On poverty

Not so long ago, I was reading this post by Michele and it got me going back to my notes on urban poverty and I may have a few things to say. But before we dwell on her post, there are few things we should get out of the way.

First, in a paper by ConeXión Mosaico, they write that the way we define poverty and ‘success’ – either implicitly or explicitly – says a lot about our worldview framework and view of cultural change and also influences how we relate to the poor and plays a major role in determining the solutions we use in our attempts to alleviate poverty.

The European commission in 1984 defined the poor as

the poor shall be taken to mean persons, families and groups
of persons whose resources (material, cultural and social)
are so limited as to exclude them from the minimum
acceptable way of life in the Member State in which they
live.

In this paper, the key point they argued was that since poverty is relative, multi-dimensional and changed over time,
“it is scientifically impossible to determine an accurate, uniquely valid poverty line: i.e. a financial threshold below which a person is defined as being poor”.

The point here is, there is a difficulty in defining & measuring poverty and with this difficulty even how to address it becomes a challenge. The World Bank claims to have two goals,

To end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity in a sustainable way

but have helped spread poverty in the global south through their policies.

I am not saying Michelle’s family were not poor. Far from me to say that. My problem is with her insistence that being poor or getting out of it is a matter choice. She writes

That’s why I say poverty is a choice. You may not choose how you grow up. But once grown you certainly choose the life you want. You choose your goals and you make the plan on how to achieve.

And while I am happy for her that she and her family have done well for themselves, many poor households do not have much to move on. I mean, they had a car to start with. They could move around. Research also show that children who grow up in households where parents went to school even briefly fare better compared to where no parent has had any schooling.

I also find this

So can we stop blaming our parents, society, schools, and everything else for our current situation and instead make a plan on how to change it.

disagreeable. If you had a crappy education, broke parents and a society that doesn’t give a damn where there are structural barriers that make life a nightmare, one can’t be blamed for their poverty. We as a society will be abdicating our duty to others if this is how we viewed life.

And as I said in the beginning of this post, how we define poverty affects also how response to it.

I don’t think anyone chooses to be poor. And here am not talking about those religious fanatics who go around begging for alms in the nae of forsaking property and material wealth. No. Not those ones.