Solution to Poverty? Is it Money?

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For the last three years I have been living in Papua New Guinea (PNG).  Here are some quick facts to familiarize you with the economic condition there.  The remainder of this post focuses specifically on issues of the poor related to third world countries like PNG.

  • 85% of PNG citizens are sustenance farmers.  This means they live off of what they grow in their gardens.
  • The majority of homes are built from raw bush materials.
  • The minimum wage is .35 USD per hour.  By September the minimum wage should increase threefold to about $1 per hour.
  • The average annual income is $2,200 (USD).  See this article to compare this to other countries.

What is the Solution to Poverty?

It can be difficult to be in the midst of poverty.  Our logical minds immediately seek a solution.  We ask ourselves, isn’t there anything I can do?  So solutions are always sought.  The most obvious solution to poverty would appear to be money.  We reason that if you give someone some money they will no longer be poor.  However, poverty is not caused simply by of a lack of money.

“Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no desire to get wisdom?” (Proverbs 17:16, NIV)

Let me preface my comments by saying many of the world’s poor are not poor because they are fools.  Some are poor for that reason, but there are many other more influential reasons.  The principle in Proverbs 14:16 is that money in the wrong hands is not valuable to that individual.

Why Money is Not the Solution to Poverty

Here are reasons why I believe people are poor in PNG:

  1. People are poor because the Western world defines poverty by net worth, wealth, and accumulation.  Many of the world’s ‘poor’ might use more virtuous traits to describe real poverty.  Westerners have more money, but are we really richer?
  2. People are poor because of cultural practices, expectations, and values.  Money is not owned individually, but communally.  As a result when someone gets money it is distributed to the entire family – those deserving and those undeserving.  People often share and distribute their money instead of manage their money.
  3. People are poor because of injustice.  The Post Courier, the national newspaper in PNG, often reports about misappropriation of funds and bribery in political circles.  Again, you put money into a broken system and you cannot expect it to provide any real solution to issues of poverty.
  4. People are poor because of bad spending decisions.  The wealthy tend to think about money as something for tomorrow.  We save it and invest it.  The poor view money as something for today.  Money is for survival, not accumulation.  When any extra money is available it is often used and not preserved.
  5. People are poor because poverty is cyclical.  We often emulate those who educate.  Financial habits, thoughts, and perceptions have been passed from generation to generation.

In many situations poverty is a symptom.  A symptom to which money is not the solution.  Money placed in the hands of one who cannot manage it does not solve the issue of poverty.  Instead, our energy and attention should be focused on identifying the root causes of poverty and addressing those concerns.

Please don’t think the world’s poverty will be solved simply by giving money.  It requires our prayers, our time, our thoughtful consideration, and our advocacy for justice.

Comments

  1. Alice Onwuegbuchu says

    Most of us africans are poor because we have develop this dependence syndrome, that is always looking for external support. Let us cultivate the habit of giving, giving is a biblical principle “it is more blessed to give than to receive”.

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