Sunday, February 18, 2007

Abbe Pierre; An Anti-Poverty Warrior

Few people are blessed to fight on the right side of all battles. Abbe Pierre was one of them. A French priest who fought courageously in resistance during WWII devoted his post war life to combat poverty. Presidents of Republic from General De Gaulle to Jacques Chirac praised him, decorated him and listened to him criticizing them in no compromising terms for their inefficiencies in fighting poverty.

He certainly had a gift for drawing attention to the cruelties of poverty. He helped people to feel good fighting poverty (or as economists say: to gain positive marginal utility) and gave politicians some real incentive to do so; avoiding public mortification by the most popular figure in France. Popular support became his major source of success. Public reaction to his call in February 1954[1] to help the homeless in an unusually cold winter was a high mark of efforts against poverty and certainly a proud moment in the history of France. Personal donations reached 500 million francs; National Assembly voted 10 billion more to be spent on housing the poor.

He was truly a warrior in the crusade against poverty. The legacy of this 20th century priest will be much needed in 21st century. Poverty has been, is and will be the most evil phenomenon that human kind is confronting in this earthly voyage. Abbe Pierre certainly knew how to make people sense the opportunity cost of delaying combating it.

[1] There is a movie about the events of this day: Hiver 54 Abbe Pierre, 1989. It introduced Abbe Pierre to Iranians. It was broadcasted a few times from Iran’s national TV in late 1990s.

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