Why Poverty?

Why Is Poverty A Dirty Word?

A question that I have been trying to answer for 40+ years. Along with the one, why are we afraid of the poor? Both questions are difficult to answer. And really difficult to find a starting point to answer the questions. I have started this piece many times and after awhile and much thought I have thrown it away just to start over and over and…….

The poor have been tagged in the past and are still being tagged as lazy, cheap and promiscuous. Labels that are used to try and explain why there is a condition known as POVERTY. Many define poverty, few actually offer any solutions.

In The US there are approximately 35 million people living in poverty. The present economic crisis will no doubt raise those numbers considerably.

Poverty has become a dirty word because of several factors. One of the factors is the perception of poverty and the poor by society. Through many years and many political tap dances the poor have been used as a tool in elections, both pro and con. Thus perceptions are now standard in some political circles. The people have been taught to believe: 1) the poor are extremely disliked, 2) poverty equates to a moral failure, 3) the poor are uneducated, unemployed and on welfare, 4) the poor are a threat to the upper class who believe that we are in control of our lives, 5) the poor cost us money.

But the poor have a place in American society, they do the filthy, dangerous, temporary, undignified, menial jobs, the labor of the poor at low wages frees up the affluent for more important activities, the poor help create jobs which protects society from the poor, such as police, which would be less needed if there were fewer poor, the poor clear the stocks from the selves with day old bread, dent stores, etc.

In recent elections the poor have not been a concern of the candidates, other than a little political rhetoric they were never a problem to be solved. Look at this campaign season, the McCain camp talks about jobs for America, but offer plans like his home plan, or his gas tax holiday, none of which address the poor of the country. He wants to preserve human dignity by overturning Roe, protecting marriage, promoting adoption, but nothing about the dignity of the poor. As usual the Repubs basically ignore the poor and the problems they face.

Now we have the Dem side of the coin. Obama’s plan is to expand the earned credit, raise the minimum wage, increase affordable housing, and strengthen the family unit, and so on. All sounds good in speeches and sound bites; it does not address the core cause of poverty. The social system as well as the political system has created poverty and it must change to end poverty. Change is what is being promised by both candidates, but unfortunately, neither candidate has the answer. Their proposals are merely band-aids for a gunshot wound.

Until there is a serious attempt to end poverty, then the poor will continue to be joked about, pitied, and most notably feared. Yes, I said feared. Why? Because the poor are a reminder that all is not perfect in this country and a lot of work must be done to make it so. But sadly, no one wants to truly end poverty, just to use it for self-serving ends.

That Irene is why poverty is a dirty word.

Persistence Of Poverty

The 19th century economist, Henry George, addressed this topic.

As productive power increases, rent tends to increase even more — constantly forcing down wages.

Advancing civilization tends to increase the power of human labor to satisfy human desires. We should be able to eliminate poverty. But workers cannot reap these benefits because they are intercepted. Land is necessary to labor. When it has been reduced to private ownership, the increased productivity of labor only increases rent. Thus, all the advantages of progress go to those who own land. Wages do not increase — wages cannot increase. The more labor produces, the more it must pay for the opportunity to make anything at all.

Mere laborers, therefore, have no more interest in progress than Cuban slaves have in higher sugar prices. Higher prices may spur their masters to drive them harder. Likewise, a free laborer may be worse off with greater productivity. Steadily rising rents generate speculation. The effects of future improvements are discounted by even higher rents. This tends to drive wages down to the point of slavery, at which the worker can barely live. The worker is robbed of all the benefits of increased productive power.

These improvements also cause a further subdivision of labor. The efficiency of the whole body of laborers is increased, but at the expense of the independence of its constituents. Individual workers know only a tiny part of the various processes required to supply even the commonest wants.

Modern workers are mere links in an enormous chain of producers and consumers. The very power of exerting their labor to satisfy their needs passes from their control. The worse their position in society, the more dependent they are on society. Their power may be taken away by the actions of others. Or even by general causes, over which they have no more influence than they have over the motion of the stars.

Under such circumstances, people lose an essential quality: the power of modifying and controlling their condition. They become slaves, machines, commodities.

It explains why want increases with abundance, and why wealth tends to greater and greater concentration. It explains periodic recessions and depressions — and why large numbers of potential producers stand idle, without the absurd assumption that there is too little work to do or too many hands to do it. It explains the negative impact of machinery, without denying the natural advantages it gives. It explains why vice and misery appear among dense populations, without attributing to the laws of God those defects arising only from the shortsighted and selfish decrees of humans.

This is an explanation in accordance with all the facts. Look at the world today. The same conditions exist in different countries — regardless of the type of government, industries, tariffs, or currency. But everywhere you find poverty in the midst of wealth, you will find that land is monopolized. Instead of being treated as the common property of all the people, land is treated as the private property of individuals. And before labor is allowed to use it, large sums are extorted from the earnings of labor.

The great cause of inequality in the distribution of wealth is inequality in the ownership of land.

Ownership of land is the great fundamental fact that ultimately determines the social, the political, and consequently the intellectual and moral condition of a people.

Poverty will always exist….it is a must…if capitalism is to work.

There was a possiblity that poverty could have been lessened back in the late 60’s with Johnson’s War on Poverty.  Unfortunately, every president since Johnson has dismantled the programs that was used to fight poverty and in doing so they have made sure that poverty will persist.

17 thoughts on “Why Poverty?

  1. Pingback: FFs War on the Poor - Vincent Browne 25/11/09 - Page 3 - Politics.ie

  2. I am puzzled about why you wonder why poverty is a dirty word. It seems to me to be quite rational for a human being to be concerned about being impoverished and also about being in physical pain.

    In a Georgist society, I don’t think anyone would need to be in fear of involuntary poverty. I wish more people were familiar with what the implementation of Henry George’s ideas would do for our society.

    We could have a vibrant, stable, just economy, in which all could succeed, and where none of us would be reaping what others sow. But our reapers really like the way this system works; it works really really well for them, thank you! (If you’re not up to date on the statistics on income distribution and wealth distribution, check out

    http://lvtfan.typepad.com/lvtfans_blog/2010/02/the-house-of-tranquillity-a-middle-class-agenda.html)

    • Hi LVTfan and welcome back……I do not think it is a dirty word……but a good portion of society does and I was pointing out why they could possibly think that……I agree about George that is why I try to inject his ideas into the conversation anmd my posts as often as I can….maybe people will begin to think for themselves….

  3. Poverty is realitive and subjective. One man’s poverty is another man’s wealthy. It all depends on the culture one lives in and his standard-of-living.

    America’s poor typically own a vehicle, own or rent a home, put their children on a school bus every day to attend the same school that even middle class and rich kids attend, and watch cable on a color television.

    Try pushing that as “poverty” in any country in Africa or most countries in Asia.

    Capitalism doesn’t need the poor in order to function. Capitalism is just what happens when people are free to produce and sell what they want and people are free to buy and sell what they want without the government artificially suppressing or inflating the market with subsidies, restrictions (like telling a farmer he can’t grow wheat for his personal use because it affects the market since he is not buying from the market. And yes, this really happened), and over-taxation. “Poor” is just a natural by-product of capitalism since productivity is not going to be equal among individuals. But as the standard-of-living rises among the wealthy, so does the standard-of-living among the poor which can, when manipulated by politicians, serve to increase the sector of the poor population (since the qualifications for being “poor” become even more and more lax.)

    • Natassia but it does need the poor and even the guru of capitalism, Adam Smith and Henry George recognized this. So that is the answer to the US poverty level….compare it to Africa?

      So without regulation the economic meltdown would not have happened? When you look at prices in the market have risen by 50% in the last 10-20 years (this is off the top of my head it may be a bit mistaken) and wages have risen by less than 5% you are creating a ever expanding poor. The middle class is slowing disappearing and a vibrant middle class is needed for capitalism to work properly.

  4. That really makes no sense. No system “needs” poor people. Poverty is just a byproduct of systems, and a relative/subjective byproduct at that.

    By comparing the US “poverty level” to Africa, it helps us keep perspective. We are a wealthy nation, even when considering our poorest of the poor. We are successful and powerful thanks to freedom, and capitalism is the ONLY economic system that is based on freedom and not government manipulation and control. To regulate something in order to protect consumer safety is one thing (like drug manufacturing and labeling). But to regulate something in order to control costs and consumption is something altogether different (which is why I don’t believe in price caps or agricultural subsidies.) To provide a legal authority to uphold contracts in commerce is one thing, but to force people to engage in commerce is a completely separate beast (which is why I don’t believe the government should be forcing people to purchase health insurance simply for being a citizen of this country.)

    The housing prices in the market, for example, were artificially inflated thanks to government interference, namely in the mortgage market. Even Barney Frank has seen the light when it came to Fannie & Freddie’s role in the economic collapse.

    A vibrant middle class is disappearing because much of the middle class wealth disintegrated with the collapse of the housing market. Many mortgages are under water, and so people live in houses that aren’t even the value of the debt owed on them.

    • But you do need the poor…for at full employment, true full employment then capitalism cannot function properly….once again I woulkd agree with you about the forced compliance of the people…..that would include ALL aspects of life……

  5. Before you can look at poverty you have to defie it, and as noted earlier by any definition outside of the US there is no one in poverty here.

    Forget Africa…the “average” government designated poor person in the US lives in a house or apartment that is bigger than the average middle class western European, has 2.3 color television sets, as opposed to 1.5 for the average middle class European, etc.

    Also, you must look at how the government classifies one as “poor” in this country before saying there are 35 million, or ANY number of people in poverty (or how they come up with ANY statistic that encourages government social engineering).

    Poverty is based STRICTLY on income. Government assistance takes assets into consideration in most states, but federal poverty statistics don’t.

    As an extreme example, say there is a crazy old cat lady living in a 5 million dollar art deco mansion in oldtown Miami Beach. She doesn’t trust the stock market or banks. She has $100 million in her wall safe. She has no income beyond a social security check…BUT she does have a chauffeur driven limo, a pool boy, and a personal assistant for her 150 cats.

    According to our government, she “lives in poverty” for the simple fact she has no income.

    You wouldn’t believe how they come up with how many kids don’t get enough to eat…

    • Hi Bob and welcome……I believe they call it creative accounting…….those techniques they use to calculate stuff….you know kinda like the inflation….we have none because food and gas are not counter…or for that matter the unemployment rate…now there is creativity at its best….

  6. The cause of poverty… is what we imagine to be “wealth.” Spiritual goods, common good — plenty to go around. Private goods: limited supply — and anyone thinking he needs to sleep in two houses makes someone else homeless.

  7. I believe your statement “Poverty will always exist….it is a must…if capitalism is to work.” sums things up nicely, As long as we can “play” with currency, making it the “end all, or God of things” of what is important such as economic growth, demographic paradigms or models based on those with and those without, etc. as opposed to money strictly being just a medium of fair exchange for goods or services tendered, we will have this condition! Well thought out and written, thank you.

      • You’re most welcome, I’m currently up to my eyeballs in rewrites on a book I promised a publisher (well lets just say it is very late and it’s a nonfiction so I’m having a devil of a time with it) so am limited to time spent visiting right now, but I’m hopeful this will improve in the near future. Will do my best chuq! :)

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