‘Poverty is an unnatural condition’



A few years ago a laicized priest friend, the late Joe McGarrity, and I and some others incorporated a non-profit called Windmills for Mozambique. Joe had served in the diocese’s Brazilian missions where he became fluent in Portuguese, the language of the impoverished country in southern Africa. Why windmills? Not because of the never-say-die spirit of Don Quixote but because they power pumps to draw fresh water. People without electricity rely on such things. The archbishop of Maputo was delighted to receive the $10,000 we raised for a pump and a reservoir. It was a drop in the bucket.

About 900 million people, mostly in Africa, Latin America and Asia, still lack safe drinking water. And that’s small because about 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitary services. Imagine: over a third of the globe. Diseases caused by these two lacks are responsible for the world’s largest cause of illness, killing 3,000 children every day, part of the reason why developing countries resent good-intentioned American programs and prophylactics to cut their birth rate, kept high by the grim expectation of children in the family dying. Similarly with food. About 870 million people suffer from malnutrition and hunger — one in eight worldwide. Thirty-five countries out of about 200 are identified to be in crisis, many with recurring shocks that lock households mercilessly in a cycle of poverty and hunger. They have to endure crop failures, armed conflicts, natural disasters and crippling domestic food prices. And we wonder why we have so many immigrants.

At this point some readers may be uneasy fearing I’m recommending another church collection or more foreign aid. They say we have enough poverty at home. This is quite true. Some inner cities not far from here look as bad as any developing nation. Charity is supposed to begin at home. Of course it’s not supposed to end there. But another drop in the global bucket is our foreign aid, most of which is actually coupons given to select allies like Israel, entitling them to U.S.-made planes, ships and bombs. Mistakenly many think our aid is surplus crops or even sacks of money. But about 20 other countries, like the Scandinavian countries that our right-wing pundits like to mock for their socialism, are proportionately more generous than us. While U.S. popular polls regularly report that Americans think we give 20 percent of the national budget to foreign aid, it has never been above a quarter of a percent. How could we afford to give anything away since we yearly feel it imperative to allot two thirds of our discretionary federal budget to arms, a point I occasionally make here?

The solution is not more collections nor more foreign aid nor any other kind of charity but justice. If you say this to people they look at you as though you had arrived in a spaceship. They do not realize that poverty is an unnatural condition caused by stratified global injustice layered unbelievably deep in world economics. Briefly it means that a few wealthy but unscrupulous people — and not all the wealthy are evil — control the finances of billions, steering money away from those whose it is into their own offshore accounts. Thus, national and international laws must rescue those whose natural resources and products are stolen by pricing set by the buyer, not the seller.

Then, there is a phenomenon unsuspected by many of us Americans, not that we are immune to it here at home. It is the ruinous effect of inborn governmental corruption generations old, a cause of the poverty of many developing countries, especially those emerging from western colonialism. So used to bribes and payoffs even to the highest levels of their governments are they that the person who knows the back alleys of getting things done in these countries is the one admired by most as the wise sage, the successful entrepreneur.

How do we know what laws to write or rewrite? Over the years I have found one ecumenical organization to be very knowledgeable, and with no political partisan axe to grind. Bread for the World (BFW.org or else 425 3rd Street, SW Washington DC 20024) has become a respected lobby in Washington that has achieved an impressive list of legislative wins. It invites varying levels of member participation: letters to representatives, contributions, writing to the newspaper or public speaking. Give them a try. Help bring reform.

Because these things are so, the Second Amendment must be repealed.