By Mareda Smith
This is a movie review of "The End Of Poverty?" documentary (link to the documentary here). This was an assignment for my POLS 132 (Global Politics) class this fall, an introductory Political Science course. In this assignment students were expected to write a review of the movie while connecting to course material. In the review students must:
For more information on the documentary, please check their website: http://www.theendofpoverty.com/
When I first started to organize my ideas for this paper, I thought about all that I had learned about poverty both from the film and from other texts we read throughout the semester, and tried to think about all of the different factors contributing to global poverty in a chronological sense. Then I thought about how these factors were connected by similar motives and human tendencies. I then tried to demonstrate how these tendencies have influenced global politics throughout time- from European colonialism to present day international economic policy. This allowed me to identify the trends that have persisted throughout time, continuing to exploit and oppress vulnerable populations. One of the things I appreciated most about this film was how intentionally it not only addressed the current reality of global poverty, but confronted the selfish ideas and policies that continue to support systems that disadvantage vulnerable people and drive them further into poverty. In my writing I attempted to reflect this approach, revealing how global political processes have led to the tragedies caused by global poverty.
Review: The End of Poverty
While poverty exists in every country imaginable, it is undeniable that it is more prevalent in some countries than others. Despite its pervasiveness, poverty continues to be a bit of a taboo topic, at least within privileged Western circles. While attempting to grasp and take responsibility for the many factors which lead hundreds of millions of people to work for minimal pay, go hungry, and sleep in tiny shacks is certainly uncomfortable, continuing to ignore these factors only accentuates the problem. Philippe Diaz’s The End of Poverty sheds light on the complex history behind global poverty and how developed countries have fed poverty by employing systems which benefit themselves at the expense of others.
The End of Poverty reveals how Western society’s constant obsession with imperialism and economic growth has led to actions which have had significant consequences on other states. The film draws significant attention to colonialism and its contribution to the system of exploitation that still prevails today. From a global politics perspective, it is important to acknowledge the ways in which the lack of global governance led to the use of power for exploitation. As the film notes, the British justified the expropriation of land that didn’t belong to them through their own legal system (which, obviously, had significant bias) because there were no global standards on the issue or international legal procedures. Transnational norms, which Daniel Drezner describes as “a powerful constraint on action in world politics”, also did not prevent the British expropriation of land, but rather followed their action (Drezner 66). The resulting colonies, were then forced into total dependency on the conquering nation, producing a single good to be exported back to the “motherland”.
The effects of such locked economies can still be seen today as the poorest countries continue to struggle with a lack of export diversification. As Paul Collier emphasizes in The Bottom Billion, “the intervention that is critical for export diversification is trade policy...it is absolutely vital. Without effective temporary protection against the Asian giants, the countries of the bottom billion will not break into global markets” (Collier 183). Such trade policies, as part of a broader economic system, have been almost exclusively established by Western officials, but have had detrimental effects on countries at the lower end of the economic spectrum. The End of Poverty delves pretty deeply into the consequences of market globalization, neocolonialism and market and trade liberalism. Eric Toussaint and David Ellerman note in the film that while countries struggling with the highest levels of poverty are politically independent, they are still subjected to a sort of neocolonial international economic order that is catered to the needs of the west at the expense of the resources and labor belonging to the south. As noted in Global Studies Reader, "countries that have been most deeply impacted by globalization--the countries of the global south… found themselves increasingly squeezed by growing international debts and decreasing prices for the goods they export. They had borrowed money from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund... Now these loans were coming due and they found themselves unable to service their debts while also continuing to meet the needs of their citizens….governments had to force their citizens to bear the brunt of the costs of the debt" (Steger 64).
While Diaz’s film resonates with Drezner, Collier, and Steger’s texts in more ways that could possibly be processed in this review, perhaps the most important message that is carried throughout the four works, is how easy it is to forget about poorer countries in the midst of our frantic Western growth-obsessed mentality. It is imperative that international regulatory organizations such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization consider the needs of “bottom billion” societies with equal reverence to their consideration of Western priorities. After a close look at these four works, it is difficult to argue that our international economic system is working for everyone as it should be.
Personally, I felt that the The End of Poverty did an admiral job of demonstrating the deep roots of the systemic forces that have contributed to global poverty. Diaz effectively traces this kind of behavior back to the beginning of colonialism, and discusses how policies have evolved through the transition away from traditional colonialism to form a sort of neocolonial system. His presentation of the dark and complex history that has led us to our present day economic policies is admiral in that it does not simply discuss the policies of IMF and World Bank, but also forces viewers to think about the often ignored realities of poverty. It challenges viewers to think about how Western efforts to maintain its growth and prosperity have contributed to this frightening reality for so many others. The part of the film that I was somewhat disappointed by was the way in which it presented possible solutions at the end. While the potential actions presented were intriguing, the film failed to empower viewers to pursue practical or reasonable action. The solutions were presented in a realistic light given their drastic nature. However, it seemed that the film would have greater impact had it also provided smaller, more realistic actions viewers could take to encourage the broader policy changes that are ultimately necessary to confront the issue of poverty.
By combining scholarly discussion with impactful personal stories, Diaz presents a compelling argument for vigorously addressing global poverty. The contributions from a diverse group of economic experts and global citizens offer a broader and arguably less biased perspective on the issue and the factors contributing to it. Rather than continuing to defend the actions of the key international economic institutions, Diaz draws attention to their prioritization of Western ideals with little concern for how their policies impact developing nations. Ultimately, the film provides a necessary critical look into how international economic policy has subjected millions of people to inhumane living conditions and labor demands.
Collier, P. (2007). The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can be Done About It. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Drezner, D. W. (2011). Theories of International Politics and Zombies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Steger, M. B. (2015). The Global Studies Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mareda Smith is a sophomore at Luther College, hoping to pursue an individualized interdisciplinary major in peace and justice studies, with a minor in data science. She is originally from Iowa City, Iowa. Mareda enjoys learning about how social justice issues can be addressed through different policy and aid approaches. She looks forward to broadening her perspective while studying abroad during her Junior year.
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