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Poverty could use some help. Please research the article's assertions. Whatever is credible should be sourced, and what is not should be removed.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.
—Herman Melville[1]
The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich.
Bertrand Russell[2]:17

Poverty is the inability to provide for one's well-being — that is, being too poor to obtain adequate food, shelter, clothing, or healthcare.

Poverty can be caused by external conditions that the individual is powerless to alter or improve, including political oppression, periods of war and their aftermaths, natural disasters, disease, economic policy, or mental illness. Poverty can also be caused by a wide range of poor personal decisions. This form of poverty is usually the result of poor education. Both kinds of poverty receive political attention; liberals like to focus on the first, and conservatives like to focus on the second. Unfortunately, it's impossible to really separate them.

Categorizing poverty[edit]

There are generally two categories of poverty:

Relative poverty is judged by local standards. I.e., someone with a medium sized house, a decent car and a good wage may not be poor, per se, but they would be relatively poor if they lived in an estate full of millionaires and all the nearby shops were suited to those super rich. Individual countries will have their own official "poverty lines" (often called "bread lines") which people can live above or below.

Absolute poverty is a worldwide standard, usually set by the United Nations and used to describe the worst conditions on the planet. This level is often applied where it is impossible for people to achieve any standard of living that is worth living. This applies to parts of Africa that are affected by drought and famine and many slum areas of cities in developing countries. It is often defined as earning less than US$1 or $2 a day.

Plans to eliminate absolute poverty[edit]

As, outside of an egalitarian utopia, it is impossible to fully eliminate relative poverty, the UN and others have pushed hard for the elimination of absolute poverty. The Millennium Development Goals are perhaps the most ambitious idea for doing this, calling for a dramatic increase in aid to sub-Saharan Africa and other impoverished parts of the world.

On the other hand, many have noted that the biggest reductions in absolute poverty have come about due to countries (notably China, Taiwan, South Korea, and other Asian states) opening their economies to the world market. Noted economist Amartya Sen has proposed setting up small-scale lending organizations (called "microlending") in order to bring the ability to generate wealth to the poor of the world, since some governments may be too weak to act as the Asian states mentioned have.

A combination of both plans is probably best for helping not only combat poverty, but also make it sustainable for the long haul. Note, however, that economic aid may well come with conditions. Something that is "free" may be free to the recipients, but not the ones paying for them.

Poverty denial[edit]

Although not exactly rare or a new thing,[3] a recent trend in the more certain sectors of the US far-right has been to openly deny the existence of poverty based on the fact that the poor have access to things like TV, refrigerators, microwave ovens, computers, and cars. The above definition of "relative poverty" is important here. They may be better off than their peers in, say, South Sudan or Somalia, but by American standards, they are still living below the poverty line. Government action might be necessary to improve their chances of success provided they work hard enough. Regarding the specific "luxury items" that poverty deniers point to as evidence that the poor aren't really poor, many of those items have been around long enough that pre-owned units are often readily available at thrift stores and garage sales at greatly reduced prices. For example, among the items that are often listed as "proof" that the poor aren't really poor are refrigerators, color TVs, and air conditioning units.

Although not the only proponent of this argument, the fringe Heritage Foundation is currently the "think tank" that regularly conducts the studies that promote poverty denialism.[4]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Herman_Melville
  2. [https://archive.org/details/dli.ministry.18923/page/n5/mode/2up In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays by Bertrand Russell (1935) George Allen & Unwin.
  3. "Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge. "Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again. "And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?" (C. Dickens, 1843)
  4. The Heritage Foundation's discussions of their most recent study (from July, 2011) can be found here, here, and here. Some of the rebuttals of the study can be found at the Coalition For the Homeless website here and at Media Matters' Political Correction website here, with The Daily Show piling on some snark of its own here.