‘I would like to call upon the Group of Seven nations, with the support of major international investors, to establish a new International Fund to tackle poverty and hunger in the Third World’, declared Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in conclusion of his speech at the 33rd Davos Forum. This declaration, despite emanating from a leader with exceptional political charisma, and moreover warmly endorsed by the business elite, cannot however go without some serious examination!
Indeed, it is possible to wonder how such a means – such an expedient? – be capable of answering the major challenges invoked and of satisfying the demands of someone who moments earlier proclaimed: ‘I would like to invite all of you here today, to look at the world through different eyes’. For how could the normative solution of ‘a new fund’, accountable to and set up by the same managers as before really make the difference as regards the most lamentable repeated failure of the multilateral community over the course of the last decades?
As important as this fund might be from a quantitative point of view, what is the likelihood that it would be any more useful than ‘putting a sticking plaster on a wooden leg’? As enthusiastic as the support for this initiative might be, how can it change radically and ‘sustainably’ (slogan of the times!) the inequitable disorder which has prevailed for so long? More precisely: is it about a good means for bringing another geopolitical order onto the international scene (a Copernican revolution) concerning the irreducible questions of poverty and hunger?
I do not in any way believe this to be the case, and will cite in support of my suspicions just some of the reasons amongst others. The first is that the official ‘experts’ have fought amongst themselves for forty years to define the ‘thresholds’ and communally acceptable poverty indexes, and they have not succeeded! The second reason is that in the last twenty years, the global revenue gaps between the richest 20% and the poorest 20% of the planet’s inhabitants have been multiplied threefold, going from a ratio of 50-1 to 150-1… My third reason has been provided by the CNUCED which notes in its 2002 Report on the ‘least advanced countries’ that ‘Extreme poverty, defined by the international threshold of 1 dollar per day, doubled in these countries over the course of the last thirty years’, and that 81% of the population are living on less than 2 dollars. It seems to me that such a spectacular state of affairs (which I record only an extremely small part here) should incite without delay the end of the implementation of new large ‘financial packages’ and the strings of economic measures associated, that have been multiplied at multilateral, bilateral and regional level in the above-mentioned period.
So, what should be the ‘priority’ for action? I propose a States-General of poverty, which would resolutely mobilise players from the NGOs, research, multilateral and national administrations, associations, unions and businesses with the triple task of inventory, analysis, and experimentation.
Firstly, an evaluation without concessions of different programmes for the ‘fight against poverty’ conducted since the 1980s – in particular those that were mixed with plans for structural adjustment of the IMF –, and which led to results as dramatic as those highlighted by the CNUCED. Then, an equally ruthless critical evaluation of the numerous responsibilities held in the failures recorded, and the chain of these responsibilities. Finally i) the elaboration of new concepts and tools for analysing poverty (implicating the scientific community); ii) the validation and promotion of alternative methodologies, some already successfully tested by the NGOs on the ground; iii) the delegation of the management of a substantial part of the funds allocated and the decisions on actions taken to such NGOs, in place of (multilateral and national) organisations having previously failed in their missions.
Without a real critique of the rationale of poverty, resolved to lay out all the discourse and action produced in the name of the ‘fight against poverty’, and carried through whilst drawing its consequences at an international level, any strictly financial and accounting approach to the problem – whatever the method – would, in effect, be destined to engender new deceptions. It is nothing other than that which the Brazilian president hammered home on the 30th of January, on launching the No Hunger plan in his country: ‘If we do not attack the causes of hunger, it will return, as such it is already produced by the past’.
Prior to the new ‘fund’ that he so ardently desires, the urgency becomes apparent for a collective work as delicate as it is decisive on the effective causes of poverty, of its aggravation and of its persistence