UN, New York , 44th session of the Commission for Social Development: Statement by the Circle by Jacques Baudot on Eradication of Poverty. Workshop on the Multiple Dimensions of Poverty convened by the Circle.
I have the privilege to address this Commission on behalf of the Triglav Circle, an organization created to promote the core message of the World Summit for Social Development, which is a humanist message on the centrality of the human person, object and subject of all public policies, national and international, social, economic as well as financial.
In this spirit of the Social Summit, the notion of poverty has to be seen in all its dimensions and has to be replaced in the political context of the time. It has to be viewed in a holistic manner, as suggested in the Report of the Secretary General now before the Commission.
Allow me to illustrate this point at three levels.
First, poverty is a universal problem, of concern to all nations, economically affluent or economically poor, powerful or weak, and it is a problem with many facets and manifestations. There is material poverty, social poverty – the absence or paucity of meaningful social relations -, cultural poverty, moral poverty and, perhaps above all, spiritual poverty, or poverty of the human spirit.
To ignore material poverty in rich countries, and it is an established fact that this poverty has increased in the last years and decades, is to deprive oneself of the means to analyze and understand why the dominant model of development, the dominant conception of what constitutes a good life and a successful society, generates and tolerates this kind of deprivation. Of particular relevance in this dominant model are the characteristics of the world economy and of the process of globalization.
To consider poverty only in its material aspects, is to ignore entire and important facets of the human condition at the beginning of this Millennium and to deprive oneself of the possibility to better understand both the causes of material deprivation itself and the nature of the social ills that are affecting a number of societies and threatening the future of the world. Humiliation, as well as moral and spiritual vacuity, lead to violence.
Secondly, it would be highly desirable to built bridges between the discourse on development and the reduction of poverty and the discourse on the protection and promotion of human rights. Since a few years after the creation of the United Nations, these two discourses and the related structures and policies, which were intertwined and inseparable in the Charter took different and even antagonistic roads. There are historical explanations for this fact, including the Cold War, that no longer constitute excuses. And it is all the more important to reconcile these two ideals – an ideal of personal and collective development and an ideal of freedom and dignity for all – that they are both in danger. United, they would have more strength. Efforts at “mainstreaming” the protection and promotion of human rights have had so far limited results. And development concepts and policies are too often reduced to instrumentalities such as creating a “climate” favorable to foreign investments and “integration” in the world economy. This reconciliation of the discourses on development and human rights has intellectual and political dimensions. Again in the spirit of the Social Summit, this Commission might consider working in this direction.
Thirdly, it would be equally desirable to consider the issue of poverty, in all its dimensions, together with the concept of wealth. Wealth, its possession, its use and its distribution among social classes and countries, wealth and the appetites and excesses it generates, is generally ignored in international documents and debates. It is implicitly seen as the opposite of poverty and, therefore, as the “state” to which all human beings should aspire. An alternative, in line with the teaching of all great religions and moral philosophies, would be to view wealth as a source of duties, responsibilities and obligations vis-à-vis the Other and the collectivity. The implementation of this principle would have far-reaching implications, three of which being mentioned in this brief statement:
Sooner or later, the necessity of establishing in every country and also at the international level fair, progressive and efficient tax systems would have to be on the international agenda. This was a crucial recommendation of the World Summit, reiterated five years later in Geneva, but deliberately ignored by international organizations subjected to the domination of the neo-liberal ideology. Yet, fair and progressive taxation, social development and democracy go together.
The reduction of poverty, and the prevention of its occurrence, imply deliberate public policies on the distribution and redistribution of income and wealth. These policies are financial, economic and social. All are based on the simple observation that economic freedom has to be oriented and tamed by the principles of equality and solidarity that bind together members of the human family, within national and regional settings and, hopefully soon, at the world level. The reduction of poverty and the reduction of inequalities, a point again emphasized by the Social Summit, ought not be dissociated. Inequalities, of all types, are currently increasing and this is morally unacceptable and economically absurd.
The opposite of poverty, the model of development and success proposed by the United Nations to countries and peoples, ought not to be wealth as presently conceived and lived. Wealth is too often ostentatious, used for selfish purposes and for power, and simply, in many cases, excessive. The opposite of poverty, and the opposite of indecent wealth, ought to be frugality and simplicity. Since the Rio conference we know that current patterns of production and consumption are not sustainable. But we do not have the courage and the imagination to conceive and implement the type of economy and society where human energy and creativity would be geared towards harmony with the self, with others and with nature, rather than being applied to the search for power, expansion and domination. Simplicity, moderation, wisdom should become the mottos of our efforts at creating a better world.
In sum, the struggle for the reduction of poverty ought to be replaced in a struggle for justice, for solidarity, and for the search of a renaissance of the human spirit.
In this context, we see with great satisfaction that the Secretariat has proposed employment as the main theme for the work of the Commission in the next two years. Employment, decent work, respect for labour standards, and, more generally, human work – in French “le travail humain”–, are subjects at the core of social development and of this renaissance of the human spirit that we are calling for.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.