Your SlideShare is downloading. ×
  • Like
How We REALLY Bring Poverty to an End
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in...5

Thanks for flagging this SlideShare!

Oops! An error has occurred.


Now you can save presentations on your phone or tablet

Available for both IPhone and Android

Text the download link to your phone

Standard text messaging rates apply

How We REALLY Bring Poverty to an End


In this report we analyze the public discourse on poverty, inequality, charity, and aid to show how to get beyond the broken narratives that have hindered foundations and NGO's for the last three …

In this report we analyze the public discourse on poverty, inequality, charity, and aid to show how to get beyond the broken narratives that have hindered foundations and NGO's for the last three decades.

Recommendations are given for running campaigns based on our key findings...

  • Full Name Full Name Comment goes here.
    Are you sure you want to
    Your message goes here
No Downloads


Total Views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds



Embeds 0

No embeds

Report content

Flagged as inappropriate Flag as inappropriate
Flag as inappropriate

Select your reason for flagging this presentation as inappropriate.

    No notes for slide


  • 1. Mapping the Conceptual Landscape Research and Recommendations for The Rules Campaign This report was prepared by Joe Brewer, Director of Cognitive Policy Works1 Cognitive Policy Works 1607 NE 70th Street Seattle, WA 98115 1 Content in this report is based on research conducted by our team of analysts including Santanu Chakrabarti, Ken Cousins, Sean Geary, Eric Haas, and Anat Shenker-Osorio.
  • 2. A Note About Our Theory of Change In the following pages, you will find in depth discussion of the ideas that have shaped global and national discourse around tax fairness, income inequality, land rights, and the root causes of poverty. We are sharing this with you because we have observed that successful campaigns do the following: 1. Capture the idea landscape through strategic use of language and visual storytelling; 2. Set a morally clear and compelling agenda that elevates existing cultural values in the populace; 3. Define the nature of the problem and motivate understandings about how to solve it in an emotionally powerful and engaging manner. In other words, successful campaigns tell a transformative moral story that changes social reality. The theory of change underlying our analysis is informed by this observation. We strongly believe in the power of agenda-setting to (a) transform political discourse; (b) elevate resonant cultural values that support the agenda; and (c) marginalize those cultural values that oppose the agenda. This is why we emphasize the semantic frames, conceptual metaphors, and modes of understanding that shape all relevant discourse about the global financial system and the profound inequalities perpetuated through it. Only by altering the idea landscape can we break down those false mythologies that stand in our way and establish in their place alternative stories that enable us to finally tackle the structural causes of poverty around the world. Sincerely, Joe Brewer Director, Cognitive Policy Works Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign 2
  • 3. Recommendations for The Rules Campaign Based on the analysis that follows, we recommend that you: 1. Craft a powerful “Creation Story” for poverty. 2. Use active language to describe the villains who have “gamed” the financial system. 3. Describe inequality as a “barrier to access” that can only be overcome by changing the structures of our economic system. 4. Promote a Cooperation Game that replaces the game of conquest we have today, thus altering the meanings of taxes and access to land. 5. Build solidarity across all of the countries you operate in by tailoring this deep conceptual re-alignment to each local context. How We Came to These Conclusions To make sense of these recommendations, it may help to understand the methods that led to them. We deployed a multi-disciplinary research initiative that combines the following: • Close-Text Semantic (CTS) Analysis :: Reading through written materials posted on websites and in print media to reveal significant frames and metaphors. • Content Analysis of Media Discourse :: Gather statistics on word usage and occurrence rates for phrases that evoke the frames and metaphors discovered from CTS Analysis as they appear in the media. • Data Mining & Open Intelligence :: Use an iterative filtering process to create a taxonomy of search terms that successfully reveal important documents from a large corpus—thus finding “needles in the haystack” via computer-aided search. • Opposition Research :: Analyze language used by the opposition to reveal their strengths and weaknesses. While all of our results are preliminary—the analysis that follows is based on first-pass explorations due to time constraints—a convergence of insights from these complementary methods has emerged that enable us to make the recommendations listed above. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. 3 Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign
  • 4. This report has been organized into the following sections. We opted to begin at the broad conceptual level and address the overarching narratives that shape cultural understandings of poverty, honing in from there to explore tax justice and land rights in their proper context. Feel free to read it sequentially or jump to a section that captures your interest. Section Title Starting Page Where Does Poverty Come From? 5 The Meaning of Inequality 7 Getting to “The Rules” of Global Finance 9 What is a Tax Cheater? 10 Why Land Matters 12 Applying These Lessons to Three Launch Countries 13 About Cognitive Policy Works 16 Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign 4
  • 5. Where Does Poverty Come From? One of the major discoveries in our research is that anti-poverty groups don’t explain where poverty comes from! This snippet of text taken from the website of a sympathetic organization (that we’ll keep anonymous) makes our point: “Incoherent funding priorities and inadequate national implementation often inhibit real social, economical, and environmental sustainability.” Note how the language in this text is passive. It doesn’t say in an active voice who did what to whom, thus leaving the reader to fill in these details however they like. It also uses the language of hedging with the qualified verb phrase “often inhibit” which softly implies that a vague action is taking place somewhere, though it is not named clearly or explicitly. In other words, there is no clear declaration of (a) what causes poverty, nor (b) who the principal actors are, and thus (c) no solution can be suggested for these implied actions to be addressed in an appropriate manner. People need clarity and concreteness about complex issues. Otherwise they can’t take action. They need a story about people doing things that impact other people. None of the anti-poverty groups we observed did this effectively. It is a glaring absence from the discourse. Need for a Creation Story Every religion has a creation story. So does every tribe, every nation, and every ideological camp. The creation story provides the original cause from which all else follows. For example, the Story of Original Sin from the Abrahamic religious tradition tells us where human fallibility came from. It offers a historic context from which all evil sprang forth onto the world in a moment of human weakness. Poverty has no creation story. It lacks an original cause. And so there is no logical solution for how to end it. For The Rules to succeed at changing social reality, it will need to introduce a creation story that resonates with people and makes sense historically. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. 5 Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign
  • 6. So where does poverty come from? Consider the case of the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. According to the Wikipedia entry2 on their transition to 21st Century culture: Between 1800 and 1950, the culture and way of living of the Canadian Inuit, who had not known any monetary system before, changed fundamentally. Complete self-sufficiency and independence were to a large extent replaced by dependence on goods of western industrialized countries, such as clothing, many kinds of foodstuffs, weapons, tools and technical equipment. This development was largely due to the fact that as hunters and trappers, they could develop only a low level of productivity that could not financially cover the Western way of living. Moreover, the products of the kill depended too much on market and fashion fluctuations, not to speak of concerns related to protection of species and of the environment. The lesson we can draw from the Inuits is that poverty didn’t exist prior to contact with Western culture. They lived sustainably for thousands of years in a harsh frozen landscape through cooperative hunting and nomadic life. This pattern continued until scarcity was imposed upon them by the economic philosophy of modern industrial society. With this example in mind, we can envision a plausible Creation Story for Poverty. It might go something like this: Poverty arose recently in human history. For tens of thousands of years, it simply did not exist on anything like the scale we live with today. When everyone lived in small tribes and shared the spoils of hunting and gathering, it was normal for everyone to have enough to eat when food was available. These tribes persisted across time by cooperating with one another and being sure everyone was taken care of. When bullies and cheaters tried to assert power and take more than their share, they were kept in place by the collective sanctions of the group. Then everything changed. Agriculture was invented and the tribes could settle in one place, forming great city states as their populations grew. As these city states became larger and more complex, forms of aggressive competition became normalized and then institutionalized. Domineering elites formed from the funneling of wealth from the working masses to islands of privilege. This overriding of social sanctions eventually led to the wholesale capture of many essential rule making structures by elites, and a world in which the prioritization and protection of their own privilege over the welfare of the many became the norm. Thus was poverty born in the shadow of imperial thinking and it has been with us in one form or another ever since. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign 6 2
  • 7. Note how this story provides an original cause: Poverty was created by domineering elites who built systems of exploitation that rob wealth from those who work under them. This original cause comes with a corollary, namely that indigenous people are not poor until they are incorporated into the formal economic system created by the elites. Of particular importance is the fact that this creation story names a villain. Every morality tale has an antagonist towards whom the audience can direct their moral outrage. The Creation Story of Poverty has a villain—those rich people who seek to hoard all the wealth to themselves and wield power over others. Last year’s successful emergence of the Occupy Movement made use of this villain to mobilize countless millions of people around the world through the language of the 99% versus the 1%. Their moral outrage was directed toward the bankers and wall street speculators who destabilized the global economy and forced working people the world over into poverty as they extracted all the wealth for themselves. It was this moral story that resonated with all those people and compelled many of them to action. A similar ripple effect can be initiated to bring poverty to an end, but only if it has a creation story and a clearly defined villain. The Meaning of Inequality Clarifying where poverty comes from—and that it is caused by humans—is essential for running a successful campaign. This is difficult to do in practice because there are competing ideas for what economic inequality is and where it comes from. Our linguistic analysis revealed four key metaphors, each of which has strategic implications. 1. INEQUALITY AS HORIZONTAL DISTANCE When people reason about inequality as a horizontal distance they use of words like spread, gap, and divide. Horizontal divide language is popular because it paints a clear image of what is otherwise intangible and uses something we all experience— Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. 7 Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign
  • 8. physical separation—to convey monetary distance. The problems introduced with this language are serious. Gaps are about end-states. This language tells us Thing A is apart from Thing B, but it remains silent about how we arrived at this divided place. It’s all outcome and no cause, all what and no why. As a result, this metaphor fails to clearly articulate where poverty comes from. 2. INEQUALITY AS VERTICAL DIFFERENCE It also makes sense to think of inequality as vertical difference with a top and bottom. Examples such as “right now the top 10% of people earn 69% of global income” tell us that rich people are above the poor, as measured by income or total wealth. This metaphor allows “trickle down” to make sense. It also helps lend coherence to notions of “bottom up” economic growth. There are compelling reasons to use this model. It emerges from and reinforces the idea of common fate. People are on top because others are below them. We are all in it together. At the same time, it introduces a hierarchy with a sense of superiority and deservedness for those on top—a very problematic inference for poverty alleviation efforts. 3. INEQUALITY AS IMBALANCE Inequality can be thought of as imbalance, which can be imagined visually as a scale—when one side goes up, the other goes down. This model does much in the way of profiling interconnection. It’s hard to imagine a more direct way to convey that when something happens on one end, it directly affects the other. But this benefit is also a major pitfall. It so strongly hones in on this up-down notion that it triggers zero-sum thinking. This when-you-rise-I-fall idea has those on top too determined to stop any attempt to alter the status quo. 4. INEQUALITY AS A BARRIER Underlying this model of inequality is the commonplace metaphor LIFE AS A JOURNEY. When things go well, we often say they are moving forward and when they’re not we’re stuck in a rut. This general metaphor interacts powerfully with inequality. INEQUALITY AS A BARRIER flows naturally from the journey. Consider the word access. That’s what a barrier denies people. Access means you are no longer bound. This affords individuals the freedom to give their talents to the economy and the nation, in turn, to benefit from what every individual offers. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign 8
  • 9. Care must be taken when selecting among these metaphors. The Rules campaign is seeking to transform the discourse around inequality—as it must if it is to change public perceptions for the root causes of poverty. As this analysis shows, some metaphors assert root causes while others remain silent. And the moral aspects bring additional constraints, each of which could be a significant strength or weakness for the campaign. Getting to “The Rules” of Global Finance The root causes of poverty have long been naturalized—treated as if they are an inherent and unavoidable part of nature that has always existed—thus making it okay for poverty to persist indefinitely into the future. This campaign intends to spread the powerful idea that poverty is the logical outcome of a particular set of rules. And just as life works because people learn the “rules” for how to get along in society, there is a tendency to think about the rules of play as if society were a game.3 And like all games, the global financial system has been designed with its own set of rules and definitions for winners and losers. Specifically, the global financial system we have now is a zero sum, winner-take-all game where those who control money and assets get to define public policy and direct future wealth toward themselves. It is what we might call a Conquest Game. The rules for this game can be understood by referencing other popular games—such as MonopolyTM (Accumulate powerful assets and extract rents from those who land on them until you control the entire board and own the bank); Chess (Maneuver the pieces into a configuration that makes your opponent weak and build an empire where your “king” is the only one that remains on the board); and RiskTM (Control armies and expand territory to control resources in order to take over the world). The objective for The Rules is to replace this game with another one that reframes the priorities and outcomes of the system into a team-oriented game where success is measured by the increasing quality of life for all people. The rules for this game may be less familiar since economic discourse has been dominated for such a long time by pervasive language of empire and conquest. This alternative perspective can be seen in games like SimEarthTM (Make choices that influence the planet in order to Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. 9 Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign 3 The prominent sociologist, Erving Goffman, studied social scripts and the rules they operate under, writing extensively about them in his book Frame Analysis published in 1976.
  • 10. evolve life and cultivate an advanced civilization, while learning to avoid pitfalls that jeopardize the prospects for human existence on Earth); Model UN (Explore scenarios for international collaboration through role-play to improve collective decision-making in a global context); and Hackathon (Bring people with diverse skills together and have them work in groups to solve a challenging problem, with an emphasis on creating a community resource that benefits everyone). We can distinguish these two kinds of games by noting that the first are all games of conquest while the second are all cooperation games. Conquest games pit players against each other and have clear winners and losers. Cooperation games require players to work together to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. By altering the meaning of the game, it becomes possible to tackle the issues of land rights and taxation in a strategic manner. These issues are too “shallow” on their own, failing to tackle the core conceptual challenge—that the game itself must be changed if we want to end poverty and establish globally just economic outcomes. What is a Tax Cheater? Advocates of tax justice use phrases like tax havens, corporate loop holes, and tax cheating as a way to imply that bad people are “gaming the system” to avoid paying their fair share. This only makes sense when the economic game is framed explicitly as a collaborative effort, as described above. Unfortunately, tax justice advocates have not clearly articulated the root causes of poverty, nor the nature of the game as it should be. So these phrases quickly fall from awareness as the dominant discourse continues to describe social reality as a game of zero-sum conquest and control. This can be observed in the following graph, which displays the number of articles in the Lexus-Nexis database from the last 12 months for a collection of search terms in India. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign 10
  • 11. Occurrence Rate for various phrases from sources in India throughout the last year. The peak in March corresponds with the time when taxes are due, when more news coverage is dedicated to taxation. More noteworthy is the dominance of terminology that frames taxes as something to avoid. This negative impression helps fuel anti- government rhetoric and the neoliberal economic policies that eliminate taxes and market regulation—both of which contribute to the perpetuation of poverty in the world. Just as significantly, the “helpful” terminology of tax investment and tax justice are almost non-existent. They don’t fit the story of economic development that is consistent with the conquest game, thus lacking a narrative framework to hold them in public consciousness. This campaign will need to clearly express: (1) What the current game is; (2) Who benefits from it; (3) Why this is a bad thing, and (4) Which game we should all be playing instead. Only then will talk of tax cheaters and the havens they use to hide their wealth make sense, both morally and concretely, with respect to the rules of play. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. 11 Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign
  • 12. Why Land Matters Just as the semantics of taxes can be seen as part of the larger game, so too can we clarify the role of property in the unfolding “game play” of economic activity. Our current capitalist system treats land as a commodity to be owned—where ownership refers to the right to exclude others and extract value for private gain. Thus those who own land are able to wield power over those who don’t. This helps make sense of the U.S. policy of Manifest Destiny that bestowed the right to own land upon the European immigrants, while ignoring the rights of indigenous people who had lived upon it for thousands of years. By treating land as a commodity, it was possible to impose scarcity in a “land of plenty” by granting exclusive access to land owners. No longer was there a culture of abundance—a quintessential expression of the cooperation game—wherein many diverse tribes could move about on the plains and cooperatively manage the wealth of the land. We can draw from this example the fundamental insight that ownership is about political power. In the conquest game, to own land is to take power away from those who live upon it—regardless of who lived there longer or whether it was being managed sustainably. Contrast this with the role of land in the cooperation game. Land is a source of vitality and health for the people who live upon it. It is the provider of food, water, and shelter. Every person who depends on the land is responsible for its care and threatened by damage inflicted upon it. Our linguistic analysis of land use terminology reveals that the opposition consistently frames it as a commodity. They see it as a source of revenue and nothing more: Landcorp International is constantly searching the globe and gathering intelligence on the next best places to invest in. No other type of investment today offers the stability, simplicity and excellent returns offered by property investment. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign 12
  • 13. Farmland is the cornerstone of the agricultural economy and the most basic repository of wealth and earnings within the sector. Advocates of social justice, on the other hand, have not been effective at bolstering a clear image for how we want our audience to think about the land. One particularly flagrant example makes this point loud and clear: “Land is not just another commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder.” Not only does this fail to articulate an alternative meaning for land. It reinforces the metaphor used by our opponents! The Rules can remedy this situation through the cooperation game, making it clear that land is the source of health and vitality that we must safeguard for our collective future. This analysis shows how the campaign can focus on the root causes of poverty and how they relate to stories about taxation, land rights, and the theory of games. Only in these deeper contexts can we reveal the conceptual landscape on which to build a different path forward. Applying These Lessons to Three Launch Countries The Rules has selected three countries for targeted engagement this fall—Brazil, India and South Africa. As part of our preliminary research, we surveyed the political and economic structures for each country to help kick start the mapping effort for strategic engagement. It is our hope that these insights will inform your thinking as you flesh out the next steps for this effort. Opportunities in Brazil 1. The current president is aggressively pursuing tax dodgers through Brazil’s Federal Revenue Service, increasing tax revenue for the country by a substantial amount in the last two years. 2. Roughly 25% of the population is wealthy enough to pay income taxes, while the rest are too poor to be part of the revenue collection process. 3. Their tax system ranks as one of the most complicated and confusing in the world, making it easier to distrust the government and presume that corruption is widespread. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. 13 Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign
  • 14. Together these observations suggest that the majority of people may not consider themselves to be part of the tax system. This may produce an “other-ing” effect where poor people feel like they are excluded from the economy and therefore less concerned about what is happening in it, since they have no active role to play out within it. One possible way to deal with this challenge is to “demystify” the tax system4 and introduce collaborative game metaphors that give people an alternative worldview for engaging with and altering the current configuration of power. Opportunities in India 1. India has a vastly complex political system, with national political parties operating distinctly from state-based groups. 2. Roughly 5% of the population earns enough to pay income taxes, while the rest remain in a chronic state of poverty. 3. Populist uprisings about access to land are increasingly frequent, suggesting that rural communities could be engaged in reform efforts. 4. Media consumption remains principally in the domains of newspapers and television, with very little access to internet and social media. Together these observations suggest that a “unify and amplify” strategy could be effective for India. The language of “middle class” economics conceals an intensely stratified and elite political system, with national discourse running in relative isolation from the more nuanced flows of local issues across the subcontinent. Taxation is a topic for this elite crowd that bears little relevance to the silent majority, where greater concern is expressed about access to land and survival needs. Diverse ethnic and language subgroups create barriers to unification that may only be breached by discovering an undercurrent of shared concern across the many marginalized peoples of India. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign 14 4 A great example of this type of campaign can be found at
  • 15. Opportunities in South Africa 1. South Africa is plagued by the dual challenges of high unemployment and the crippling effects of AIDS, while remaining a mineral rich country that supplies many of the world’s precious metals for global industry. 2. Ethnic tension remains a strong cultural divider in this country, where poverty and lack of access to productive land correlate strongly with racial identity. 3. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has recently launched a campaign against corporate tax fraud, hoping to increase government funding for essential services. Together these observations suggest that the discourse on land rights is highly contentious and difficult to disentangle from ethnic tension. At the same time, a common thread of disenfranchisement and marginalization will likely resonate with much of the populace. If stronger links can be drawn between the perceptions of corporate abuse that enable SARS to wage its regulatory campaign and the widespread needs of the people, a new way forward might emerge. In Closing Taken together, these observations tell us that The Rules must tailor its engagement for each country to the local context, while simultaneously elevating a common narrative regarding the need to change the rules of play for the global economy. It is in this larger respect that a powerful Creation Story of Poverty remains essential for influencing public discourse in a manner that strengthens solidarity between grassroots groups in different parts of the world. Just as the aspirations of Arab Spring helped fuel the fire of Occupy Wall Street, so to can the shared origins of poverty in each country be melded into a common sentiment that unites us all in a global effort to transform the financial system and promote widespread health and prosperity. Similarly, deployment of the Cooperation Game as a way of thinking about what the economy is and the ultimate purpose of development can elevate those cultural values that resonate with tax justice and universal land rights. All three of these countries contain factions of people who already resonate with these ideals. The challenge before The Rules is to elevate a common narrative that unites them as it builds toward actions on the global stage. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. 15 Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign
  • 16. About Cognitive Policy Works Cognitive Policy Works is both an educational center that provides professional training to people in politics and a research/consulting firm that analyzes the workings of the political mind for non-profits and social businesses. We're a team of experts in political behavior and social change with a powerful combination of skills ranging from psychology and linguistics to media studies and strategic planning. We seek to empower non-profit leaders and grassroots activists alike, through innovative marketing models inspired by the open source software movement. Our goal is to develop new "best practices" and make them widely available to advocates of progressive social change as they face the major challenges of the 21st Century. Find us online at Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign 16