Traditional experts on poverty don’t know how to fix this problem. So they don’t talk about it.
Usually, when people talk about how to reduce poverty, they focus on job creation, reliable housing, microloan financing, affordable child care, and similar programs.
But Mark Haugen says there’s a hidden reason why billions of people worldwide remain stuck in poverty — and the world needs to start paying attention.
Worldwide, the number of people living in extreme poverty—defined as living on about $1.25 a day—has decreased from about 50% to 15%.
“This is massive progress,” Haugen said, “and we should feel proud and encouraged to see the way that compassion actually has the power to succeed.”
What no one wants to talk about, though, is the massive problem behind why billions of people cannot rise out of poverty, despite well-intentioned aid programs: violence.
“When you survey very, very poor communities, residents will tell you that their greatest fear is violence.” But “not the violence of genocide or wars, it’s everyday violence”
—such as domestic abuse, sexual violence, and slavery
Haugen calls this “epidemic of violence” the Locust Effect, “because in the lives of the poor, it just descends like a plague and it destroys everything.”
He said his first response was to think about creating laws to protect them. But then he found out those laws already exist.
“The problem is not that the poor don’t get laws, it’s that they don’t get law enforcement.”
“In South Asia, if you enslave a poor person, you’re at greater risk of being struck by lightning than ever being sent to jail for that crime,” he said.
“The data just doesn’t lie … you can give all manner of goods and services to the poor, but if you don’t restrain the hands of the violent bullies from taking it all away, you’re going to be very disappointed in the long-term impact of your efforts.”
Haugen says this violence is a disgrace to the rest of the world.
“You would think the disintegration of basic law enforcement in the developing world would be a huge priority for the global fight against poverty. But it’s not,” he said. “Auditors of international assistance recently couldn’t find even 1% of aid going to protect the poor from the lawless chaos of everyday violence.”
The “fundamental reason that law enforcement for the poor in the developing world is so neglected is because the people inside the developing world, with money, don’t need it.”
“The path forward is really pretty clear … we have to start making stopping violence indispensable to the fight against poverty,” he said. “In fact, any conversation about global poverty that doesn’t include the problem must be deemed not serious.”
Listen to Mark Haugen’s powerful TED Talk here: