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World poverty: How can America best help reduce it?
By Mark Shepard, On Life and Liberty Column Series in the Bennington Banner

October 30, 2001

Simplistic responses to poverty suggest a solution lies in more evenly distributing wealth. Yet, a look at socialist experiments in the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China or even the wealth redistribution experiments here in the United States show a lack of success in increasing the quality of life for the poor. Instead, the result has been an ever-widening economic gap between the wealthy and the poor, while the middle class dwindles or disappears. Any successes are very short lived. The mere transfer of wealth does nothing to address the underlying reasons for poverty. Long-term solutions embrace principles that motivate every sector to maximize productivity.

Indeed, even the American settlements of Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620) began as socialist (or communal) experiments. To avoid perishing, both colonies instituted private property ownership. Not only did they not perish, the people prospered and both communities began to flourish. This set the stage for history's most successful experiment in maximizing human potential The United States of America.

As the Declaration of Independence states, the primary goal of the American founders was to secure for all citizens the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This concept of happiness is almost interchangeable with the right of an individual to own property and use the proceeds one's property and labor to bring enrichment to one's life or family.

These rights were secured in 1787 when the United States adopted a written constitution. The Constitution and Bill of Rights created a balanced government, which maximized individual liberty by offering protections against the extremes of tyranny and anarchy. The underlying theme of this government is the high and equal value of every individual human.

While America has examples of economic disparity, these disparities are a result of America rejecting her own founding principles.

The violation of these principles resulted in a civil war. African Americans were deprived of liberty and often life, not to mention the ability to pursue happiness. John Adams, arguably the most influential person in conceiving the American form of government, predicted the war over slavery. When American law affirms a right to strip any person of his or her life, liberty or property (except in cases of justice or self-defense) the very fabric of our nation is in jeopardy. Much of American poverty can be attributed to policies that support unequal treatment of people. Segregation laws made much of America only accessible to White Americans.

Today America is reaping the consequences of decades of poor policies, which may have had good intentions, but actually discourage a good work ethic and personal responsibility.

However, policies that have truly embraced the founding principles have unleashed unmatched human potential and improved the standard of living in our country. So, why not just spread this success formula around the world? Freedom however cannot be forced; it must be desired. While humanitarian aid brings much needed relief to poverty-stricken people, raising the long-term quality of life in impoverished societies generally requires an internal change in their guiding principles. Only broad internal support and effort can bring about sustainable changes in guiding principles. The best way to spread the American way of life is to help those from other nations experience it. While it is clear America needs safeguards to thwart the entry of terrorists, we must take caution not to close our borders to other foreign visitors. Foreign students who taste American freedom and return to their homeland provide a great force in the spread of democracy. As the success formula underlying American democracy is embraced by other nations, the world will become safer and less impoverished.

Mark Shepard

Mark Shepard
Bennington, Vermont

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