Solving Poverty Isn’t Hard: Feeling Good About Ourselves While Doing So Is

Consider this Macrobusiness post by Rumplestatskin a corollary of my Uncle Harry’s dictum, “rich or poor, it’s always good to have money” (boldface mine):

Poverty is a social issue that usually attracts the label ‘tough problem’. Sometimes, when a bit of flair is in order, it is labelled ‘complex’ or ‘multi-dimensional’. This strikes me as a major cop out.

Reducing or eliminating poverty is not ‘tough’ in any technical sense. The ‘tough’ part is our moral baggage – the distorted moral lens through which we see the problem – which provides an excuse not to make the necessary sacrifices required for change.

For example, it is simple enough to imagine a developed country without poverty. Even using a purely relative metric of poverty that is a direct function of the median income (such as 30% of median income), poverty can be eliminated through appropriate redistribution of wealth. Through either welfare payments, transfers of assets, a national job guarantee, minimum wages, or any other sets of institutions, we can get the resulting distribution of income that means poverty is all but eliminated.

It really is that simple from a technical point of view.

…What makes these social problems ‘tough’ is our moral baggage. When we see a family member in need we we assume the best – that underneath they are good people, and that their situation is a product on a series of unfortunate circumstances. But when those in need are ‘outsiders’, we seem to assume the worst – that their poverty is a choice, and their poor choices reflect some innate ‘bad’ personality trait, and hence they are undeserving of support.

Poverty wouldn’t be such a ‘tough’ social problem if there were only deserving poor.

For example, consider what the ‘low skills’ anti-minimum wage argument really means (boldface mine):

He is saying it’s OK to pay those people less money than needed to live because, in his mind, they are lesser humans – sub-beings with, according to him, no skills.

These are people who get to work every day, who perform duties prescribed by their employers, and whose production provides profits for the companies employing them. The firms hiring grocery stockers and waitresses and car wash attendants need these workers to execute specific tasks so that the corporations can make money and pay their CEOs millions of dollars. Only when these workers are denigrated as subhuman can CEOs and Republicans justify paying them sub-living wages.

Probably worth ending with this radical:

I will hear America through her historians years and years to come saying, “We built gigantic buildings to kiss the sky. We build gargantuan bridges to span the seas. Through our spaceships we were able to carve highways through the stratosphere. Through our airplanes we were able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. Through our submarines we were able to penetrate oceanic depths.”

But it seems that I can hear the God of the universe saying, “even though you’ve done all of that, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was naked and ye clothed me not. The children of my sons and daughters were in need of economic security, and you didn’t provide for them. So you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness.” This may well be the indictment on America that says in Memphis to the mayor, to the power structure, “If you do it unto the least of these my brethren, you do it unto me.”

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1 Response to Solving Poverty Isn’t Hard: Feeling Good About Ourselves While Doing So Is

  1. Pingback: Solving Homelessness Isn’t Hard, But Feeling Good About Ourselves While Doing So Is | Mike the Mad Biologist

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