The Root Of Poverty: Why We Need To Create ‘Learning Societies’

Common sense is incredibly effective with solving tasks of everyday life. It’s common sense to not eat food off the ground and to wash your hands after you touch something disgusting.

For day to day tasks like these, common sense is necessary. But when applied to complex issues like political conflicts, healthcare economics or marketing campaigns, common sense tends to result in ineffectiveness and overall negative consequences.

For complex social issues like poverty, common sense has constantly been unsuccessful.

Common sense says that poverty, which is having a lack of money, will be solved by giving out money. If you want to solve poverty, just throw money at it, and that will fix the problem.

As a result of this thinking, billions of dollars have been spent trying to fix poverty, but has repeatedly failed.

In the book “Everything Is Obvious: How Common Sense Fails Us,” Duncan J. Watts, a sociologist and principal researcher at Microsoft Research, says,

“Urban planners in the United States have repeatedly set out to ‘solve’ the problem of urban poverty and have repeatedly failed. There is a wistful myth that only if we had enough money to spend – the figure is usually put at a hundred billion dollars – we could wipe out all our slums in ten years… But look at what we have built with the first several billions: Low income projects that have become worst centers for delinquency, vandalism, and general worse social hopelessness than the slums that they were supposed to replace.”

It would have done more good to have not spent a penny at all. But if solely giving money doesn’t help, then what does?

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize winning economist, confirmed with research that what actually keeps nations, communities and individuals poor is not a lack of money or opportunities as many people think, but it is having a lack of knowledge.

In the book “Creating a Learning Society,” Stiglitz says,

“The transformation to ‘learning societies’ which occurred around 1800 for western countries, and more recently for those in Asia, appears to have had a greater impact on human well-being than improvements in allocative efficiency or resource accumulation.”

“What separates developed from less-developed countries,” Stiglitz says, “is not just a gap in resources but a gap in knowledge.”

This means that to not be poor requires individuals to learn, but more importantly to learn how to learn.

The inability to learn quickly and efficiently is the problem many people are facing.

If nations and groups of people are ever able to rise up from poverty, it will not be because of handouts or any other well intentioned programs, but it will be because of new knowledge that was given to them and then applied.

It’s like the old Chinese saying, “If you give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”


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