Outreach, Impact, Collaboration: Why Academics Should Join to Stand Against Poverty

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The October 2011 India launch of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) was one of six ASAP meetings staged in various countries over the past year, each designed to better mobilize the potential of area researchers, teachers, and students to effect positive change. In this essay, we discuss some specific contributions that can be made. The argument is mainly addressed to those researchers and teachers whose work focuses on aspects of poverty, but we believe that academics from virtually all disciplines can make distinct contributions.

We begin with some general remarks on reasons why academics should feel compelled to become more directly engaged—in both practical and political terms—in efforts to eradicate severe poverty. We then offer more specific examples of such engagement, including some existing intervention projects. We also respond to critics who say that “naive do-gooders” should not insert themselves into debates, that too much may be demanded of individual academics, or that duties to relatively poor compatriots should take priority over the needs of absolutely poor people elsewhere. The concerns raised by each criticism, we argue, are less compelling than the gains that could be realized through more direct engagement. We close by discussing in more detail the efforts of Academics Stand Against Poverty, especially how it seeks to help academics engage in the ways detailed in this essay. We also discuss the opportunities ASAP provides for the sharing of insight and expertise by those academics already taking their ideas to broader audiences, or who are advising government aid agencies or NGOs, corporations, or international agencies. Finally, we demonstrate ways in which such an organization can promote fruitful collaboration across existing academic associations and research centers focused on issues of global poverty.

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Category: Article, Development, Inequality, and Poverty, Issue 26.2, Special Issue: Academics Stand Against Poverty

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  1. David Chester says:

    Its not only academics who should seek a solution to our degree of poverty–we all should be doing it. It is a matter of ethics and rightly applies to this website. However since we are dealing with the academics here, perhaps it would be useful to explain how in particular those academics in economics, whose thinking has not yet been inhibited by the forces of commerse (and who are not given sufficient freedom to publish all of what they could usefully think about poverty), could at least have some chance to express themselves.

    The trouble begins when these academics have to begin their thinking process. Naturally they are inclined to continie where others left off and in many cases this has resulted in the limitations and failures of the earlier thinking process being continued. The cause of poverty is not well known. We know what it is, but to explain why there are less opportunities to earn and live decently is not quite as simple because the root of this knowledge has been suppressed. To properly examine how poverty comes about we need to look at the “big-picture” of our social system, macroeconomics. I have prepared a diagram for this on GOOGLE IMAGES: DiagFuncMacroSyst.pdf

    It shows the complete system of idealized entities for a closed country’s economics. There are 6 entities and 19 double connections of the mutual flows of money verses goods, services, valuable documents, access rights etc. Most diagrams of this kind as used by economists have not more than 3 of these entities and the effects of the landlord are always suppressed. This is vital because he who controls access to the useful land also controls the opportunities for earning a living.

    So it is quite easy to make progress about our knowledge about poverty when the information about the whole system is not concealed! By changing the rules about how land is used and in particular about how our system of land tenure spoils its opportunities, which are wasted or stolen by the owners, it is possible to see where the source of poverty springs. It comes from speculation in the land values by the relatively few monopolistic land owners who choose to hold land out of use. This makes the price of the available land rise, and the cost of production becomes raised along with it. The resulting low demand then allows the need for full employment to wither and die. An enlightened government will reverse this situation by the introduction of a tax on land values instead of on earnings, purchases, capital gains etc., so that it ceases to be worthwhile to speculate in this natural resource.

    This idea is not particularly academic and is 130 years old, when the American economist Henry George first proposed it. His book “Progress and Poverty” sold 3 million copies but today it is largely forgotten, especially in those universities which are supported by the industrialists who own the land.