Pro-Poverty policies from pandemic to polycrisis, now to permacrisis
As we all struggle to cope with the (policy failures) of the pandemic, which with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine became a polycrisis, and which has now morphed into what is being dubbed a ‘permacrisis’, it is urgent that we deliberately address the most fundamental and corrosive problem facing mankind today, for which no specific global policy intervention has existed since the end of WWII. From the Global Financial Crisis’ printing to give to banks, to the pandemic’s printing to give to Governments, to last year’s whiplashed U-turn from manic monetary and fiscal easing to breakneck tightening — ALL of these policy interventions have had one (perhaps unintended, perhaps not) common consequence — obscene and rising levels of inequality and poverty.
The media is (appropriately) choked with high-pitched appeals from politicians and influencers, policymakers and protesters, for climate action. But, to what end? Climate action is necessary but not sufficient in addressing poverty. Nobody is making the explicit connection that what should be at the heart of these appeals, is poverty. While poverty is indeed exacerbated by the climate crisis, and we can’t solve poverty without solving the climate crisis (which affects the poor disproportionately), it is the outrageous inequality and the policy agenda driven by the powerful, that are compounding each other to drive poverty higher.
YOU CAN’T FIX WHAT YOU DON’T, OR WORSE YET, WON’T MEASURE
Global poverty levels have increased for the first time in 25 years, and “global inequalities are close to early 20th century levels, at the peak of Western imperialism,” according to World Inequality Lab. And speaking of imperialism, as Oxfam discussed in detail, inequality at current levels means that policymakers are captured by the rich perhaps more than ever before, such that policies will continue to favour the rich, which will further worsen inequality, and so on. It is no accident that these captured policymakers employed pro-poverty interventions in response to a virus which has claimed 6.8 million lives in 3 years, far less than malnutrition (3.1 million infants annually), alcohol (3 million annually), tobacco (8 million annually), or poor diet (11 million annually). When have we ever seen global policy intervention to end malnutrition, to ban alcohol or tobacco, or to mandate healthy eating? You see, poverty and malnutrition are not contagious and won’t affect the wealthy, so the policy urgency is absent and will continue to be absent until brave and independent leaders decide that current inequality levels present an existential crisis and balance must be restored. Urgent global fiscal and social policy action must be taken, as it was for COVID.
The IMF and World Bank have been raising the volume, and the UN recently passed a resolution “that would give low-and middle-income countries decision-making power over global tax affairs,” all of which open doors for global policy action to address poverty and inequality. But domestic policy is even more important -“in 2020, between-country inequality makes-up about 1/3 of global inequality between individuals. The rest is due to inequality within countries”. But we can’t fix what we don’t, or worse yet, won’t measure. The most recent poverty data in the Caribbean is Jamaica’s 2019 statistic of 11%. This is the real obscenity, beyond any poverty and inequality discussed earlier. In a region where 3/5 persons are food insecure and human development is deteriorating, our leaders are flying everywhere to lobby for climate finance, net zero, debt forgiveness, a global financial architecture overhaul, and reparations — why? To what end, if not to end poverty for their people? Our leaders’ evident refusal to even measure poverty, and the absence of poverty and inequality reduction from their own policy agenda, is shameful.