Balloons by Dave Morris (CC)

What are our moral obligations to the world's poor? In this information age, those of us in rich countries can no longer plead ignorance; we see the faces of poverty on our TV and computer screens every day.

Even if we close our eyes to the ethical arguments, many have long contended—with renewed force since 9/11—that we must alleviate poverty in our own self-interest. Our national security depends on it.

But how do we go about ending poverty? How can we address the root causes rather than just the symptoms?

Is aid the answer? Rich nations have doled out billions of dollars in aid and loans over the years and poverty rates have certainly gone down in the last two decades. But they have done so unevenly and not necessarily because of aid.

According to World Bank figures, in 1981, 1.9 billion people in the developing world (one in two) were living below the poverty line of $1.25 a day (Purchasing Power Parity terms at 2005 prices). In 2005, the number was 1.4 billion people (one in four). Much of the progress occurred in Asia, particularly China, where the number of people in poverty fell by around 600 million between 1981 and 2005. But the dramatic improvement in Asia is largely thanks to industrialisation and trade, not aid. Meanwhile, in Sub-Saharan Africa the poverty rate remained at about 50 percent during that period, and the absolute number of poor nearly doubled, from 200 million in 1981 to 380 million in 2005.

It should also be noted that critics such as Sanjay Reddy and Thomas Pogge believe that the Bank's international poverty line of $1.25 PPP a day is far too low to cover the cost of survival, and thus their figures do not reflect the true extent of world poverty. (See Reddy's "The World Bank's New Poverty Estimates: Digging Deeper into a Hole," 2008.)

What is to be done? Are we going about aid in the wrong way? Are we simply not giving enough? Or is aid not the solution, but part of the problem?

To make matters worse, the global financial crisis has hit many poor and developing countries especially hard. With the worldwide slowdown, their exports are dropping, remittances are shrinking, and aid is dwindling. How should the rich nations address this, particularly since the crisis was of their making?

These issues are of great concern to the Carnegie Council. Here is a selection of some of our many resources on world poverty.


The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty
Peter Singer, Princeton University
Ethically, there is no excuse for not helping the poor and it wouldn't take much. If the top 90 percent of Americans gave at least 1 percent of their income we could reach the Millennium Development Goals. (Public Affairs Program, March 2009)

Obama's Moral Obligation to Africa
Matthew Hennessey, Carnegie Council
Candidate Obama pledged to double U.S. aid to Africa by the end of his first term, but given the economic crisis, will he fulfill his campaign promises? (Carnegie Ethics Online, March 2009)

Poverty and Global Justice
Nancy Kokaz, University of Toronto
Kokaz proposes a global poverty eradication principle grounded in John Rawls's account of human rights and assistance for the Law of Peoples. (Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 21.3, Fall 2007)

World Poverty and Human Rights
Thomas Pogge
, Yale University
"Thanks in part to the rationalizations dispensed by our economists, most of us believe that severe poverty and its persistence are due exclusively to local causes. Few realize that severe poverty is an ongoing harm we inflict upon the global poor," writes Pogge.

[This is the lead article in an Ethics & International Affairs symposium, Volume 19.1, Spring 2005)

The other authors are Mathias Risse, Allen Patten, Rowan Cruft, Norbert Anwander, and Debra Satz. The symposium ends with a final article from Dr. Pogge in response.]  

Debate: Global Poverty Relief (Four Articles) 
Andrew Kuper, LeapFrog Investments
Peter Singer, Princeton University
Kuper asserts that there is no "royal road" to poverty relief, but rather many intersecting roads. Singer's final response is "if we don't know how to make deep structural changes that will end desperate poverty, it is still better to help some people rather than none." (Ethics & International Affairs, Vol. 16.1, Spring 2002)


The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time
Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University
There are three biophysical realities of impoverishment: insufficient food production, insufficient disease control, and economic isolation—and all three can easily be addressed. (Public Affairs Program, March 2005)

The Curse of Riches:

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
Paul Collier, Oxford University
Collier identifies four poverty traps and in this talk he focuses on one of them: resource riches. (Public Affairs Program, January 2008)

Property Rights and the Resource Curse (Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4)
Leif Wenar, King's College London
Poor countries with valuable resources like oil and diamonds are prone to repressive governments, civil wars, and slower growth. This series of four articles discusses the reasons why, and proposes mechanisms to protect the property rights of the poor. (Global Policy Innovations (GPI) Policy Library, April 2007)

Failed States:

Devin Stewart Interviews Seth Kaplan on "Fixing Fragile States"
Seth Kaplan looks at how weak states can promote and leverage "social cohesion" to help build development from the bottom up. (GPI, November 2008)


Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
Ashraf Ghani, Institute for State Effectiveness
Drawing on his background at the World Bank and as the first post-Taliban finance minister of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani (and co-author Clare Lockhart) develops a comprehensive framework for understanding the problem of state-building. (Public Affairs Program, April 2008)


Beyond Microfinance: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Poverty Alleviation
Michael Strong, Educator and Entrepreneur
Although microfinance has helped millions of individuals, it doesn't create much real economic growth. But some organizations are moving beyond microfinance to create more substantial rural enterprises. (Carnegie Ethics Online, October 2008)

Saving the World with a Cup of Yogurt
Sheridan Prasso, Fortune
Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, the father of microcredit, has a new idea. It's called social business enterprise, and the first step is a yogurt factory in Bangladesh. (GPI, March 2007. This article appeared originally in Fortune. Republished with permission.)


Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa
Dambisa Moyo, Economist and Author
In the past 50 years, Africa has received more than $1 trillion in development-related aid. Has it improved Africans' lives? No, says Dambisa Moyo. In fact, aid has made the situation much worse. (Public Affairs Program, April 2009)

Book Review: "Does Foreign Aid Really Work?" (Roger C. Riddell) & "Foreign Aid: Diplomacy, Development, Domestic Politics" (Carol Lancaster)
These two works display a sober understanding of aid challenges, present a balanced view of the context within which aid operations take place, and provide valuable insights about the workings of aid organizations, writes reviewer Robert Picciotto. (Ethics & International Affairs, Vol. 21.4, Winter 2007)

Accountability in International Development Aid
Leif Wenar, King's College London
There is very little accountability in aid agencies, and what accountability there is often works against poverty relief. Increasing accountability, however, is not always the solution. Wenar has a proposal to make aid more effective. Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 20.1 Spring 2006)

Payments for Progress: A Hands-Off Approach to Foreign Aid
Owen Barder, 
Nancy Birdsall, Center for Global Development
The authors discuss an approach to scaling up foreign aid aimed at strengthening local capacity and institutions, including in fragile states. "Payments for progress" would link additional aid to clear evidence of progress already achieved on the ground. (GPI Policy Library—Center for Global Development Working Paper 102, December 2006)

The World's Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises, and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations
Sebastian Mallaby, The Washington Post
Will the World Bank survive? Despite its shortcomings, Mallaby believes we need it badly, as there is a serious lack of strong institutions to manage the challenges created by globalization and transnational threats. (Public Affairs Program, January 2005)


Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development
Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University
Stiglitz details what a trade agreement might look like if based on principles of economic analysis and social justice for the world economy, and points to how less developed countries are disadvantaged in the negotiating process. (Public Affairs Program, April 2006)

See also: Jere Van Dyk Interviews Joseph Stiglitz
"I firmly believe that aid and trade have to work together," says Dr. Stiglitz. "If we provide assistance to help people to take advantage of the new opportunities, we can get real growth, and they won't need the handouts as much as in the past." (April 2006)


The G-20's Global Hit-and-Run
Christian Barry, Australian National University
Matt Peterson, Yale University 
Ethically, poor countries are owed something better than an opportunity to acquire more debt, which is all the G-20 is offering them. The crisis has been compared to natural disasters like the tsunami but a car crash is a better analogy, where the driver who caused it must compensate the victim. (GPI, April 2009)

Developing Countries and the Global Crisis
Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University
Even developing countries that did everything right—and had far better macroeconomic and regulatory policies than the U.S. did—are feeling the impact. Unless something is done, the crisis will throw as many as 200 million additional people into poverty. (GPI—Project Syndicate, April 2009)

—Prepared by Madeleine Lynn, Communications Dept.