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What happens when there is no more poverty?

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?

Or five?

Or more?

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.

Their choice.

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.

Maybe forever.

What then?

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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About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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  • Sretko Povic

    Every 30 years the world population doubles. We are currently on our way to 8 billion people. Those “consumers” we have, less than 20% of the world’s population are depleting its resources and causing extensive damage to the environment. The idea that we could or would be able to bring the entire population of this planet to a consumer level is suicidal. I am not concerned about the planet it will be just fine once the humans wipe themselves out.

  • Robert

    1° Let’s focus on eradicating poverty rather than speculating on a world without poverty.
    2° To consider than you can only exit from poverty by becoming a “consumer” or a “worker” is a very limitative approach.
    3° Stabilizing the world population should be priority number 1. If we don’t achieve this, there is no way we can have a decent future on Earth.

  • Paul Peters

    We’ll have to.
    At this moment there are 27 million slaves in the world, a historical high, with the upside that it is in relative terms the lowest point since the abolishment. Life itself isn’t dependent on riches or poverty, but we cannot ignore that we have made it so. This is an ethical, economical and social issue, but we’re facing something much more immense… technology is moving so fast these days, that by 2020 or 2025 we’ll be faced with unemployment figures above 50%, and this is happening in a way that is more or less unavoidable and uncontrollable given our current economical models. Aritificial intelligence with the cognitive capabilities of a cat was realized about a year ago, and since some years a virtual human brain is hosted in Lausanne at the Blue Brain project.. these are pure computing projects, and not the only projects going on. We are nearing a turningpoint to choose between a Brave New World or The Island. To illustrate, from a recent ppt on a solution facilitating the nearby future, a little piece on our future fellow earthlings, “Rise of the machines”:
    Converging trends in different technological branches, bio-tech, nano-tech, robotics, artificial intelligence and information technology fuse and accelerate each other. Current forecasts predict machines equivalent of human intelligence within a 5 to 10 year time horizon. Not just a smart chess program, but a self-aware learning machine, a conscious virtual organism.
    As most simple manual labour tasks have already been automated, increasingly complex human tasks will gradually be replaced, such as chatbots which are already replacing helpdesks, with customer satisfaction ratings outperforming regular off-shoring.
    Designed in a modular way with impromptu cohesive congregation such virtual organism can gather knowledge by connecting with a pre-defined ontology of some domain. As adaptive learning machines they will replace front-, middle- and back-office functions, such as administrative secretaries, accounting, project managers.
    Enter 2015, imagine a virtual accountant, as-a Service, working 24×7, 130 IQ, a redundant array of 100 brain-halves of which half are sleeping, day-dreaming, learning, and the rest is working, and always online.
    Subscription fee for a virtual FTE costs at a quarter of employing a human. AI generations do not take twenty years, due to positive feedback loops of the converging and cross-fertilizing technologies they may realistically be just four months, three generations per year, with a capacity doubling every generation, which gives an eight-fold on a yearly basis. If the first year it could replace one FTE, the next year it can replace eight.
    Yet also CPU power doubles every two years and network capacity slightly faster, which gives a capacity increase of about sixteen per year.
    So, in 2015, for the price of one average business analyst, you get four virtual in return.
    In 2016 that is 64 bots, 2017 gives 1024 bots, 2018 16.384, 262.144 in 2019.. and by 2020 you can have 4.194.304 virtual business analysts working for the price of one real.
    And how about a virtual MBA? Virtual management consultants?
    Not only will machines require civil rights, so will humans..

  • Chris Skinner

    Comment received via email:
    One conundrum I’ve always faced in looking at investment to alleviate poverty is that many definitions of poverty define the poor relatively, as below some %, typically, of median income. In the EU, poverty is defined as 60% of the national median disposable income (after social transfers). Thus the only way to eliminate poverty under this definition is to eliminate inequality. As ever, under this definition, Jesus said it first and best, “For the poor always ye have with you” [John 12:1-8]. What we are often discussing is inequality rather than absolute poverty.
    from a lecture given by Michael Mainelli at Gresham College in 2007: http://www.gresham.ac.uk/event.asp?PageId=45&EventId=641

  • Edward Harkins

    Totally agree that we often conflate and confuse between poverty and inequality.
    The Spirit Level is the latest in a developing seam of well-researched publications demonstrating that it is unjustifiable inequality that is core to many problems – rather than poverty as such.
    An important qualification to this has to be that everyone in a civilised society should have unobstructed opportunities to a money income or assets that provide a decent level of good health and wellbeing. (Unobstructed that is, by unjust and inefficient barriers such as class structures, ideologies or plain old greed by established interests).
    The Spirit Level indicated that if we take the current vogue for ‘happiness’ then it is the societies with the highest levels of equality – rather than wealth- that are the ‘most happy’. Material possession is not the sole key to happiness.
    Incidentally, I don’t know that Jesus did say what it is posted above he said; or that he was first to say it. Our only evidence is a committee-written book written many years after his life by a, let’s say, involved set of writers. What Jesus said or may have said, is a matter of faith and interpretation rather than fact.
    I willing to wager that many other sage and good people said similar things to what it is asserted that Jesus said – and that there were probably decent people that even said it before him.