“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
The above quote is apt in context of the topic at hand. The world is largely a poor place. The developed countries where there are fewer poor people have low population while the continents like Asia and Africa, which contribute to a significant majority of the population are majorly filled with people that barely have enough to get by. Add to that the fact that the richest 1% of the world own 40% of the world’s wealth, more than the poorest 95%. In such a case, it becomes ever so important to bring as much equality as possible and alleviate poverty.
The most logical course of action here is government action. Theoretically, no one else should care about the well being of the people more than the government itself. A healthy, wealthy and sound population only improves a country’s standing at the world stage. However, rampant corruption and incompetence among government officials means most of the efforts go in vain, if there are any. As the title suggests, the government policies do not target the root causes of poverty, leading to recent non poors to fall back into the trap, or even make some people destitute for the first time in their lives.
A recent example of this would be MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) in India. It was devised to guarantee 100 days of paid work (unskilled manual labour) to labourers in a calendar year. Now, the concept is simple and well meaning. Not only does this guarantee work to people who may not find it otherwise (like older people who won’t get farming jobs) but it also would help develop rural infrastructure like roads, canals and other public property, hence increasing the overall profile of the rural areas.
Now, the problem with this system lies in the fact that the wages are still low, and are mostly siphoned off by middlemen. Also, 100 days out of a possible 365 days isn’t really enough to feed a family, let alone bring it out of poverty. Another point to note is that the said work is on paper only and in reality the workers just sit around and do nothing. (Okay maybe they smoke a bidi or two perhaps.) As such, they’re virtually being paid to do nothing, which doesn’t encourage them to work hard and earn better and they start expecting freebies.
Hence it is safe to say that while noble in intention, MGNREGA doesn’t do enough to target the root cause of poverty and offers only a temporary solution whilst being plagued by corruption and mismanagement of money which hampers even the bit of good it set out to do.
This just brings us back to the quote at the top of the article, the current government policies are only obsessed with getting people the fish, while only a minority of the people actually know how to fish. So what exactly does the phrase “teaching to fish” means in this context? In my opinion, it would be to focus on skill development and employment generation. No need to “guarantee” employment to anyone, just create enough jobs for everyone and then there will be no need for any such “guarantee”.
Now, it is much easier said than done, but we have got to take some initiatives in this direction. The recent “Make In India” campaign focuses on making the country a hub for manufacturing and in the process bringing in a lot of employment opportunities, coupled with that is the “National Skill Development Mission” which focuses on making the youth ready for the influx of skilled labour requirements.
These initiatives are supposed to create more jobs and improve the skill level of people so that they have an easier time finding employment. A major challenge faced here is getting the poor people signed up for such skill development measures. For all we know, such people are chronically poor and cannot afford the fee for such programs, hence keeping them in the circle of poverty. In this case, contrary to what I said previously, a freebie is to be expected from the government in terms of a scholarship, just enough to nudge the people in the right direction, which is being provided currently, so to speak, as the government has allocated Rs 17,000 crore this year to the Skill India Mission, an amount which is supposed to go to government and private institutes that specialize in skill development.
Yet still, the true effects of any of this remains to be seen. I don’t expect poverty to just eradicate within the next 15-20 years, but I sure hope to see some improvements.
I would love to hear what your opinion is regarding what is the root cause of poverty, and what sort of policy could deal with them? I really feel I could have fleshed this out a bit more, so a help from your side would really be appreciated. As usual, the comments section is wide open. Also, follow me on Twitter.