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“Ethics and Governance Issues in Sustainability in Asia:
Ethics of Poverty Alleviation
Authentic and sustainable development means working at the real solutions in order to eradicate or at least alleviate poverty. In agriculture-based economies such as the Philippines, the ultimate solutions are to be found in: countryside and rural infrastructures; quality basic education for the children of the poor and in Muslim areas, especially the education of women; cash transfers to the poorest of the poor; primary health services; microcredit and microenterprise programs; technical skills training for secondary school students; and social housing such as that provided by Gawad Kalinga(Villegas, 2011). Concretely, it has been found that, as far as food security in the Philippines is concerned, focus should be placed on addressing constraints to agricultural finance in order to boost food productivity (Llanto, 2010). Along with this, focus should be put in investing in roads, since the unreliable and inadequate infrastructure in the Philippines has been found to be a major impediment to economic growth (Llanto, 2011). Given the physical and environmental constraints on increasing land and water use for food production and other economic activities, agricultural productivity will have to substantially improved to meet the increasing demand for food. For this to happen, substantial investments need to be made by both the government and private sector (Llanto, 2010).
In Asian developing countries, like Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines, emerging innovations in microfinance are known to have enabled microfinance institutions (MFIs) to reach a greater number of poor households on a sustainable basis (Llanto, 2006). In fact, microcredit is changing lives by opening up endless possibilities for the poorest of the poor by creating self-employment opportunities (Yunus, 2005). Such microcredit has enabled attending to the so-called “Bottom-of-the-Pyramid” (BOP) market, or those living under $2 per capita income per day who can hardly get hold of even the barest necessities.
A more ethical analysis of the BOP markets, however, reveals that it may be more morally correct to deal with the BOP markets in such a way as to make them productive suppliers or employees, instead of the more manipulative strategy of milking the poor of their resources by making money out of them through marketing and selling products to them. For instance, is it ethical for multinational companies (MNCs) to sell “luxury” goods to the extremely destitute, when about 80% of their income is spent on the most basic needs like food, clothing and fuel, and hardly anything is left to spend afterward? When credit is extended to the poor to enable them to purchase products, are those products a productive resource which can generate new income stream so they may get out of poverty? Would it not be better for the MNCs to make entrepreneurs out of the poor, and take those entrepreneurs under their wings through subcontracting? Specifying what supplies are desirable –crops, medicinal plants, handicrafts– can assure outlets for otherwise misdirected energy (Habib and Zurawicki, 2010).
Following the same line of thinking, the aggressive pursuit of birth control programs as a means of combating mass poverty must be opposed. Considering that several nations are perilously close to what population experts call an irreversible demographic decline, there is no need for any State-sponsored population control program which can be counter-productive over the long run, as can be gleaned from the demographic crisis being faced by such countries as Singapore and Japan. Augmenting human capital by expanding education, improving health conditions, and creating an economic environment have greater returns that can be generated by the world’s human resources (Villegas, 2011).
In an effort to promote development, the international community has spent increasingly large amounts of money on controlling the fertility rates and limiting the population growth of developing countries. Control over people is seen as the cornerstone of development, and population activities have become more and more identified with population control. Thus, population control has become “population assistance,” and birth control has become “reproductive health services.” But the reality is that these population control programs have hurt women’s health everywhere and have been detrimental to real economic growth and social and ecological improvement (Aguirre and Hadley, 2005).
Regarding the issue of foreign aid, could it be that development assistance has been a mistake in many places at different times? “We don’t know what actions achieve development, our advice and aid do not make those actions happen even if we knew what they were, and we are not even sure who this “we” is that is supposed to achieve development. I take away from this that development assistance was a mistake” (Easterly, 2007, p. 331). Even primary healthcare programs in developing countries have been shown to be inadequate or misplaced. There is mounting evidence that huge portions of health budgets have been incorrectly placed in curative care in secondary and tertiary facilities when they were most needed in the provision of relatively inexpensive primary health care (Pritchett et al., 2000).
The increasing popularity of the Human Development Index has opened the eyes of many that a rapid growth of GDP may lead to more human misery if it is not accompanied by a more equitable distribution of income and wealth as well as increased access to education and health among the masses. Lord Peter Bauer, born in Hungary but moved to the U.K. to become one of its most distinguished economists, explained that worries about population growth reflect a patronizing view that the poor are incapable of making sensible choices about having children. The much deplored population explosion should be seen as a blessing rather than a disaster, because it stems from a fall in mortality, a prima facie improvement in people’s welfare. At the same time, there is no correlation between population growth (or even density) and poverty. The population of the western world has more than quadrupled since the mid-18th century, yet real income per head has increased at least fivefold. In the face of an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, efforts must be addressed instead toward bridging such gap. Addressing the problem of mass poverty directly through market and social reforms will increase incomes and reduce fertility rate (Villegas, 2011).
Economic Error of Birth Control
Citation: Racelis, A.D. (2012). Ethics and Governance Issues in Sustainability in Asia: Literature Review and Research Proposals. Synergeia. 4(1): 155-174.
[Slide presentation of full paper below.]