Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Just What is Poverty Anyhow?

Interesting piece from John Cassidy in the New Yorker on the relativity of poverty, along with some interesting criticism from Reason's Julian Sanchez.

One could go back and forth all day as to the meaning of poverty, and how to determine who is and isn't poor. But that ignores the fact that poverty is merely a social construction, and the real issues are precisely what those of us with money can and should do to help other people.

For instance, maybe people in the United States may feel poor compared to the wealth they see around them. But is it a better use of money to give such people money so they feel less poor, or to give aid and money to foreign countries where starvation, malnutrition, and disease are facts of life. Actually, much of this steams to the immigration debate going on today. People- conservatives and liberals, have a vision of the way the world should be, and whatever doesn't fit into that vision is ignored.

The fact of the matter is, at this point in time, everyone in the world can't have the lifestyle of a middle class American family. Hoping for it doesn't make it so, and pretending much of the rest of the world isn't struggling to subists doesn't change things. What's so offensive about Cassidy's piece is the arrogance it exudes- Relative deprivation of consumer products is one thing, and the struggle to survive, to make a better life for oneself and one's family is another, far more important concept.


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