According to statements by the Argentinian government in 2015, the country had achieved a lower poverty rate than many European countries – including Germany, apparently. So in a show of solidarity, some Argentinians announced a fund-raising event on Facebook to combat poverty in poor, impoverished Germany. Thousands of Facebook users clicked “join”. The popularity of the event took the organizer, known in social networks as @elincontinente, by complete surprise. He never expected the huge number of followers and the level of media resonance.
The fictional event was a satirical reaction to a statement by Aníbal Fernández, the Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers of Argentina and gubernatorial candidate for the province of Buenos Aires. In an interview with public radio, Fernández claimed that thanks to the work of his government, the poverty rate in Argentina had dropped below that of Germany. This controversial statement was intended to support a declaration by Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who said that the Argentinian poverty rate was not above 5%.
Initially the numbers seem to support the argument: The National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC) – the agency responsible for measuring poverty in Argentina – released figures that indicate a poverty rate of approximately 5%, while the German institution dedicated to the same task, the Statistisches Bundesamt, reports 20.3% of people are affected by poverty and exclusion. These figures are misleading though, and do not mean that Argentina has surpassed European countries in terms of social inclusion.
The origin of this misunderstanding lies in the difference between the methods implemented to measure poverty. The Argentinian INDEC assesses “absolute poverty”, which refers to the percentage of the population whose income doesn’t meet the Canasta Básica Total (CBT, basic goods basket). These are people without the minimum income necessary to fulfill the most basic needs such as food, safe drinking water, sanitation, shelter and health services. Even more importantly, the INDEC sets and defines the CBT, and in the past has been criticized for manipulating this figure in order to lower poverty rates.
Germany measures what is known as the “relative poverty rate”. This is the percentage of the population with incomes below 50% of the national average. People who earn less than 60% of the average income are considered at risk of poverty. Average income in Germany is 1,500€ per month, thus an income of less than 900€ is considered a poverty risk and the actually poverty line starts at 750€. According to data released by the Statistisches Bundesamt in December 2014, 16.2 million people (20.3%) in Germany are affected by relative poverty.
According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), it is also true that there have been improvements in poverty reduction in Argentina. But comparing indices that measure completely different aspects of poverty leads to incorrect conclusions. The reactions of Twitter users to the controversial comparison ran the gamut from sarcasm, humor and outright mockery to indignation:
Two countries call for an urgent meeting with Cristina so she can advise them how to lower their poverty rates below 5% Germany 10.3, Switzerland 10.7
- Natalia Gomez Platz (@TaliGomezz) June 8, 2015
Poverty is one of the most serious issues of our country. Wanting to compare ourselves to Germany seems like a joke.
- Pino Solanas (@fernandosolanas) June 10, 2015
Anibal Fernandez: "Poverty in Argentina is lower than in Germany," what a great actor !! pic.twitter.com/9bL466EmfT
- Game of Thieves (@gustavo_srcc) June 9, 2015
"You say we have less poverty than Germany?" "Yes" answers @FernandezAnibal with a completely straight face
- @lauritalonso (@lauritalonso) June 9, 2015
I am tired of so much bourgeoisie. I’m going to live in Germany to help the most needy #ElIncontinentePorAlemania
- Armando Esteban Kito (@elincontinente) June 11, 2015
This article was first published by Global Voices. You can find the original article here.