Can We Eradicate Poverty?

So much is said about poverty and the need to eradicate it, but then let us first understand first as to what we mean by poverty ? In a city of billionaires, even millionaires can be considered poor. On the other hand, a person with enough food can be considered better off in a community of destitute. Is our quest to make everyone rich actually rational ? Could this obsession for a mirage lead to the destruction of our environment, culture and in the end even ourselves ?
Can we Eradicate Poverty?
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Who is Poor ?

Someone once said that a rich man is not necessarily the one who has a lot of money, but one whose needs are less than what he or she owns. If we apply the same logic to poverty, then a poor man will not necessarily be one who has too little money, but one who needs much more than what he actually has. Before you conclude that I am trying to write a philosophical sermon, let me just remind you a simple fact. In US the Federal poverty line is more than $ 20,000 per annum, whereas

in most third world countries it is less than two dollars per day, or roughly $350 to $700 per annum. The difference in what is considered as poverty in countries with different levels of economic developments demonstrates the logic of what might have looked like a piece of theoretical philosophy a couple of sentences above.

Is the Definition of Poor Consistent Across Humanity ?

When the economic development pushes up the general and average welfare, it also increases the level of average consumption of goods and services, so much so, that the common acceptable minimum level of consumption is also inflated. What might have been considered a luxury two generations back is now a basic minimum need for most people, and so, certain amenities, lacking which would have been part of a rather normal existence a couple of decades back, would qualify as a basic minimum need today. So the definition of poverty is rather dynamic, and it is this constantly changing perception of poverty that makes it near impossible to send this term to the realms of history. This is one big reason why it is so difficult to make poverty history.

In any usual distribution curve, a small percentage will always be at the two extremes of distribution. Some will have a lot more than all others, enough to label them rich. Others will have a tad too inadequate, qualifying them as poor, and this will always be less than what they need because 'what one needs' will always be defined by what one usually has, in that society, to be considered normal.

What Happens to Poverty with Development ?

These discussions do not conclude that absolute poverty will certainly be eradicated. They only remind one of the times when a few thousand years back, humans could survive with a lot less, without calling themselves poor, while having enough to eat for a few

month might have made a person a 'rich' target. In other words, the concept of poverty derives itself from the insulation of a few from the fruits of economic development. This phenomenon of inequality and inequity comes only after the economic development itself, and unfortunately arises from it. More the development, more the inequality. But if there is no economic development, everybody remains poor. Either way, poverty survives.

Can the Quest to Remove Poverty become Dangerous ?

When we attain a luxury tomorrow that we wanted yesterday, we do not consider ourselves rich. Three hundred years back, having a mobile phone would be the ultimate sign of prosperity. Today, it means nothing. Even the poorest can watch television, ride a train or a bus and do many things that our ancestors could only dream for. Yet we don’t consider these people privileged. Of course, there are people who do not access to drinking water. There are still localities where such access has never been there. Of course, there is child malnutrition. There is inadequate health cover for many people. The fact is there has never full health cover for all. The health facilities available to a poor person today are more than what a millionaire could afford a century back.

These are all hard facts, which tell us something. Aspiring for a utopia or a mirage is fine till the time it does not lead to the middle of a desert from where you can never possibly return. However, once this day dreaming becomes dangerous for life and survival we need to wake up fast. Today, often the destruction of our environment, our planet, our ecosystems, even our social systems, our families, our traditional wisdom and our civilizations have been justified with this quest for so called development – as if it is the ultimate goal of human existence. It is time we realize that howsoever attractive it may sound, it is little more than a mirage, which will always elude us.

We need to make sure that this mirage and its hunting does not lead us to a self-destructive foray into the middle of a bland desert and a point of no return, where we end up sacrificing all that we have in the dream of attaining something that was never real in the first place.

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