WHO IS BEN CARSON..
Ben Carson is US President Donald Trump’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary. He was one of the principal Republican Party Presidential nominees in the last year’s presidential election, before he lost the race to Donald Trump. And he has one thing in common with Rahul Gandhi.
They both think ‘poverty is a state of mind’.
Ben Carson, who is a globally renowned neurosurgeon, said during an interview yesterday that “a certain mindset contributes to people living in poverty, pointing to habits and a state of mind that children take from their parents at a young age”, a Washington Post report wrote.
RAHUL GANDHI REDUX
On August 5, 2013, while speaking at an event in Allahabad, Rahul Gandhi, too, had said that ‘poverty was a state of mind’. Rahul Gandhi had said that self-confidence could help people overcome poverty as it was ‘just a state of mind’ and not what it was normally associated with it, i.e., scarcity of life sustaining means, primarily food, money and material possessions.
So, they both moot the same point about the most nagging issue of our times – poverty – even if their comments have a separation of four years and 12,000 Kms, the distance between New Delhi and Washington DC.
THOUGH, THEIR BACKGROUNDS ARE ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.
Rahul Gandhi was widely panned for making an ignorant comment in a country where majority are still living below the poverty line if we go by the new Global Poverty Line by the World Bank at $1.90 a day (Rs 123 a day as per the current US Dollar to Rupee exchange rate). His comments were termed mockery of the poor by many who said Rahul Gandhi came from a well-to-do family, who ruled India for most of its independent history, and could never understand what poverty really means.
In contrast, Ben Carson has grown up in extreme poverty, in a slum neighbourhood of Detroit. But his life journey, that was shown as a biopic, the critically acclaimed ‘Gifted Hands’, the screen adaptation of his autobiography of the same name starring Cuba Gooding Jr., is described as a rare phenomenon when his story is juxtaposed with his poor neighbourhood where he grew up, which has seen consistent deterioration in its living and therefore social standards.
And it is not just self-confidence alone that can lift billions in the world living in poverty and extreme poverty. A coordinated state action is needed everywhere and that is why poverty alleviation and eradication has been at the core of politics in every society. In India, elections revolve around it. Even Ben Carson, who strongly advocates ‘avoiding dependence on state welfare measures’, could make his life and career because there was state welfare assistance to help him. And so he has been criticised for making such narrow vision comments. The Washington Post quoted from his autobiography in an October 2015 article, “In his autobiography, Carson has praised the help he received from public school teachers, a federal jobs program, community mentors, government-supplied eyeglasses and, crucially, food stamps, without which his family “couldn’t have made it”.
According to the new World Bank Global Poverty Line of $1.90, the world had 700 million poor people by the end of 2015. But in order to arrive at a common benchmark globally, the World Bank Poverty Line has not taken into account many dimensions of poverty that hit lives of the poorest, especially in developing and poor countries. In many such countries, the poverty lines are well below this global benchmark, a fact that effectively pushes the number of poor people to billions across the world. According to a Brookings Institution report, around 3 billion people were living at $3 a day in 2013. In 2015, a Pew Research Centre report concluded that majority of the world’s population was living at the $3 a day. Finding of the same report said that 71 per cent of the world’s population was surviving on less than $10 a day, i.e., Rs 645.50 a day or Rs 19365 a month.
We don’t need to go far to see tentacles of poverty. India has 363 million people living below the latest national poverty line suggested by the Rangarajan Committee in 2014 – Rs 32 a day in rural India and Rs 47 a day in urban India. Contrast it to the Global Poverty Line of Rs 123 a day, four times of India’s rural poverty line and three times of its urban poverty line and we are staring at a much higher number than 363 million of defined poor in our country. At the prevailing market prices, one cannot even have modest lunch and dinner for a day for that amount of money. And life is not just about eating. One needs a shelter somewhere. One needs clothes. One needs healthcare. One needs education.
Self-confidence alone cannot help billions of poor to come out of this trap. Framers of our constitution, and in fact, the policymakers around the world, do realize it. That’s why we have our affirmative action or reservation system or the US has its social security network or Medicaid, its state governed health insurance safety net. In fact, most of the societies around the world, have some sort of social security net.