Minister Dr. Gerd Müller and Dr. Mar Cabezas
Marion Lieser, Oxfam

Poor rich world – fair opportunities for all?

Dialogue forum on 14 April 2015

In many countries of the world, not just in the emerging nations, the gulf between rich and poor is growing wider. The benefits of increased prosperity usually do not reach the lower classes of society. On the fourth evening of the 2015 dialogue forums, the German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dr. Gerd Müller, the Managing Director of Oxfam Germany Marion Lieser and poverty researcher Dr. Mar Cabezas put forward proposals for overcoming this state of affairs.

Despite the many advances of recent years, poverty still dominates the lives of millions of people. "What makes us tolerate this fact?" asked Mar Cabezas, at the same time providing the answer: firstly, a negative view of the world based on the assumption that life simply is not fair. Secondly, the presumption that those concerned may partially themselves be to blame and, thirdly, the illusion of one's own invulnerability. "A lack of empathy for poor people is a strategy to avoid feeling bad about ourselves. People think that the solution does not lie in their hands and that they therefore do not bear any responsibility," said the researcher from the University of Salzburg explaining the behaviour of many people. For Cabezas, poverty is therefore not just a question of resource allocation but rather a problem of psyche and mindset. The exclusion of poor people in her opinion is a form of social aggression.

Centres for poverty reduction in Africa
There are of course concrete reasons for the poverty in the world, such as the unchecked population growth which within a few decades will leave us facing nine billion people on the earth. "Our goal is to build a world without hunger by 2030," commented Development Minister Müller outlining the priorities. This will require a significant increase in agricultural productivity - especially in Africa where the population will double. "An ox with a wooden plough only manages one hundredth of the yields produced by the mechanical agriculture practised here in Upper and Lower Bavaria." And this although many countries actually do have the necessary potential at their disposal. For example, Ethiopia, which once was the breadbasket of Africa. What is lacking is innovation. For this reason, the ministry is planning twelve green training centres in Africa to provide the population there with knowledge and technology. "One thing in particular is cynical: we have the know-how but still let the people starve."

The foundation for a better standard of living in addition to this is an adequate supply of energy. "The 54 countries of Africa consume as much power in total as Germany alone. In the Congo, 96 per cent of the people have no electricity," Mueller said pushing his point home. For him the key to equal development opportunities is globalisation. "Instead of market radicalism, I would argue for an ecological social model. A free market without rules results in the exploitation of resources and people as well as imbalanced distribution." With extreme results: ten per cent of the world population have accumulated 90 per cent of its wealth, 88 people own as much as half of humanity

Rules for a transparent value chain
Fair conditions begin with fair wages, such as for plantation workers or seamstresses. For this reason Müller is not only calling for more public funding for development but also for rules for a transparent supply chain. "We must develop the WTO into a fair trade organisation." The consumers too have an important role to play. They should not always just take their cue from the policy makers. The consumer can influence poverty, for example, when buying clothing that is manufactured in poor countries at starvation wages. "Two euros more for a pair of trousers does not mean a lot for us, but for the workers in Bangladesh this seemingly small amount of money reduces poverty. "I am optimistic that we will manage to create a balance between rich and poor," added the minister.

"Even though we have achieved some of the Millennium Development Goals, it is disgraceful what some countries have to offer," lamented Marion Lieser. Only five countries spend the 0.7 per cent of their economic power for development aid they had pledged within the framework of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Germany too lags behind with 0.4 per cent. In addition to this, prosperity advances in the developing and emerging countries hardly benefit the poor. "Greater progress would have been possible if attention had been paid to the structure of poverty and social inequality from the beginning," criticised the Oxfam Director.

Worldwide minimum wage for subsistence
A decisive step would be to stop acting the benefactor and instead involve the local people as players on the ground. "If the idea of this human rights-based principle is developed further, it is not about passing on knowledge through innovation centres, but actually about addressing the structural background of poverty directly in the country itself." As poverty usually means income poverty, some thought must be given to the idea of a global minimum wage to secure subsistence. "And a certain degree of redistribution cannot be avoided if you want to eliminate social injustice," she added.

A first step would be for the national governments and international organisations to vow to overcome extreme inequality by 2030. "If the Federal Government made this commitment today, that would be a step in the right direction. What is important now is to develop and implement the appropriate national action plans," emphasised Lieser. As today's generation, we have the opportunity of building a world without hunger and poverty. "We should not fail to take this unique opportunity."

Risk of radicalisation and civil wars
Minister Müller also considers the governments of poor countries to be under obligation. "My message to these countries is that we offer know-how and resources to provide more education and build up health systems. But it is the responsibility of the states themselves to adapt their structures and actively work towards solving the problems." This includes the reduction of corruption, the creation of tax systems and the equality of women. Many countries are also rich in resources. "The in part corrupt elite classes must be compelled to conclude licensing contracts so that the state household receives the income from resources instead of it being brought out of the country." The alternative is bleak. "Hunger, poverty and misery is in most cases the basis for radicalisation and civil wars," the Minister warned.

But how realistic is the claim for "Fair opportunities for all" in the final analysis? "If we concentrate only on the direct reduction of poverty, we have already lost," Cabezas replied to potential doubters. Not only the big goal is important, but every small bit of progress on the way towards it. "As with the development of a child: a mother already speaks to her baby from the very first day, even though she knows that does not yet understand anything and only years later will begin to talk itself."

At the end of the evening it was evident that poverty and development policies are an issue with many facets. The sustainable development goals that the United Nations wish to initiate when the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015 will take these diverse aspects into account. The goal of fighting for equal opportunities will reduce the differences in living standards significantly.

The next dialogue forum will be held on 6 May on the topic of "Do something! On the power and powerlessness of the individual".

NSCH, 22 April 2015