Fifty years later, a new discovery of poverty is long overdue. This time, we’ll have to take account not only of stereotypical Skid Row residents and Appalachians, but of foreclosed-upon suburbanites, laid-off tech workers, and America’s ever-growing army of the “working poor”. And if we look closely enough, we’ll have to conclude that poverty is not, after all, a cultural aberration or a character flaw. Poverty is a shortage of money.
Poverty is indeed a shortage of money.
But that’s only the start, not the end, of the logical chain.
What we then want to know is why do some individuals have a shortage of money? At which point we enter a forest of different explanations.
By far the largest cause of poverty is that people live in societies ruled by people variously ignorant, stupid or evil. N Korean poverty I would ascribe to that last. The early Soviets, I am sure along with Socialists of the time, really did think that planning would be more efficient, create more wealth. The evil came later, it was ignorance at first.
Even in our own societies there are different reasons for poverty. Part of it comes from just the genetic hand some people have been dealt. We wouldn’t expect the Down’s Syndrome (or Marfan, take your pick of the mistakes that can be made in the chromosomal shuffle that is conception) to become rich, heck, we’d almost certainly insist that mere survival unaided is impossible.
At the other end, sure, there’s the iniquities of the variations in the economy. Skilled miners did damn well in the UK of the 70s, rather less so in that of the late 80s and 90s.
And, yes, really, there is also that culture of poverty that Ms. Ehrenreich wants to insist does not exist. Choices over drugs, booze, delayed gratification, marriage, children, education, all have their effects on poverty or not poverty.
Sure, poverty is indeed the lack of money. But there are different reasons for different people at different times about why they lack money. Given these different reasons therefore different solutions have to be applied. Our Down’s Syndrome lad does simply need a transfer of resources, of wealth, from others in the society to him.
But that is not to say that the cure for all poverty is such a transfer: poverty in India is going to be better alleviated by the continuing destruction of Nehru’s extentions of the Licence Raj, poverty among some others in the UK is going to be best addressed by a change in the behaviour of those individuals.
If you like, while poverty itself might be a lack of money there are different reasons why some lack it and thus there have to be different solutions to that lack.
Or even, while poverty might be homogenous the causes of poverty are heterogeneous.