Poverty: Enhanced or Diminished?
In Act III, Scene 4 of King Lear, the proud old king, transported profoundly by the tragedy that relentlessly unfolds and engulfs him, kneels to pray as a storm rages around him, to regret his neglect of the wretched of the earth:
Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en Too little care of this!
and then to cry for empathy and justice:
Take physic, pomp; Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them, And show the heavens more just.
How well Shakespeare's Lear seems to capture our present situation! Echoing Lear's sentiments half a millennium later, nearly 150 prime ministers and presidents of the world's nations converged in September 2000 for the UN's Millennium Summit, embracing poverty removal as their goal. They resolved to “halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world's people whose income is less than one dollar a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.” 1
They were joined at the time by countless NGOs that had congregated for parallel events, by the bureaucrats that head the international institutions (such as the World Bank and the UN Development Programme) charged with developmental objectives, and by the liberal media.