on why it is the environment we should change

In this post, I disagreed with Michelle’s claim, in her very inspiring story, that getting out of poverty is a choice. She has maintained that her story is about America only. Whether that is the case, I leave it for Americans to weigh in.

Shelldigger friend talked of grit. Well there is some research that argues it is the environment that we need to change for most of the people to improve their situation. It doesn’t discount those individual cases of success, but for most people, the environment must be addressed.

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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.

 

The rich man is a thief

The above is the conclusion of Basil of Caesarea, who in the fourth century wrote

 “‘Upon whom,’ he (the private proprietor) says, ‘do I inflict any injury in retaining and conserving that which is mine?’ What things, tell me, are yours.  yours? Whence did you bring them into the world? You rich act like a man who, being the first to enter a theatre, would keep all others out, regarding as his own that which was intended for the common use of all. For you appropriate to yourselves the common heritage, simply because you were the first occupants. Whereas, if every man took only what was sufficient for his needs, leaving the rest to those in want, there would be no rich and no poor. Naked you came from the womb; naked you shall return to earth. Whence your present possessions? If you say, ‘from fate,’ you are impious, since you do not recognize the Creator nor render thanks to the Giver; if you answer, ‘from God,’ then tell me why you have received them. Is God so unjust as to distribute the necessaries of life inequitably? Why are you rich and your neighbor poor? Is it not to enable you to receive the reward of benevolence and upright stewardship, while he obtains the crown merited by patience? Yet you fancy that you do no injustice when you gather all things into the fathomless recesses of your greed. Who is the avaricious man? The man who is not satisfied with enough. Are not you, then, avaricious? Are you not a despoiler? For you have made your own that which you have received to distribute. Is he not called a thief who strips a man of his clothes? And he who will not clothe the naked when he can,-is he deserving of a different appellation? The bread that you keep in your possession belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your closet, to the naked; the shoes that you allow to rot, to the barefooted, and your hoarded silver, to the indigent. Hence you have done injustice to as many as you have failed to help.”

Were the church fathers communists[pdf]? John A Ryan doesn’t think so.

Stealing from the poor presents quotes from selected church fathers and comments by readers.