Who's job is it to end poverty?

More or Less is a BBC radio programme (on Radio 4 and the BBC World Service) that "tries to make sense of the statistics around us." I subscribe to its podcast feed (subscribing to BBC radio programmes means you don't miss them wherever you are and whatever you're doing). This week there was a short edition of the show focusing on the drive by China to eradicate completely (rural) poverty in the whole country by 2020. This sounds like an impossible thing to achieve but apparently in the last 25 years or so they have reduced extreme poverty in rural areas from 90% to 5%. That will be hundreds of millions of people helped.

The programme is even-handed (it is the BBC, after all) and points out some of the issues in the Chinese approach, such as the fact that there is no definition of poverty in urban areas, and therefore no counting of how many people in the urban areas are extremely poor. And, the poverty threshold being used by the government is income of just over $2 a day per person. Someone receiving $3 a day is still poor, but not defined as being in poverty.

What I was most struck by was the policy of assigning every poor family in the rural areas to a named official. It is the official's job to get their assigned families out of poverty by 2020. I can see that if an official is under pressure to meet the target they might be tempted to adjust the figures or whatever but if I look at this in a positive way, it is a significant statement by the government that it would assign resources to a family in this way. It is also an acknowledgement that families will not become richer without some assistance: there is not just a belief that the free market will somehow result in the trickle down of money that will eventually reach the poorest of the poor.

If you have ten minutes it's worth having a listen to the programme. Maybe you will want to subscribe to it as well.