I posed this question for the Long Now meetings we will be holding as part of SIBOS in Amsterdam in October. It goes with the other big questions tackled so far:
The questions are important because, dependent upon your view, these issues and challenges will shape the future of banking over the next century, which is the horizons we focus upon within the Long Finance.
So, to the third big question: what will happen when there is no more poverty?
I bet you’re sitting there cynically thinking that’s crazy.
Even the idea of poverty becoming meaningless is surreal.
It will never happen.
In most emerging economies, billions of people are living on under a dollar a day. These people have no choice but to live in poverty.
That’s a crime.
Even in the world’s most developed economies homelessness, drug addiction, prostitution and more is rife.
These are the causes, creators and propagators of poverty, and that’s not only a crime but the fuel that flames the fire of crime.
Eradicate poverty and much of society’s problems can be eradicated.
That’s why this is important to governments and policymakers alike.
So what’s the plan?
It’s a basic one.
Children born into poverty are far more likely to remain poor and become impoverished as adults than children born into ‘comfort’.
But then we have to think about what ‘comfortable’ means.
Comfort and being comfortable is basically one level above poverty and being poor.
So what is poor?
The world health organisation defines poverty as living on under a dollar a day.
One dollar or less per day.
Who lives on this?
Where do these people live and how do they live?
What does a dollar a day buy you?
What happens if you could make it two dollars a day?
Well a dollar a day or less is poor today.
Poor tomorrow will be defined differently, and the redefinition is already underway.
For example, we talk about a billion new consumers in the BRIC economies.
Bearing in mind my earlier discussions, we’ll talk about another billion or more in the next wave, when Africans, Indonesians, Philippines and Ecuadorians come on stream tomorrow.
Plus the rest.
So here’s the real thinking of the human rights groups: if everyone becomes consumers tomorrow, as is their want, then what are those who live on a dollar a day basic existence going to be doing?
Well, according to Human Rights Organisation, they will be ‘comfortable’.
Being free from poverty- being comfortable – will be a human right.
Comfortable is not being poor, or rather comfortable is not being poor if you don’t want to be.
Along with the right to be comfortable, other human rights will include to have an education and to be able to work if you want to.
In other words, human rights will have elevated up the Maslow hierarchy of needs from basic rights – to not be tortured, to have food and shelter – to the rights of worthinesss – to feel a senesee of worth, to belong, to be productive.
What does this mean practically?
It means that tomorrow’s world will be one where the only people who are poor are those people who choose to be poor.
They may have drug addictions or other dysfunctional lifestyle behaviours, and it is these that make them poor, rather than being forced to be poor through birth or society’s disdain.
Think of this in the example of the developed economies, and those who are poor choose to be poor.
They have welfare options, they have job centres to get them into work, they have health centres to clean them up and detox them, they have choices and could choose not to be poor.
But, due to their messed up lives, they chose to remain imporveished.
That’s what the world believes all people will be able to decide tomorrow.
They will decide to be productive or poor, but it’s their decision.
Because they have the basic human right to be comfortable and to not be poor.
Sure, it’s not as simple as this. There are those who become poor or are born into poverty, and can never get out. It’s endemic.
But society is and will and should be working to try to assist those parts of society that suffer this way, and this is what the human right of not being poor, being comfortable, is all about.
Translate this to Africa, and it means in the next generation of Africans, all countries and nations can get work if they want it, can get a wage if they earn it, can be productive and belong.
If this is the case – that no-one has to be poor, but just choose to be – then the world of finance becomes different.
In fact, it already is different.
For example, take microfinance.
Kiva, Grameen Bank and other world efforts develop communities such that they become productive and belong.
They are no longer poor.
Their children then become entrepreneurial and create businesses that succeed on a small scale.
They are no longer poor.
Their children become leaders and enterpeneurs and are wealthy.
Then poverty has gone.
The next human right would be that everyone is entitled to a bank account.
Now that’s a bit of a dream … and that’s a Long Now discussion.
A final word from Amnesty International:
Poverty and human rights
Everyone, everywhere has the right to live with dignity. That means that no-one should be denied their rights to adequate housing, food, water and sanitation, and to education and health care.
Amnesty International is increasingly documenting how human rights violations drive and deepen poverty. People living in poverty have the least access to power to shape the policies of poverty and are frequently denied effective remedies for violations of their rights.
Amnesty International is working to hold governments, big business and other powerful actors to account for human rights violations which target people living in poverty, driving that poverty deeper still.
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