Since the dawn of the industrialisation age, political romance to end poverty has been employed as a moral imperative. Notions of communism, socialism, social democrats, “republics” and welfare states gained traction in reaction to industrial capitalism. The sole aim was to bridge the gap between affluent industrial investors, the poor labour class, and landless people affected by economic hardship. All these forms of government support, more or less, shared fruits of the industrial boom while attempting to reign in giant capitalists from becoming financial lords of the economy and protec the livelihood of the ‘have-nots’.
But all these state interventions, meant to curb the trend of burgeoning poverty, came to nought when neoliberalism based on a free market economy with less emphasis on individual’s economic rights took centre stage in the global financial system. It is fast precipitating in elite captured global financial system in which the poor is becoming poorer and the rich richer.
The poor record of poverty alleviation drive worldwide owes its failure to the “new world order” under neoliberalism. Led by the US and its allies, it obliged nation-states to have almost no control over freely operating capitalist economies leaving governments in developing countries toothless and ineffective in challenging the hegemony of wealthier nations. This has resulted in abject poverty with its brood of inequality, corruption, unemployment, lawlessness and violence in less developed countries.
The global south has suffered the most due to the exploitative tactics of neoliberalism. According to the World Bank’s 2022 report, 1.8 billion people, almost one-fifth of the global population, were living less than the internationally accepted poverty line threshold, which is $3.69 per day. Through subsidies and public sector spending, governments worldwide are scrambling hard to raise the living standard of people living below the poverty line, but nothing substantial could be achieved due to bad governance and corruption in the global south.
Only China has won the battle against poverty with political will. China can proudly claim to have lifted hundreds of millions of rural people from poverty. Presently, around 700 million people are participating and contributing to the Chinese economy.
Protagonists of individual rights claim that poverty is the total denial of all fundamental human rights. Poverty was defined in light of the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), including healthcare, education and living standard dimensions.
The story of Pakistan is no different from the rest of the developing world.
In Pakistan, though “eradication of poverty” has always been a famous catchphrase in political jargon, none of the successive governments made any tangible headway toward overcoming poverty.
All anti-poverty interventions made so far appear to have no enduring effect whatsoever, as the number of have-nots facing acute poverty is rising at an alarming pace.
Lack of access to food, clean drinking water, education, healthcare and shelter provides a further breeding ground to exacerbate it.
According to the global financial poverty ratio, Pakistan is ranked 43 among the countries most exposed to poverty. The UNDP says 65.5 per cent of Pakistanis earn less than 2$ per day. Other statistics reveal that 80 per cent of the population in Balochistan, 51 per cent in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 21 per cent in Sindh and 25 per cent in Punjab lives near the cusp of poverty.
Economic retardation caused by the global recession and shutdowns during Covid-19 and devastations wreaked by unprecedented climate-induced floods in 2022 further exacerbated the poverty problem in Pakistan.
In the face of subsequent economic meltdown due to the financial crisis and dollar-rupee parity, anti-poverty initiatives taken by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Democratic Moment governments seem a far cry from alleviating the sufferings of the needy who now are facing stagflation.
Serving meals, rations and cash to people making queues will never be a remedy or an alternative to do away with poverty.
Such superficial and piecemeal measures can never be a solution to eliminate the menace of poverty, which requires an inclusive policy.
Data collected under Ahsas and Benazir Income Support Programme can also be channeled for an inclusive national strategy to combat poverty.
In economic terms, poverty and unemployment rise and fall together. With human resource mobilisation, development can be achieved by pushing underprivileged masses into the competitive arena of the modern-day economy.
But, without any holistic approach, fear of rising poverty lurks due to bad governance, ill-targeted policies, rampant corruption, lawlessness and mob violence. Another factor contributing to poverty is a lack of holding the powerful accountable for decision-making. Above all, the burgeoning population is outnumbering the morsels being offered.
Most analysts believe that the main hurdle in combating poverty is the elite-captured monopoly in economic and financial fields, who shape economic policies while evading the tax net and leaving room for indirect taxation without differentiating between the rich and the poor. Economists believe the trickle-down impact-generating policies since the 1970s did not achieve desired results because of the lopsided approach to tackling poverty. Now voices are being heard for a bottom-up approach to combat poverty, keeping the Chinese model in view. Economists argue that sustainable economic growth can only be achieved through public participation, which will also serve the purpose of eradicating poverty. In contrast, a bubble boom and bust economic cycle based on stopgap arrangements will take us nowhere. We, as a nation, sit on the tip of a poverty volcano which can explode anytime, posing a severe threat to peace. We need to fix this on a war-footing basis to achieve enduring peace and prosperity.