EPIIC Archives

2008 Global Poverty and Inequality

Mass poverty is one of the world’s most pressing problems and daunting challenges. The compelling facts are well known:

• Over one billion people – almost one in five – live in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than a dollar a day.
• If the poverty line was raised to $2 a day, more than half of the world’s population would be living in poverty.
• Over 100 million primary school-age children cannot afford to go to school.
• Eight million people die each year simply because they lack the means to survive.
• Over 11 million children die each year from preventable causes like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.
• According to the 2001 US census, the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans accounted for more than 50 percent of the national income, while the poorest 20 percent accounted for 3.5 percent

Much progress has been made over the last few decades. Global poverty is rapidly falling for about 80 percent of the world and the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half. Yet, many challenges exist, from the expected rise in population in developing countries over the next four decades – representing 86 percent of the world’s population – to the anticipated, and unanticipated, consequences of global warming. Eschewing ideology, this year’s EPIIC colloquium will seek a nuanced understanding of the concepts and reality of global poverty. Is it possible to transcend the images of starving children, the stereotypes of ruthless corporations, and corrupt politicians, to explore a realistic agenda for alleviating poverty?

The yearlong colloquium will explore theories of development and causes of poverty, from dependency theory to the “resource curse” to the new “Developmentalism”, as well as the personal experiences of those living in poverty. Are there new ways of thinking about the causes of poverty? Are there new ways that it can it be fought?

What is the relationship between power and economics? How do elites maintain their power? What are the economic origins of dictatorship ? Of democracy? Is egalitarian redistribution feasible and/or desirable in an era of globalization? Can, should, the welfare state survive in an economically integrated world? Is good governance a prerequisite for alleviating poverty? What role does capitalism play in both causing and alleviating poverty? What should be the roles of the International Financial Institutions? Of the United Nations?

What is the nexus of poverty, security and conflict? Why is a country with a $250 per capita income 15 percent more likely to experience internal conflict than a country with a $5,000 or greater per capita income? Is there a “doom spiral,” what some economists assert as a crisis afflicting 50 failing states or the “bottom billion?” Why are these countries failing, and what can be done about it? How can the capital assets of the poor – what the Ford Foundation calls “the physical, financial, human social, and natural resources that can be acquired, developed, improved, and transferred across generations” – be developed? What are the benefits and drawbacks of income- based strategies and asset-based approaches to development?

This colloquium will also focus on developing a “fact-based worldview,” working with such techniques as GIS and Gap Minder, a visualization interactive animation design to render global statistics comprehensible and to help dispel and confront our common misperceptions about poverty in both the “developing” and “developed” worlds.