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Economist encourages empathy for the poor

By Meghan Coppinger
Correspondent

The College’s Exploring Economic Justice series invited Jagdish Bhagwati, a prominent economist and professor of economics, law and international affairs at Columbia University, to discuss the benefits of open trade in reducing poverty around the world on Wednesday, March 4.

According to his biography presented at the event, Bhagwati has “authored, co-authored, edited or co-edited over 35 books” and has written and reviewed for many prominent news publications.

The need to combat poverty is grave, Bhagwati said, especially in India, China, Brazil and South Africa. He noted some efforts have been made in developing areas over the last 40 years and many “economic policies have been successful.” With increasingly open trade systems, Bhagwati believes these areas will continue to grow.

Bhagwati spoke of Pope Francis’s mission to refocus global attention on the poor and create a higher quality of life for those in need rather than worry about richer states.

Empathy for the poor, Bhagwati noted, is “man’s most noble instinct.”

Bhagwati spent much of his lecture comparing the Pope’s focus on the poor to the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Pope wants to improve life for impoverished individuals, while the Occupy movement targeted the power of the richest 1 percent of Americans. Many who participated in the rally against the rich, he said, were people protesting the ethics of the wealthy, but had decent salaries and lives themselves.

“With what credibility, can you take these guys?” Bhagwati said.

Bhagwati called upon the Pope to expand his theories and rethink how living conditions can be improved for the poor. Instead of solely focusing on how the rich can benefit the poor with a trickle-down effect — what he called a “radical strategy” — economists should call for openness in trade which would increase economic growth in poor countries.

“Openness leads to growth, and growth impacts poverty,” Bhagwati said.

He explained further on how this theory would reduce poverty and improve overall quality of life in impoverished areas. The more the economy of a country grows, the more money there is for social spending, Bhagwati said. Social spending, although “not easy” to manage, can be used for funding education and social programs, which are key to overcoming poverty.

After his presentation, Bhagwati opened the floor for more thoughtful discussion and interaction with the audience. He answered questions on mass companies who employ extremely poor workers and economic policies in Latin America.

“People of all majors can benefit not only from being enlightened about economics, but also from the perspective on poverty that Dr. Bhagwati discussed (and) being focused on bringing those in poverty to an acceptable standard of living,” junior communication studies major Hope Peraria said.

Bhagwati encouraged everyone to examine social issues in our modern world and create his or her own conclusions and solutions.

“Look at issues more sharply,” Bhagwati said.

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