Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Problem with Poverty... because all those damn poor people are lazy, and don't want to work!

Heh. OK, you're reading. Good.

What I really want to say is how I strongly dislike the attitude of the professors at my college towards measures of poverty that were absolute rather than relative. While it's always true that an element of poverty is going to consist of making significantly less than the average member of your society, I don't think it's fair to neglect the fact that there's a real (not theoretical) difference between eating enough to maintain your bodyweight and not.

Other dimensions that relative analyses don't even touch on, EVER as far as I've seen, include how you feel about your status. Do you call yourself poor? How do you feel about it? Why are you so? If you blame someone else for it, why? In a very real sense, being poor is a state of mind, especially once the nutritional aspect is taken care of.

And ultimately, this sort of analysis is what lead to Marx's identification of the Proletariat as the down-trodden. They certainly may have been in his time and place, and may be still, but it's undeniable that even many poor Americans enjoy luxuries that the Pharoahs couldn't have imagined, and moreover, may not be upset with their lives.

I wouldn't advocate eliminating a relative standard of poverty - especially as it measures things like the Tantalus Effect - resentment and wanting that people have due to exposure to things they can't obtain. But is it the only basis of poverty? If I'm making 200 dollars a month, that makes me unbelievably poor in the US - but I'm in Russia.

Here, that's above-average. Does that make Russian people poorer than Americans? In a way, yes - we can't afford to travel internationally with such wanton abandon, and going to Western countries definitely places a burden on our cashflow. But what I would count as most significant is the fact that many people here, despite making very little money by international standards, live comfortable lives.

A girl I talked to a few days ago said: "Go to America? Why?" Read: Russia is not a prison that all people are seeking to escape from. Some, absolutely, but believe me, the same is true of America.

So remember that making assumptions on the basis of raw income, and even standards of life, aren't entirely justified. To make these kind of assumptions just exhibits a paternalistic attitude that is fraught with problems of its own.

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