Absolute poverty

Absolute poverty is a condition of life so degraded by disease, illiteracy, malnutrition and squalor as to deny its victims basic human necessities; a condition of life so limited as to prevent realization of the potential of the genes with which one is born; a condition of life so degrading as to insult human dignity; and yet a condition of life so common as to be the lot of some 40 percent of the peoples of the developing countries. And are not we who tolerate such poverty, when it is within our power to reduce the number afflicted by it, failing to fulfill the fundamental obligations accepted by civilized men since the beginning of time? -- Annual meeting, Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 24, 1973 Population

To put it simply: excessive population growth is the greatest single obstacle to the economic and social advancement of most of the societies in the developing world. For the population problem complicates, and makes more difficult, virtually every other task of development. -- Annual meeting, Belgrade, Oct. 2, 1979 Food and agriculture

Despite the magnitude of the problem in the countryside, focusing on rural poverty raises a very fundamental question: is it a really sound strategy to devote a significant part of the world's resources to increasing the productivity of small-scale subsistence agriculture? Would it not be wiser to concentrate on the modern sector in the hope that its high rate of growth would filter down to the rural poor?

The answer, I believe, is no.

Without rapid progress in small-holder agriculture throughout the developing world, there is little hope either of achieving long-term stable economic growth or of significantly reducing the levels of absolute poverty. -- Annual meeting, Nairobi, Sept. 24, 1973

As millions of people in the developing world move from the countryside to the cities, the food production system in these countries will have to undergo a quantum change. It will have to make the transition from a largely subsistence system to a high-productivity system that can yield a significant surplus for the burgeoning cities.

It is, after all, agriculture that makes cities possible in the first place. Cities do not grow food. Countrysides do. And unless countrysides -- somewhere -- grew a surplus of food, cities would have none. -- Annaul meeting, Belgrade, Oct. 2, 1979 Goals of development

The principal goals of development are to accelerate economic growth, and to eradicate what I have termed absolute poverty.

The two goals are intrinsically related, though governments are often tempted to pursue one without adequate attention to the other. But from a development point of view, that approach always fails in the end. The pursuit of growth without a reasonable concern for equity is ultimately socially destabilizing, and often violently so. And the pursuit of equity without a reasonable concern for growth merely tends to redistribute economic stagnation.

Any successful effort to combat poverty would have to do two basic things:

Assist the poor to increase their productivity, and

Assure their access to essential public services.

Development is clearly not simply economic progress measured in terms of gross national product. It is something much more basic. It is essentially human development; that is, the individual's realization of his or her own inherent potential. -- Annual meeting, Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 1980. External assistance for developing countries

There are, of course, many grounds for development assistance: among others, the expansion of trade, the strengthening of international stability and the reduction of social tensions.

But in my view, the fundamental case for development assistance is the moral one. The whole of human history has recognized the principle -- at least in the abstract -- that the rich and the powerful have a moral obligation to assist the poor and the weak. That is what the sense of community is all about -- any community: the community of the family, the community of the village, the community of the nation, the community of nations itself. -- Annual meeting, Nairobi, Sept. 24, 1973 National strategies

In the past decade, the poor nations have financed over 80 percent of their development investments out of their own meager incomes. But it is true they must make even greater efforts. They have invested too little in agriculture, too likke in population planning, and too little in essential public services. And too much of what they have invested has benefited only a privileged few.

That calls for policy reforms, and that is, of course, always politically difficult. But when the distribution of land, income and opportunity become distorted to the point of desperation, political leaders much weigh the risk of social reform against social rebellion. "Too little too late" is history's universal epitaph for political regimes that have lost their mandate to the demands of landless, jobless, disenfranchised and desperate men. -- University of Chicago, May 22, 1979