Government Policy

NYT suggests Biden to take lessons from Bangladesh in fighting poverty

The New York Times today published a column suggesting US President Joe Biden to look to Bangladesh example in fighting poverty calling it a “surprising success”.

“As that nation turns 50, its surprising success offers lessons about investing in the most marginalized,” read the column titled ” What Can Biden’s Plan Do for Poverty? Look to Bangladesh”.

A winner of two Pulitzer Prizes Nicholas Donabet Kristof wrote the column in the NYT, one of world’s most prestigious newspapers, in reference to final legislative approval to Biden’s US$1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on Wednesday as the United States decided to scrub at that stain.

“This (plan) represents a revaluation in American policy and a belated recognition that all society has a stake in investing in poor kids. To understand the returns that are possible, let’s look to lessons from halfway around the world,” he wrote.

Kristof, a regular CNN contributor who writes a column for the NYT since 2001, said one of the great moral stains on the United States is that the “richest and most powerful country in history has accepted staggering levels of child poverty”.

The famous US journalist recalled that in 1991 he visited Bangladesh to cover a cyclone that killed more than 100,000 people when “I wrote a bleak article for The Times suggesting that the country was ‘bountiful primarily in misfortune”.

“I was right that Bangladesh faces huge challenges, not least climate change. But over all my pessimism was dead wrong, for Bangladesh has since enjoyed three decades of extraordinary progress,” he wrote in his more than 1,000 word column prominently published in the NYT.

He said Bangladesh was born 50 years ago this month amid genocide, squalor and starvation. Henry Kissinger famously referred to Bangladesh then as a “basket case” and horrifying photos from a famine in 1974 sealed the country’s reputation as hopeless.

“(But) Economic growth rates rose steadily, and for the four years before the current pandemic, Bangladesh’s economy soared by 7 to 8 percent per year, according to the World Bank. That was faster than China’s,” he said.

Kristof noted life expectancy in Bangladesh is 72 years which was “longer than in quite a few places in the United States, including in 10 counties in Mississippi”.

“Bangladesh may have once epitomized hopelessness, but it now has much to teach the world about how to engineer progress,” the column read.

According to Kristof Bangladesh’s secret lies in “education and girls” as in early 1980s, fewer than one-third of Bangladeshis completed elementary school while girls in particular were rarely educated and contributed negligibly to the economy.

“But then the government and civic organizations promoted education, including for girls. Today, 98 percent of children in Bangladesh complete elementary school. Still more astonishing for a country with a history of gender gaps, there are now more girls in high school in Bangladesh than boys,” he said.

Kristof said the most dramatic thing that happened to Bangladesh has to do with transforming the status of women, starting with the poorest women and as Bangladesh educated and empowered its girls, those educated women became pillars of Bangladesh’s economy.

He said the nation’s garment factories have given women better opportunities, and that shirt you’re wearing right now may have been made by one of them, for Bangladesh is now the world’s largest garment exporter, after China.

Kristof, however, said factories in Bangladesh pay poorly by Western standards have problems with abuse and sexual harassment, and pose fire risks and other safety problems; a factory collapse in 2013 killed more than 1,100 workers.

“But the workers themselves say that such jobs are still better than marrying at 14 and working in a rice paddy, and unions and civil society pushed for and won huge though incomplete improvements in worker safety,” he commented.

Kristof said the World Bank called Bangladesh “an inspiring story of reducing poverty” — with 25 million Bangladeshis lifted from poverty over 15 years. The share of children stunned by malnutrition has fallen by about half in Bangladesh since 1991 and is now lower than in India.

“You skeptical readers are shaking your heads and muttering: Overpopulation will undo the progress. In fact, Bangladeshi women now average only two children each (down from seven),” Kristof wrote.

In short, he said, Bangladesh invested in its most underutilized assets — its poor, with a focus on the most marginalized and least productive, because that’s where the highest returns would be.

“And the same could be true in America. We’re not going to squeeze much more productivity out of our billionaires, but we as a country will benefit hugely if we can help the one in seven American children who don’t even graduate from high school,” he said.

Kristof said that’s what Biden’s attack on child poverty may be able to do, and why its central element, a refundable child tax credit, should be made permanent.

“Bangladesh reminds us that investing in marginalized children isn’t just about compassion, but about helping a nation soar,” the US journalist wrote.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)