The End of Poverty

Date: July 9, 2014
Location: Nkozi, Uganda (Uganda Martyrs University)

"Haley, how would you describe America?" Aggie (my Ugandan roommate here at Uganda Martyrs University) asked me as we untucked our mosquito nets, made our beds, and got ready for the day ahead.

A moment of silence. A quick pause. And then, "A land of people who have too much and love too little," I responded.

Aggie's eyes widened and she giggled to herself. "Are you serious?"

"Some people may disagree, but this summer, that's what I've realized about many people in America."

It sounds like a sweeping generalization, but you have to agree that many people in America (not everyone, but many) have way too much physically and financially and love way too little emotionally and spiritually.

It's time we face the facts: we are horrible at giving ourselves away.

Saint Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (New International Version).

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

How many of us can honestly say that we live that way? I know I can't. Are we living lives centered around ourselves or centered around others? Is Christ our purpose or is our own glory and praise our motivate for doing good? Be honest with yourself. Are you living for others and for His glory, or are you living for yourself?

So, yes, you may be offended when I say that the United States of America is a land filled with many people who have too much and love too little, but the facts prove my point exactly.

Lately I've been reading the writings of an American economist named Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs wrote a New York Times bestseller in 2005 called, The End of Poverty: How We Can Make It Happen In Our Lifetime. I am 100% obsessed with his writings. He's a genius.

One of the chapters of this book, "Can the United States Afford 0.7 Percent of GNP?" is especially intriguing. "The question is silly on its face. Can the United States manage an aid target that five other donor countries have already achieved, six more have scheduled, and all donors - including the United States - have promised 'concrete efforts' to achieve? Of course it can, especially since I am speaking of much less than 1 percent of income. Think of it. To go from today's donor assistance level of 0.15 percent of GNP to 0.7 percent of GNP would be an extra tax of 0.55 percent of GNP. With the U.S. per capita GNP rising by around 1.9 percent per year, the extra amount represents less than one third of a single year's growth of GNP. So, if the United States were on track to reach a $40,000 disposable income by, say, January 1, 2010, it would instead reach the same income on May 1, 2010, one third of a year later. This four-month lag in attaining a higher level of consumption would mean that a billion people would be given an economic future of hope, health, and improvement, rather than a downward spiral of despair, disease, and decline."

So, is that four-month lag worth it? What kind of ridiculous question is that?! Of course it is.

The problem is that we're not willing to "suffer through" that four-month lag or an extra tax of 0.55 percent of GNP because we're not willing to give ourselves away.

Again, we are people who have too much and love too little.

Did you know that the 400 richest US taxpayers had a combined income in the year 2000 that exceeded the combined income of four separate countries in Africa - Botswana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda? "The difference was astounding: the $57 billion in combined income of these four African countries in 2000 was the income of 161 million people, who average $350 in income per year, whereas the $69 billion was the income of 400 individuals in the United States."

Let's repeat that: 161 million people in four separate African countries had a collective income of $57 billion. 400 people in the United States had a collective income of $69 billion. Excuse my language, but what the actual hell (or as Aggie would say, "what the heaven"). That's pathetic.

If you can't tell how disgusted I am with these numbers by now, how about this one...

"On the spending side of the budget, the United States spent as much in Iraq for two weeks of support for the war (about $2.5 billion) as it does for an entire YEAR of economic development assistance in Africa."

Enough said.

I'll leave you with this. These numbers are of monstrous proportions and the gap between the rich and the poor (within and between countries) seems to be widening by the second, but there IS something you can do about it.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." (Margaret Mead)

But HOW you choose to change the world? Now, that's entirely up to you.

Jeffrey Sachs' writings get me fired up. This topic makes me want to change everything about my life and do exactly as Jesus said: it makes me want to give myself away completely. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

So, what gets you fired up? What makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning? If there's one thing in this world you could change, what would it be?

Since Sachs is such a genius, I'll leave you with another one of his crazy awesome quotes. Soak it up; it's pure gold. And if you've actually made it to the end of this rant, please know that I love love love you for reading (hi Packy, Pops, and Grandma).

"In the end, however, it comes back to us, as individuals. Individuals, working in unison, form and shape societies. Social commitments are commitments of individuals. Great social forces, Robert Kennedy powerfully reminded us, are the mere accumulation of individual actions. His words are more powerful today than ever: Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills - against misery and ignorance, injustice, and violence...Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation...It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. Let the future say of our generation that we sent forth mighty currents of hope, and that we worked together to heal the world."

Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty, excerpt from Ch. 15 "Can the Rich Afford to Help the Poor?" Can the United States Afford 0.7 Percent of GNP?
Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty, excerpt from Ch. 18 "Our Generation's Challenge," Our Next Steps


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