WS 2011/2012             exam translation (advanced)    (Staatsexamen Frühjahr 2006)              text 8

The idea of “making poverty history” did not begin with Bob Geldof1), Bono2) or the commitment of rich countries to disburse 0.7% of national income in development aid. It goes back to the time of the French and American revolutions towards the end of the 18th century and to a transformation in outlook as momentous as that produced by the revolutions themselves. A small group of visionaries, the followers of Tom Paine3) in England and Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet4) in France, ceased to regard poverty as a divine imposition on sinful humanity. It was seen as remediable in principle, since it was man-made in practice. What political pamphleteer Paine depicted for the first time was a planned world in which the predictable misfortunes of life no longer plunged people into chronic poverty. This plan was not a utopia. It was a template for a future reality; in the 20th century it came to be known as the welfare state. [...]

In two respects, the thoughts of the 1790s revolutionaries still seem ahead of the “make poverty history” campaigners of today. First, they were committed not so much to aid as to the equalisation of the opportunities of rich and poor, nationally and internationally. Second, they were far more critical of the role of charity - or, in today’s world, the place of NGOs.* Appeals to relieve debt, alleviate famine and provide start-up resources reproduce on an international scale the national-level approach of 19th-century Poor Law5) administrators and charity organisers. In terms of the abolition of poverty, the debate is stuck in a pre-1914 time warp. [...] 

The idea of a welfare state as the means to extinguish extreme poverty and economic insecurity was first adopted not by revolutionaries, but by Bismarck in Germany as part of an effort to keep a working-class movement at bay. Only as a result of two world wars and the need to promise a real end to the old world of the Poor Law did Britain at last adopt a set of proposals for the welfare state, outlined in the Beveridge report6) of 1942, finally building upon the arguments of Paine and Condorcet.

In large parts of the industrial world, the vision of the revolutionaries has become a consensual reality; but in relation to the poorer countries of the world, Africa above all, thinking has barely yet accepted the ideas of Condorcet and Paine. It is to such a programme, transforming the recipients of charity and aid into empowered citizens, that the visionaries of today should be looking. For only a politics combined with justice - in other words, the building of a global social-democratic programme - can make poverty history.

From: Gareth Stedman Jones7): “A history of ending poverty. Tom Paine's ideas are still ahead of today's campaigners.” In: The Guardian online, July 2, 2005, and The Guardian Weekly, July 8-14, 2005.

* NGO = non-governmental organization

FULL TEXT:,,1519560,00.html#article_continue

1945: Victorious British soldier with a beer mug showing the face of William Beveridge*)

 *) As was pointed out by a course member, the cartoon above contains a clever pun (on "Beveridge"). Well done, A.S.!

*Wiki links: 1) Bob Geldof:
                     2) Bono:
                     3) Thomas Paine:
                     4) Nicolas de Condorcet:
                     5) Poor Law:
                     6) Beveridge Report:
                     7) Gareth Stedman Jones:

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