Why Assist People Living in Poverty? : The ethics of poverty reduction
Groot, Richard de
Ragno, Luigi Peter
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International discussion and debate on poverty and poverty reduction in low- and middle-income countries has been deservedly dominated by a focus on poverty trends and by concerns over the relative effectiveness of anti-poverty policies. Less attention has been given to understanding, at the domestic level, the ways in which poverty is shaped in the public discourse and the priority attached to poverty reduction. The paper aims to throw light on this issue by linking poverty and poverty reduction to relevant ‘shared values that define social arrangements’. The authors start from the proposition that public perceptions of poverty and of the priority attached to poverty reduction are influenced as much by technical and policy perspectives as by shared values which define the social arrangements and institutions.The extent to which shared values define social arrangements concerning poverty likely emerges from domestic political processes of learning and justification. The paper argues that linking the shared values that define the social arrangements and institutions, which we refer to as ‘ethical perspectives’, to the emerging welfare institutions addressing poverty in developing countries provides a window into these processes of justification at a more fundamental level. Ethics examines the nature and scope of just institutions and social arrangements at the deepest level of analysis. By ethics of poverty we refer to the most basic arguments and processes used to justify how and why we assist people living in poverty. Given the extent to which poverty reflects injustice, we argue it is appropriate to consider poverty in the context of ethics. We go further in arguing that ethical perspectives not only provide insights into public understanding of poverty and of the priority attached to achieving poverty reduction, but it also throws light on the scope and design of the institutions and policies charged with addressing poverty. Several ethical perspectives exist and are capable of illuminating these issues. Relevant ethical perspectives include egalitarian, utilitarian, priority, sufficiency and humanitarian perspectives. In the view of researchers, these perspectives have implications for defining the concept, scope and significance of poverty and poverty reduction. The persistence of poverty is inconsistent with just institutions, yet ethical perspectives on the shape of just institutions are relevant to the study of poverty and to poverty reduction institutions, but the emergence and discussion of these perspectives has rarely focused directly on poverty.