Our Concern for the Impoverished (Poverty #2)

by Mar 14, 2018

No one of good will is unconcerned about poverty. When we see poor people struggling in life we all instantly sympathize with their plight. We are also moved with a desire to do something about the situation. At first blush it seems like something that can be directly addressed. After all, poverty is simply the lack of resources for daily life. Thus, we are most likely to think that the solution to the problem is to simply give money to those who are impoverished.

However, before we race to such a conclusion we ought to consider the nature of poverty a bit more thoughtfully. Poverty is a symptom or a signal. It is not a thing and it is not evil in and of itself. It is to be compared to hunger which is a signal to us that we need to secure food to feed our bodies. Likewise, poverty is a lack of the means needed to successfully achieve our ends. At the limit, it is a lack of resources so severe that we are unable to adequately provide for ourselves and sustain our existence. There are many reasons why someone is in an impoverished condition. The lack of resources is merely the evidence of poverty but not the reason for it.

Consider for a moment some of the many reasons why people might find themselves in poverty. Some people fall into poverty because they lack the skills needed to be productive enough to provide adequately for themselves. Truthfully, we all begin life in this condition and slowly acquire various skills and develop our various talents over time to increase our own productivity. So the answer to poverty here is that we need to improve the person’s ability to produce goods valued by others.

Other people are poor because they are simply unable for some reason to attain sufficient productive abilities to provide for themselves. There have always been unfortunate disabilities that have befallen various people among us such that they could not live independently. These physical and mental disabilities plague many people around us. In these cases some level of ongoing help will be the answer to the problem of poverty.

Some people are poor because of some unforeseen disaster. To be sure all manner of natural and manmade disasters occur yearly that plunge unsuspecting victims into hard times and poverty. When these events occur the answer is to provide restoration to the individual’s former condition or at least to a place of personal independence. The small likelihood of such events is the reason why private insurance developed and why its purchase can go a long way to providing a remedy to such situations.

Finally, some people are poor because of their own poor choices. These choices range from drug and alcohol abuse to simply laziness and sloth. Providing money and other resources to such individuals will only worsen the situation. The answer to poverty for these people must be to overcome the poor choice if the person is to be lifted out of poverty.

There is an important point to be made. Since there are many reasons why a person might be impoverished, there is no one way to help lift people out of poverty. Each situation is different and if we are to act to help we must correctly assess the reason for the poverty and devise a plan for addressing that particular situation. Simply doling out money and resources is not going to be an effective strategy.

Paul Cleveland

Boundary Stone was started by Dr. Paul Cleveland. Working as a professor for over 35 years has allowed him to study and think deeply about issues of political economy. He has discovered ways to communicate these sometimes illusive concepts to today's students, often through story telling, which makes understanding these principles more accessible to all of us.

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