The futility of the "fight against poverty"

David Bullard says it's that time of the election cycle when politicians have to pretend they care

The futility of fighting poverty

I've noticed a marked increase recently of mentions of "the poor" in the media. The sanctimonious, hand wringing leftie activists have been droning on about how we must "fight poverty like we fought apartheid". 

I should point out at this stage that whenever I have been involved in charity events for the less fortunate, whether they be auctions or fundraisers, those who profess to care most about the poor are always happy to turn up and help themselves to the free food and booze provided. When you ask them to put their hands in their pockets and donate some of their own money though you generally can't see them for dust.

It's hardly surprising that the plight of the poor is so prominent at the moment. While they can be conveniently ignored for most of the time there is an election looming and although the poor may not have any money they do have a rather valuable vote. If you can persuade them to put their X next to your name on the ballot paper then you've earned yourself another five years with your snout in the trough.

By the way, this is not a criticism of SA politics in case some if you were thinking of adding some banal comment below. It's a worldwide phenomena and applies just as much in the USofA as it does here. What usually happens is that politicians profess to care deeply about the poor about three months before an election.

Then they promise free housing, education, food coupons, medical care (in fact just about everything that most people have to work all their lives to afford) with absolutely no idea how they are going to deliver on these promises.

The poor, whose lives are so wretched that they are prepared to believe all sorts of bullshit, then vote for the politician who promises them the most and spend the next four and a half years wondering when he is going to deliver on his promises (note to gender activists-the term "he" as used here is freely interchangeable with she).

The political reality though is that the poor are a bad investment. Talk about fighting poverty as we fought apartheid certainly grabs headlines but when you analyse the statement it's complete nonsense. Fighting apartheid was comparatively easy. All you had to do was object to the many injustices imposed by the National Party post 1948. Once the apartheid legislation was wiped off the statute books then apartheid had been beaten.

Fighting poverty is not quite so simple. There's no legislation in SA that decrees that some people should be poor and others wealthy. You can blame the legacy of apartheid if it will make you feel better but that argument collapses when you come up with examples of those who overcame extreme hardship to achieve success and become economically valuable members of society. They may be in the minority but they exist.

The harsh truth is that the majority of what we call "the poor" are likely to remain poor because they either lack the skills or the desire to be anything else. They've also been brainwashed by the ANC into believing that all they have to do is wait patiently for the promised delivery rather than do anything for themselves to improve their lot in life.

Just suppose the ANC had the resources and desire to lift everybody out of poverty. What do you think would happen? Would the previously idle suddenly develop a work ethic and help build the economy? Would they rush off to get an education and develop new skills? Well some might but most wouldn't. That's why many such individuals are poor in the first place; because they cannot succeed in an increasingly competitive world.

The downside with investing a lot of time and money in pretending to alleviate poverty is that it is like pouring money into a deep hole. Poverty will never be eradicated anywhere in the world. The best a government can hope to do is to direct an economy in such a way that the private sector creates jobs. Jobs are the only way to alleviate poverty, not free hand-outs taken from the economically successful members of society.


The news that Julius Malema intends to form a new political party which aims to attract 5 million votes is music to my ears. Never mind the possibility that Julius may be serving a prison sentence for fraud and corruption by the time April comes around. The political scene without the comic element of Juju simply hasn't been the same since the ANC expelled him.

Journos have actually been forced to look for stories whereas, with Juju, the stories came to them on a daily basis. He's always good for a sound bite or a pithy quote and even the name of his new movement, the Economic Freedom Fighters, sounds revolutionary enough to attract all sorts of nutters.

Although perhaps a little vague on the exact meaning of "economic freedom" I imagine Juju's election promises will include credit cards with no limit for all, a free Breitling watch for every card carrying party member and Johnnie Blue chargeable to your free medical aid scheme.

While the fledgling movement is asking for suggestions on how to raise funds I envisage no financial problems in the future when the EFF is running the country. A core policy is to nationalise the banks, mines and all strategic sectors of the economy and expropriate land without compensation if it happens to be owned by colonial oppressors. Another is the massive development of the African economy and the creation of millions of jobs. Clearly those hours spent with the late Hugo Chavez weren't in vain.

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter