children from dying of preventable causes each year, or the political will to put 75 million primary school-age children in school around the globe. In the meantime, though, we have found the political will in the US to spend more on defense than all other nations combined. We have found the will to create a wealth-shifting tax code that has allowed the ratio of CEO to worker salaries to jump from 42 to 1 in 1982, to over 301 to 1 in 2005. We have had the political will to create a health care system that allows some to get liver transplants and Viagra while 46 million others can’t even get basic health care. So let’s be clear, “taking care of our own” is something we have chosen not to do, and reducing foreign assistance won’t change that.

So when will we as a people and a nation seriously decide to eradicate hunger and poverty? When will we wake up and instruct our decision makers to make different choices? It’s not rocket science—we just need to prioritize the needs of the people and stay focused on achieving our vision. For example, we know that, at any given moment, a certain percentage of our nation’s people will be out of work, down on their luck, affected by domestic violence, or struggling with mental illness. Shouldn’t we design our system to accommodate this? And right now, around the globe, there are 75 million primary school-aged children who don’t even have access to school. Yet we know that girls in poor nations will earn a 20% higher wage, and their children will be 10% less likely to die of preventable causes for each year of education they have past 3rd or 4th grade. That’s poverty reduction. And the missing funding to put these 75 million children in school is about $11 billion per year—less than the recent Wall Street bonuses we were all up in arms about. Can’t we figure out as a world community, how to come up with $11 billion per year to invest in education when we know it will help reduce poverty and build nations?

We have chosen not to solve one of the major problems of our time—abject poverty. By failing to address basic human needs of health care, education, and dignified work we have created other problems—poverty, instability, and extremism. By choosing not to educate children around the globe we have allowed poor nations to continue to be poor, and left others with no choice but to search for a path out of desperation through lives of extremism. But this can change if we have the will to change it.

During his campaign President Obama pledged to invest $2 billion to initiate a multi-lateral Global Fund for Education. Let’s encourage him to act now. His leadership on global education would catalyze the political will of the world to do one of the most important things we can do to end poverty—educate the world’s children. Now is the time.