Studies show that with $1.90 per day, one cannot even ensure basic nutrition, let alone fulfilling the other basic needs
What can you get with Tk160? Can you buy three proper meals for yourself? The answer is "No."
Now, suppose you are the only earner in the family and have three more people to feed with this amount. Not to mention, food is not the only basic need. They also need to meet other basic needs e.g. clothing, a roof over head, medicine etc.
These needs cannot be fulfilled with this small amount of money. According to the World Bank, one is not considered "extremely poor" as long as their daily wage is at least $1.90 or Tk160.66. The global poverty line has been drawn below this amount.
As per the World Bank's latest statement, in 2015, around 734 million people were living below $1.90 per day. On the contrary, in 1990, the number of people was 1.9 billion. And for years, we have been told about this great advancement that has been made against global poverty.
Apparently, this "improvement" sounds great. However, there is no basis for the $1.90 per day income line. It has no connection with actual human needs.
Studies show that with $1.90 per day, one cannot even ensure basic nutrition, let alone fulfilling the other basic needs. At least, 3.5 billion individuals live on more than this, but still, get caught up in poverty.
The international poverty line is adjusted to the purchasing power.
"This poverty line is not an accidental result; rather, it is a well-thought strategy from the policymakers of the global North. If they can set the bar low, they will not be accused of paying poor for the services they receive from the global South," said Anu Muhammad, professor of Economics Department, Jahangirnagar University.
"There is no denying that owners from the global North are making significantly more profit than the owners and manufacturers in the global South. Still, the main victims remain the labourers who are working for them," Professor Anu Muhammad said.
"This minimum wage $1.90 per day does not represent what Bangladeshis can buy with this amount, which basically is "nothing."
Regarding this, Professor Anu Muhammad said, "The average cost on essentials may be larger in developed countries, but at the same time, their average income too is remarkably higher. If we calculate the income and cost ratio, we will see the drastic difference between theirs and ours."
"We also need to consider the extra facilities that the citizens of the global North enjoy when we are trying to justify this poverty line," said Professor Anu Muhammad. For instance, the UK has free education and medical facilities for their citizens which we do not have.
This leads to the question of exactly on what ground the light-bearers of development set the amount by $1.90 per day in the South, while everybody, including the World Bank itself, agrees that this standard is awfully low for a person in the North. In fact, in the US, the poverty line is $15 per day.
Not much effort is needed to see these existing double standards. There always has been one standard for the people living in the North, and another standard for the people in the South. And, we are still carrying this long-established colonial logic without any challenge.
Some attempt to legitimise this dissimilarity by claiming that the North and the South belong to two entirely different economies, and they require different standards. In reality, since the emergence of colonialism, these two economies have been parts of the same global system.
Research shows that the developed countries in the North block are highly dependent on the materials and labour from the South. According to a study, the rich countries appropriated a net total of 10.1 billion tonnes of materials and 379 billion hours of human work from the rest of the world in 2015.
Globally, capitalism is built upon the cheap labour and resources of the global South. Yet, their minimum earning is celebrated at $1.90.
But, if the same was to happen to the workers in the North, all would be outraged. Because, we believe only those who are in the North deserve a healthy living, and the ones living in the South can do with mere existence.
Some economists say that setting the bar low for workers from the South is acceptable. They argue that workers from the South are less productive, despite the fact that they may work for the same company.
Dr Ahsan H Mansur, economist and executive director of the Policy Research Institute, Bangladesh, agrees with the fact that productivity is a factor here.
"We need to understand that along with productivity; skill, technical and technological advancement seriously affect the price and for the same reasons, labourers in Bangladesh are paid significantly less than those in China even though both belong to the global South," he said.
However, in many cases, workers from the global South as a whole work even longer and harder compared to their "co-workers" in the North and yet are paid 30 times less than the amount that the people in the North are given.
Clearly, this difference should be unacceptable from both ethical and economical perspectives. But still governments and policymakers from the global South do not question this established standard for their own gain.
Dr Ahsan H Mansur and Professor Anu Muhammad agree to the fact that this low standard is benefitting both the governments and the factory owners of the global South.
Governments of these countries can hide their economic failure and boast about their pseudo "national development" because of it. On the other hand, factory owners can claim that workers are being paid enough.
And of course, the global North is making a huge profit out of it but they also are claiming that poor people of the global South are still alive because of their investment and generosity.
For centuries, capitalism has been cashing in by exploiting the people of South, through colonisation, genocide and slavery, or, through structural adjustment programmes, free trade agreements and corporate land grabs. The $1.90 line is our colonial legacy, a result of the long history of exploitation.
A solitary worldwide economy is impossible as long as the global North agrees to use the cheap labour and materials of the poor countries but demand detachment to justify their below standard lifestyle.
In this era, we cannot afford to accept this racist double standard of development anymore. In the sharing economy, all individual has to be treated equally. Unless the standard is equal for everyone, the claim of progress will mean nothing.