The Sword and Shield of Fighting Poverty

One of the best podcasts for expanding how you think is the Freakonomics Podcast, produced by WNYC and hosted by Steven Dubner. If it’s not already on your smartphone, it should be.

In a recent episode, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim was explaining some interesting data points about what mitigates poverty, especially in developing nations. Rather than focus on GDP, economists have been looking towards the foundations of poverty and ways to intercept it. Their findings? Two things mitigate poverty more than anything else: health and education.

These are the sword and the shield for the fight against poverty. The shield is health: with health and nutrition, your body can support your mind. The sword is education, knowledge, and learning. With a strong, well-trained mind, you can innovate and improve your life.

Why does this insight matter? It’s a wonderful lie detector for politicians and governments. Regardless of what they say, if a politician — in any nation, in any party — is actively working to reduce access to education, they have poverty as a goal. The poor and the uneducated are less likely to question your rule. They’re less likely to revolt or challenge those in power, because they’re expending all their energy just to survive another day.

Fewer opportunities for education for any given minority? The aim is to make them poor. Removal of information such as science or restriction to only one point of view (such as ISIS is doing in Syria and Iraq, and conservatives in the United States)? Poverty is the goal.

If a politician is actively working to reduce wellness and health, they too have poverty as a goal. From contaminants in food to the restriction of food itself (for example, the North Korean state), suppressing dissent through poverty is the goal. Restricting or removing access to medical care? Poverty is the goal. A population that’s permanently unwell isn’t going to be in any condition to challenge your rule.

If you want the world to be a better place, look to support things that bring people health and education. Support leaders who want more knowledge, more education, more wellness for everyone, but most especially the bottom 50% of the population. And if you’ve got a leader who opposes that, favoring a different part of the population? Chances are you’ve got someone who wants the poor to stay poor.