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Poverty Cure Essay Contest winners, 2021

(Photo credit: Acton Institute.)

How can we effectively combat poverty? Students from across the globe answered that question and brought fresh ideas to the table in our recent essay competition, which took place as a part of the 2020 Poverty Cure Summit. The excerpts below demonstrate the wide variety of insights that students gained from the conference. Their responses are presented verbatim, with only light, grammatical edits.

Prize winners:

Fighting poverty is like dealing with a chronic disease and using palliative measures will not solve the problem. Public policies should not be judged by their intentions but by the results. It is necessary to develop an environment conducive to the generation of individual wealth, so that citizens improve their quality of life. Therefore, the efficiency of macroeconomic policies can only be sustained when there is a strong base in microeconomics. Here the state’s fundamental role is highlighted: to watch over private property, to establish and enforce contracts, as well as to facilitate the free market.

First Place: Matheus Resende, Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, Brazil. (You can read the full article here.)

Defining and describing humanity has always been one of the trickiest questions facing philosophers, scholars, and authors – most specifically the question of “what makes us human?” Inherent to this discussion is the conversation about the nature of human dignity. What is encompassed within the term “human dignity”? Perhaps it helps to look at the inverse – what dehumanizes? The consistent element of dehumanizing policies and practices is a revoking of freedom. Freedom to make choices is one of the fundamentals of human dignity. Crimes such as slavery dehumanize, because they limit or eliminate the individual’s choice. In a similar way, poverty solutions that limit an individual’s choice by means of putting strict conditions on aid do not uphold the dignity of a human person. Essential to human dignity is choice; therefore, the solutions that best uphold the dignity of the human person must seek to increase the individual’s access to choice.

Second Place: Emma K. Randall, Patrick Henry College, United States. (You can read the full article here.)

I do not resist the recommendations to use appropriate caution and protect our vulnerable populations from COVID-19. After listening to “The Importance of Community,” however, I vehemently reject the pressure to embrace the insidious “new normal.” We are in a war between transactional versus relational living. Despite the convenience of transactional living, I refuse to settle for the mud pie of shallow efficiency. In our eagerness to live in fear of the virus and claim moral superiority to those taking less precautions than ourselves, we have far-too willingly relinquished basic freedoms and redefined what it means to live. If the “new normal” persists, we will be a people having forgotten that it is only through relationships that we truly live.

Third Place: Margo Weller, Grove City College, United States. (You can read the full article here.)

Honorable Mentions:

Humanitarianism focuses on providing comfort. It often does not identify human flourishing as a priority and from the Christian perspective, ignores the eternal destiny of the person. Christ-like charity sees people as products of God’s love, identifies with them, listens to them, and creates a system that enables them to move from being people in need of resources, to becoming people who meet the needs of others.

Victor Ayodeji, University of Lagos, Nigeria.

The Christian understanding of human labor allows us to comprehend that there is a specific aspect of this labor that will not disappear as long as we continue living in the temporal-spatial conditions that we know. To the extent that the human being is capable of creating value, it will always be possible to transform not only his context, but also himself. Jay Richards stated [during his panel in the Poverty Cure Summit] that no machine will be able to contain the virtues that guide human life. Specifically, Richards considers that there are five virtues that will guide human beings in the future: courage, anti-fragility, altruism, collaboration, and creative freedom. The fact that human beings are not mere machines allows them to exploit their comparative advantage over the algorithmic capacity of machines. Poverty relief is about allowing human beings to enhance their capacity to create meaning and cultivating virtues.

Alex Aguirre, Navarra University, Spain.

“Evaluating the Impact of a Charitable Gift,” hosted by Martha Cruz-Zuniga impacted me the most. With the approaching holiday season comes an innate sense of giving back to society, especially during unprecedented times like the pandemic. Giving back becomes an innate response to soothe the feeling of guilt that comes with the privilege gap that the holiday season widens even further. We often keep aside gifts and donations for the “poor.” Relating to another panel discussion, I realized that by calling someone “poor,” we are essentially associating their identity and dignity as a human being with their economic status. The panel discussion by Martha Cruz-Zuniga provided me with an alternative perspective on gift-giving in the following ways, specifically in light of human dignity, which relate to other features of a free and virtuous society.

Salwa Mansuri, University College of London, United Kingdom.

While the topic of curing poverty has always been of great interest to me, never before had I considered the impact that the sexual revolution has had on poverty itself— that is, until speakers Noelle Mering and Jennifer Roback Morse eloquently addressed it in the session titled “The Sexual Revolution in America & Poverty.” Within the first few minutes of the session, one of the most pressing questions surrounding the sexual revolution was laid on the table for all to see: Why do we, as Christians, feel like we simply cannot talk about it? Not only were they able to unpack the answer to this question surrounding our silence, but they also ended the session by calling out the deeper, questionable source that has led to this very revolution.

Kaelyn C. Brooks, Colorado Christian University, United States.

“We aren’t locking away bad kids, we are locking away hurt kids” – Anthony Bradley. That one line from the “Incarceration, Poverty, and Justice” panel really resonated with me, as I feel it encapsulates what is wrong with the American criminal justice system. How the system is set up right now is to lock away those we as a society view as undesirable. Often, this ends up being those who are impoverished, as two-thirds of those incarcerated today come from households that make less than $12,000 a year. There is a tendency to view being poor as a negative character trait, but that is unfair to those who are struggling with poverty. By having this mindset, not only is punishing incarcerated people justified, but you yourself are morally culpable if you do not support the punishment.

Liam Vincent Carroll, Gordon College, United States.

When an individual cannot find the means to support himself or his family, or cannot or does not produce enough, poverty ensues. There will always be human beings who lack the capacity to provide for their own sustenance. Such is the permanent condition of those who have been hit by misfortune. Therefore, it follows that there cannot be a unique and universal solution to such diverse scenarios of poverty. The current claim is that society must resolve the poverty drama, but in reality, it is the responsibility of each individual and each local community to solve its own poverty challenge.

Cesar Giraldo, College el Redin, Spain.

Thus, if we choose human dignity as a civilizing principle, we need to recognize collaboration as a human right. Not only that, we need to cultivate the environment that allows collaboration to flourish. We need to develop healthy institutions, as well as to foster trust and entrepreneurship, because that is the only way we will allow men their inherent rights: life and freedom.

Pedro Fernandes, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Brazil.


Noah Gould

Noah C. Gould is the Alumni & Student Programs manager at the Acton Institute and a contributor for Young Voices. His writings on economics, business, and culture have appeared in outlets such as National Review, Detroit News, and Newsweek. He is a graduate of Grove City College. Follow him on X @NoahCGould1.