Review of the Film and Accompanying Book:
The End of Poverty ... Think Again!
GroundSwell, July-August 2008]
Those of us at the CGO conference saw first-hand the Schalkenbach
Foundation's documentary film on poverty. Three years ago,
Matt Stillman, then an RSF board member, connected RSF with a film
maker experienced in creating documentaries and with the means to
distribute them as well. Philippe Diaz, of Cinema Libre Studio,
contracted with RSF to undertake a full-length film framing issues as
we Georgists see them. It is now finished and has been previewed
in Cannes, Washington, DC, and Kansas City. Invitations to show
at film festivals have been overwhelming, and the scheduled openings
in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago will come this fall and winter.
If all goes well, the film will be widely available early in 2009.
At some point, it will be available on DVD and, we hope, on cable TV,
reaching different audiences.
The RSF board is proud of its effort to reach broad audiences with a
film which offers them a chance to think differently and more deeply
about poverty and its causes. The board and the film director
faced decisions in the course of its development not only about
content but perspective. The focus is not on American poverty,
but on the deep poverty seen in other parts of the world, and
particularly in the global South; most of the scenes are from
Africa and South America: Bolivia, Brazil, Kenya, Tanzania and
The film offers the observations of notable economists and writers
who have looked at poverty and economic patterns from a world
perspective. Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, Susan George and
John Perkins are among the best-known figures. The narration is
by Martin Sheen (of West Wing fame). But interviews with farm
workers and miners, widows and urban worshippers are equally powerful.
The narrative unfolds a different and more complex image of the causes
of global poverty, the relationship between wealthy nations and poor
The film responds to the certitude of the widely disseminated book by
economist Jeffrey Sachs, professor of Sustainable Development
and Health Policy & Management at Columbia University who heads
the Earth Institute. His 2005 book The End of Poverty, sets
forth nine steps -- programs -- which he confidently says will
eliminate poverty by 2025. Our response -- "The End of Poverty?"
-- questions, gently, the soundness and sufficiency of those points.
We realize that the problems are structural, and no palliatives or pat
formulae are going to reduce or eliminate poverty without an
understanding of the basic -- even radical -- reform to which George
pointed in Progress & Poverty. To solve a structural problem, we
must undertake structural reforms.
The film makes clear that poverty is closely linked to, and even a
consequence of, policies of major nations, international institutions
and corporations. Powerful interests are at stake.
Poverty, one can conclude, is not inherent in the nature of things.
People are increasingly subject to forces, global in nature, that are
beyond their ability to react to or control.
For decades, poverty reduction and development programs have failed
to confront the different forms of power and the structural violence
that hold more than two thirds of the world in dire straits. Today, as
we confront the finiteness of such resources as clean air, oil and
other energy sources, we must deal with the fact that a small share of
the world's population claims prior rights to the lion's share of the
world's natural resources and produces a large share of its pollution.
The film raises questions of a far-reaching nature, and is not
intended to press a narrowly focused agenda. We hope that it
will lead thoughtful people to look further, and to that end, we
intend to provide, online and as hardcopy, a range of supporting
Georgist themes are implicit in much of the narrative, and they will,
as intended, serve to unsettle conventional thinking that presently
dominates world discourse.
Current land titles in much of the world are due to force and fraud.
overty stems from concentrated ownership of land.
Land dispossession in former colonies stunted the development of an
internal market of middle-class producers and consumers, which left
those countries tied to an unbalanced system of world trade.
Denying people access to land makes them virtual slaves. Efforts to
capture economic rent for public use (such as Iran and Guatemala in
1954) resulted in foreign intervention, including assassination of the
leaders who proposed those changes.
The idea of common rights to land and water is a rallying point for
political action in poor nations today. Privatization of public assets
in recent decades has often increased privilege rather than improving
Access to natural resources, including but not limited to fertile
land, for all, on an equal basis with one's fellow human beings, is
absolutely necessary for widely shared prosperity, and wealth
concentration can be traced to the appropriation, privatization and
theft of what should be common resources.
The segmented elements of the film allow for their selective
treatment and examination in educational circles, civic organizations,
and religious networks. We see opportunities in all of
these forums. Fifteen "cards" separate the scenes,
providing transitions and facts. (These have been revised a bit in the
Georgists who are looking for a film diagnosing the world's ills in
specific Georgist terms will be disappointed. This is not that
film. The "aha!" experience most of us have had with respect
to the relationship between land, progress and poverty is more subtly
presented. The film's reception to date makes us very optimistic that
it will open the minds of thinking people around the world to the
question that begins both Henry George's magnum opus, Progress &
Poverty and this film:
In a world where we have so much wealth, with modern cities and
plentiful resources...how can we still have so much poverty that
people must live on less than $1 per day; where entire families live
in one small room in squalid informal housing settlements, far away
from skyscrapers and city centers, where they don't have the means to
take care of themselves?
After Cannes, Reuters correspondent Charles Masters described the
film as "An Inconvenient Truth for economics."
The film is scheduled to premier in New York theaters, and we
encourage you to see it, and to bring and invite friends and
colleagues to consider another view of why poverty exists. We'll be
calling attention to the film among a wide range of people who have
already shown an interest in reducing or ending poverty or in
promoting social and economic justice.
You can track the film's progress following links from
http://www.progressandpoverty.org, which also features Bob Drake's
abridgment of P&P. Again, we hope you'll share the news of the
film with people you know with interest in a more equitable allocation
of natural resources and better opportunities for all.
As an American Georgist whose focus is mostly on how Georgist reforms
could eliminate poverty in America today, this film is an eye opener
for me. I've focused on the implications of George's ideas for 21st
century America; I am bowled over by the implications for the very
large portion of the world which today resembles the period in which
George was writing. And I have high hopes that American viewers will
begin to explore the path that Henry George blazed.