What The "Hubpages Community" Thinks About Poverty - An Analysis Of Over 400 Answers!
Analysis of Question Responses
I asked this question almost 4 years ago (25 May 2011). So far, it has attracted over 31 thousand views and more than 400 comments and it still appeals readers! Here is the link:
I had never expected such a good response, to an unglamorous and depressing topic like poverty. But it shows that Hubpages has gathered a pretty humane crowd of people across the world. I find it truly wonderful and feel good being a part of the community. “Poverty” is not just a word or topic for me; it’s an experience I had to live through for whatever reasons. How it feels to survive eating just once a day or stay without food is not something I would ever forget.
When you are suddenly thrown into a situation where you have no money, no place to stay, you are sick and no one to help – all at the same time – then you really have to rely 100% on your own strength and hope for the best. You are not just in poverty – lack of money or food or shelter, as we conventionally see it– you are dumped in the quagmire of helplessness and insecurity, where everything looks so dark and so hopeless. Obviously not everyone goes through such extreme experience, but we all have our own understanding of poverty and poor people.
Then, poverty in the rich countries is not the same as in the poor countries. If in the developed countries poverty is largely due to “market fundamentalism”, in the developing societies it is mostly the “socio-cultural fundamentalism” (for example,, suffocating patriarchy, traditions of child marriages and unavoidable expensive ceremonies forced by social customs) that creates and sustains poverty.
4 Major Findings
The "essence" of over 400 responses can be broadly put in the following 4 categories, starting with the most prominent response:
- Giving money is neither the only, nor the best way to help poor people – it is at best a short term measure. So, most people realize that poverty has several dimensions apart from money or income, a multidimensional phenomenon.
- Educating or giving skills came out the most preferred solution, coming from the famous proverb: “Give a man a Fish, you have fed him for today; teach a man to Fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” It clearly points to capability building and ‘empowerment’ as the best way out of poverty.
- Charity is fine as an emergency measure on humanitarian grounds, but people can’t live on charity forever. People now understand that charities can’t eradicate poverty – they can at best sustain it.
- Many readers stressed the virtuous side of helping the poor, as a morally good thing to do. They are sensitive and pure-hearted people who feel empathy for suffering people.
In next sections I will analyse these findings in the light of current understanding of poverty and ways to eradicate poverty.
1. Poverty is not an Income Issue Alone
We don’t expect poor people to have money. This is the conventional one-dimensional understanding of poverty. But people’s life is affected by many things other than economy which fall in the social, cultural and political domains. Therefore, income perspective is inadequate and doesn’t provide the full picture of poverty. It is a complex human issue that can’t be measured by any simple parameter like money. It has to be seen in a multidimensionalway including all factors that affect people’s well-being.
Poverty is not something people impose on themselves for want of effort and community organization. It is constructed by divisive and discriminatory laws, inflexible organizations, acquisitive ideologies of wealth, a deeply rooted class system and policies which serve privilege in the short term and destroy society in the long term. – Peter Townshend
Therefore, not having money or enough money is a ‘symptom’ of poverty that can result from many things, ranging from personal factors like illness, lack of skills or laziness to socio-economic factors and government policies. If a rich country US has say 15% poverty, it is more of a systemic problem than individual issue. For instance, it is a common knowledge that even the financially sound and well established companies avoid paying the minimum living wages. The system is blind to it. As a result, their bottom lines keep growing but particularly the low end workers can’t improve their life despite working long hours. Thus, inequality grows which sustains itself due to nature of the system.
The global charity, Oxfam International has recently launched a series of reports, for instance, its Jan 2014 report titled Working for the Few highlights that the richest 1% of the world almost own as much wealth as the rest 99% - and the inequality is increasing with time. Further, 70% people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years; the richest 1% increased their income share in 24 out of 26 countries between 1980 and 2012. It further stated that in the US, 95% of post-crisis recovery between 2009 and 2012 was captured by the wealthiest 1%, while the bottom 90% became poorer.
Therefore, whether through charity or low paid jobs if poor people get some money, they still remain poor. There is nothing in the present system that empowers them to improve their life and live decently.
2. Education and Skill Development
Education is seen as the best anti-dote to poverty by most commenters. Education and skills empower people and make them more capable to take care of their lives. In fact, we all know this but why can’t we put this knowledge into the development system?
The answer has something to do with our understanding of “development.” Is it merely increasing the national wealth or has it anything to do with people and their abilities?
It’s an important question in the 21st century for 2 reasons: One relates to climatic and environmental disorder which is manifesting in increasing frequency of natural disasters across the world. The second reason is more fundamental and tackling it would solve the first problem also: it has to do with our concept of progress. The issue here is: Should we continue with our “economy centric” model that demands ever increasing consumerism, as we are doing now – it is clearly unsustainable as we are hitting limits. Or, should we change the development model all together and adopt a “people centric” system whose goal is to enhance well-being of people without burdening the natural resources.
Nobel winner economist, Amartya Sen offers such a development model through his capability theory which puts people at the center of the development and demands expansion of their capabilities. After all, people’s wellbeing ultimately depends upon their capabilities – what they can or can’t do. This fact forms the basis of Amartya Sen’s capability theory, which defines development as expansion of people’s capabilities. Thus, all social, political and economic activities must have the single goal – to increase people’s capabilities.
Thus, poverty should be seen as a deprivation of basic capabilities essential to lead a normal life. In other words, poverty must be seen as the deprivation of basic capabilities rather than merely as low income. All individuals are endowed with certain abilities and have the potential to become still more capable. If situation is created so that the poor can “expand” their capabilities they will automatically escape poverty. The current development paradigm is blind to barriers that restrict people’s capabilities and keeps them poor.
People Centric Development
Sen’s people-centric capabilities approach is taking the development debate into areas never considered relevant before. For instance, discrimination and social exclusion are common barriers that keep people in poverty. They will get highlighted as hurdles to development and force policymakers to find ways to address them. This is an empowerment approach; and once empowered, the poor become “agents of change” in their own life. Likewise, the weaker gender of women will stand out as another vital barrier to development becomes it contracts capabilities and makes them vulnerability to poverty.
This philosophy also formed the basis of human development approach of the UNDP, which considers “People are the real wealth of a nation.” Therefore, demands that development must target people and add value to their lives.
3. Charity Is Morally Good, But Can’t Eliminate Poverty
Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it. – John D. Rockefeller
For decades, governments and countless charities have been rushing aid to the poor and starving. Yet, poverty and the poor appear to be where they were in the past. Charities mostly focus on temporary relief; the roots of poverty remain intact. Thus, charities actually sustain poverty, and over time it actually increases as population grows.
Another peculiar thing about charities is that they are all about the donors – their visions, desires and expectations. Therefore, they are rarely designed to empower the poor. Consequently, they can’t break the barriers confining them into suffering.
Moreover, charity is not a substitute for systemic injustice and exploitation. If the system is defective, there is little charity can do.
4. Help the Poor, Anyway!
For those walking on the path of spirituality, the poor and suffering people offer the opportunities to do good “Karma.” When you help someone with a compassionate mind and with the mental volition of seeing them out of suffering, you are actually helping yourself. Whenever in the future the fruit of this good Karma will come, it will bring something good for you. Even if you don’t believe in the law of Karma, help them anyway; you will feel good deep inside which heals the emotional wounds.
Capitalism and Poverty
I gratefully appreciate the time and efforts of so many Hubbers who responded to the question. Many wrote profusely and added value to the question thread. Others stimulated the debate in different ways. I don't intend to close the thread in order to keep the debate going because there is widespread poverty, deprivation and human suffering.
More by this Author
Amartya Sen's thesis is simple. Development is expansion of people's capabilities; poverty is just the opposite. Freedom is a vital element of Sen's thesis. Thus, he favors democracy and freedom.
Any single dimensional measure of poverty, such as income, will be always inadequate. It must be seen as a state of multiple deprivations and must include non-material aspects.
There are several deep rooted causes of Indian poverty, some have historical roots and others derive strength from social structure. Lack of effective governance has only sustained the poverty.