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The Importance of Private Property | by Jonathan Moody

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Stop for a moment and think about the most successful economies in the world.  Imagine what would happen if no one in those countries could own land or other goods they purchase.  Would that impact their success?  

If your gut-reaction is “yes, of course,” then you (like most) believe people have a right to acquire private property.

This is not a new concept.  In fact, the Ten Commandments assume that property ownership is a natural part of the human experience.  In Exodus 20:15 we read, “You shall not steal.”  This clearly implies that individuals own “things” (i.e., private property) and that an individual’s property should remain theirs, protected by law.

It is easy to overlook topics like property rights when we discuss poverty alleviation. The current tendency is to focus on how to meet urgent needs rather than adjust systemic issues that act as roadblocks to individual and community fruitfulness.

But as Herman Chinery-Hesse, (aka, the Bill Gates of Africa), points out, “When one is born in any part of the world, your first wealth is the land you are standing on.   If there is an issue with that land and that land cannot be monetized, you have a problem.”  He goes on to say that due to a lack of clear land titles in Ghana, one can buy the same piece of property 4 or 5 times.

In recent months, my work with PovertyCure has brought me to Guatemala, Peru and Rwanda, in addition to good ol’ Grand Rapids, MI.  No matter where I go or how much “poverty” I encounter, I remain amazed by the dignity of every person I meet.  Each of us is created in the image of God and endowed with ingenuity, creativity, and the power of human enterprise.  This is as true in Timbuktu, Mali as it is in Paris, Texas – in Cleveland, OH as it is Shanghai, China.  The worth and potential of the human person is the same from the most advanced economy to every corner of the “developing world.”  

So, what makes one national environment different from another? Why do some societies prosper, while others languish?  I offer that the difference lies in a nation’s social norms, its institutions of justice and in the presence of rule of law, including the protection of private property.  

Specifically, individuals must be able to own property, including land, and be assured of some protection for their investment.  Otherwise, how can they take and multiply that resource in order to honor God and provide for their family?

This is a foundational concept within the PovertyCure Statement of Principles:

The rights and responsibilities of private property must be supported.  One of the crucial lessons of development economics is that the poor cannot create wealth for themselves and their families without secure property rights.  The Judeo-Christian tradition provides powerful resources for encouraging the property rights of the rich and poor alike.  It shows that private property is not an artifact of greed and possessiveness, as many believe, but rather a legitimate institution rooted in our role as stewards of what God has entrusted to each of us.

As economist Hernando DeSoto says, “Once you settle the issue of who lives where and who does what with who, people start understanding the value of standard rules, that you not only need to have rules that you and your group respect, but that everyone understands… that is the rule of law.”

Studies show that when a society offers a clear title of land ownership the positive impact is both economic and social.  People can capitalize on their resources and thus create wealth in a community.  And perhaps more importantly, people begin to see themselves as contributors – as the drivers of their own success rather than victims of their circumstances.  

Again, I quote Herman Chinery-Hesse, “We need to focus first on things like property rights … so people can take their ancestral land and borrow money against it to set up businesses and pay taxes … that is where our survival is and where our money is, and where progress will come from.”

For further reading on the Biblical foundations to property, see “The Biblical Roots of Private Property,” by Dr. Jay W. Richards.  For information on the status of property rights, rule of law and other barriers to development around the world, check out the Economic Freedom of the World Index, the Index of Economic Freedom and the Doing Business Report.

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Jonathan A. Moody is the Managing Director of PovertyCure, an Acton Institute Initiative.  

Antonio, A Focus on What Works | by Patrick Oetting

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What causes wealth?

The tendency is to focus on the factors that create poverty. The results are often solutions that undermine the dignity of the individual – solutions imposed from a “higher-authority” on people that we deem “poor.” Conversely, when we look at the factors that cause wealth, we begin to see individuals in a new light – as the heroes of their own stories.

This is precisely the scenario I witnessed this past week in San Juan Comolapa, Guatemala – a pueblo located about two hours drive outside of Guatemala City.

Five years ago, Antonio heard the message of personal liberty and the power of enterprise while listening to a radio feed hosted by the Universidad Francisco Marroquin. Soon after, he discovered the PovertyCure DVD series, which he and his son used to learn English! These core messages have drastically changed Antonio’s outlook on life and helped him cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset that has affected the entire San Juan Comolapa community.

In those 5 short years Antonio founded a microenterprise firm, a childhood learning center, and a think-tank devoted to seeing increased freedom in San Juan Comolapa. At Antonio’s learning center I witnessed firsthand the innovative approach that he has taken to educate hundreds of children, mostly from a background of poverty.

This small learning center operates with a for-profit business model. In a town that seemingly has little to offer, Antonio has provided such a great curriculum that parents are willing to pay a fee for the children to learn. The reasonable costs involved motivate parents to both stay involved in their children’s education and hold the educators responsible. This self-sustaining model also allows Antonio to continue scaling his business and thus reach more and more children throughout San Juan Comolapa. As I heard Antonio’s vision, I was inspired. He plans to spread this model, and the skills it offers children, throughout Guatemala.

When you couple the effect of the school with the impact that his micro-loan business is having on local vendors, there’s no question that Antonio has used the PovertyCure principles to dramatically improve life for many in San Juan Comolapa.

Antonio’s entrepreneurial mindset has also rubbed off on his family. His 13-year-old son, Jimmy, who served as our translator for the trip, is already a high-level computer programmer and his video-blog is a YouTube sensation in Guatemala. Antonio’s brothers have formed a band that now travels the world, recently opening for Jennifer Lopez in Las Vegas.

Antonio, who once asked for help, has seen his family rise out of poverty through entrepreneurship.  His businesses now serve hundreds of families in his community, giving them the same chance to move from dependence to independence.

When communities have access to economic tools and the freedom and knowhow to use them, they will inevitably succeed. We have found this to be true not only in Antonio’s case, but in hundreds of stories that we have captured from our partner network. They show us that it is high time that society at large begin to look at the factors that cause wealth, rather than focusing on negative attributes of individuals and communities that harm dignity and perpetuate cycles of poverty.

 

Patrick Oetting is the Strategy and Engagement Manager of PovertyCure, an Acton Institute Initiative.  

 

How We Wrote a Book Together | By Chad Jordan

ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s a new book that was pre-launched at the Global Leadership Summit. I wrote it on behalf of PovertyCure. It didn’t start out as a book, though.

missions_toolkit_p5_2I was asked to write some content around global missions that could be included in a PovertyCure DVD package. With the help of the PovertyCure team, we asked for input from the global network, we interviewed some of the partners, and we asked some tough questions. The responses were amazing. You had a lot to say.

I run a small international consulting firm and a finance platform for emerging entrepreneurs, both of which have been a part of the PovertyCure Network for a while. When the responses from the network started coming in, I was really encouraged. I was proud to be part of a network willing to engage in a sometimes taboo conversation. You didn’t just talk about what was wrong with short-term missions, but you offered valuable perspectives and solutions. You gave me an extra boost to keep going, and you helped turn this book into something so much more than what was originally planned.

At the end of the gathering phase, it became clear that a little content wouldn’t be sufficient. The vision needed to expand, because the information we’d gathered proved so rich. Laying everything out in front of me, the book began to emerge.

In the book, we get to hear perspectives on global missions from people who have been engaged for decades, and people who are just starting to get involved. We get to hear from people who work domestically, and from those who work only internationally. There are opinions, there are facts, and there are unforgettable stories included in the pages.

There are some hard truths and sobering realities discussed in ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact, but there’s also a great deal of hope. In working to put the information into a coherent form, it was important to me that you were left with a sense of solution, not just confusion. I highlighted organizations that are doing a good job of combining missional attitudes with intentional action. I highlighted your ideas, your insights, and your opinions surrounding how we can do missions in a way that will produce the greatest good while doing the least harm at a local level.

Hopefully when you read the book, you feel empowered to act, not scared to move. By offering a variety of perspectives in one place, I tried to compile a resource that would inspire continued action as we simultaneously ask and process those tough questions.

As I really went through the submissions from PovertyCure’s global network, I was impressed with the sheer number of responses, but also with the thoughtfulness of each person. Clearly, the conversation around global missions is one you are all eager to have. That’s exciting. It means we’re onto something. It means the time is ripe to dive into the topics we discuss in ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact.

So to everyone who sent in a response from the global network, to all of PovertyCure’s Action Partners, to each person we interviewed, thank you for engaging. Thank you for agreeing to write a book together.

Chad Jordan is the co-founder & CEO of Arrow Global Capital and author of ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact.