Being poor is not nice, is inhumane and it should be a crime, illegal and punishable at law. Yet, poverty is such a part of our society that we take it for a given. It is institutionalized and common place. Actually, being poor, for some, is so much a lot in life that many have resigned themselves to being poor. Adding to this resignation, is the fact that poverty can create a vicious cycle of persistent poverty. Indeed, poverty is so ingrained in the society that sociologists even have measurement for it. First class, second class and third class “poverty”.
Sadly, many people benefit from the existence of poverty as many great nations are built and structured with poverty as a main stay feature. Then again, some people are afraid that if the poor is no longer poor it might affect the current status quo. Others also find that when there are poor people around, they feel motivated because they can say they are better than “them”. Yes, for some the existence of the poor makes them feel adequate and fulfilled? Some even believe that if there are no poor people the world would be in disarray?
So it begs questions: “Do we really want to see a change where poverty is discredited and everyone is living like “human beings?”
POVERTY: TO BE OR NOT TO BE
Is poverty really a state of mind as suggested by Ben Carson, who believed that people with the wrong mind-set, will be poor. According to Ben, “you can give them everything in the world — they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.” He added that helping people may not better their lives.
Interestingly, Mr. Carson then credited his mother for helping him focus on his education and rise out of poverty. “If everybody had a mother like mine, nobody would be in poverty,” This aspect of Mr. Carson’s speech has not been underscored. WITHOUT ASSISTANCE HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A BUM.
Then again, is it that the poor is a part of life and will always be with us as implied by Jesus Christ and as such it is fruitless to try and eradicate poverty? Matthew 26:11, The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me. We must however hastily add that Jesus did suggest a fix for poverty when he advised his disciples to “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33).
Unlike Mr. Carson, many people such as Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro believed poverty was “created” and is real. Folks such as Marx and Lenin believed poverty is real and blamed Capitalism and market economies as the main contributor to poverty.
WHAT IS POVERTY AND ITS CAUSES?
Everyone knows poverty. You are either in poverty or trying to keep out of poverty. However, the United Nations definition: “Fundamentally, poverty is the inability of having choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living in marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation”.
The causes of poverty have been cited to include the inability of poor households to invest in property and education; limited access to credit; production of more poverty via inherited poverty and discrimination.
War and violence due to politics, religion or commerce are also some of the primary causes of poverty. Unemployment also contributes.
How could we leave out Colonialism and slavery. Emancipation in 1838 saw the Blacks having their feet unshackled but their minds fettered. After years of forced labour, Blacks were set free with only their brawn and brain as their sole worldly possessions. Contrast the lot of the Africans vs their brothers, Whites, Indians and Chinese who all came over as free men and are the owners of the main factors of production.
Misanthropy is not a commonly used word but unfortunately its meaning is common among people, race,class and creed. Having bad will towards fellow human beings is unmistakably and sadly prevalent in today’s society. Even the blind can see that with the level of knowledge, development and resource in the world there is no excuse for poverty. Yet poverty abound amidst much wealth.
Maybe the time has come for us to think about outlawing poverty. Poverty should become persona non grata. Government would put in the relevant structures, resources and policies to ensure that poverty is eradicated. Education and schools would be used to kill ignorance while tolerance, goodwill and understanding will be used to convert misanthropy into philanthropy.
Seriously, for just a moment, imagine if there was a law that made it illegal to be poor. Each person in poverty would be arrested along with the heads of government for the town or community in which the poor was found. In other words, if a person is found living in poverty, he or she would first be determined for fitness and if found fit then to the penitentiary at hard labour. The respective members of parliament or congress men would also be taken through the same process. If the reason for the poverty is government oriented then the politician would be arrested.
On a more palatable note, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is also concerned about curbing poverty but is calling for a universal basic income to boost personal potential and build economic growth. He is touting the idea of a universal basic income – where the government unconditionally pays all citizens a small amount of money to cover basic needs and to cushion them to try new things.”
Supporters of a universal basic income argue that people might decide to acquire more education or change their career, to make themselves more attractive to the labour market. Others might start a business. Finland and a few other countries are experimenting with the idea.
However, there is always the chance that it could be used as an excuse to work as little as possible and as such poverty should be outlawed.
IMPLICATIONS OF OUTLAWING POVERTY
One of the first implications of outlawing poverty is the need for a Paradigm shift in terms of our values and measurement of success. The usual “guns vs butter” economical decision will need revisiting and maybe empowerment could be the key motivator.
Full employment of human resources, and an educated and healthy nation supported by government could lead to the development of more innovation and technology. For example, Zuckerman admitted “If I had to support my family growing up instead of having time to code, I wouldn’t be standing here today” (as a billionaire and owner of Facebook).
Of course there are some scary and unsettling implications for the outlawing of poverty. Just the thought of eliminating poverty by outlawing it, is a careless reckless idea conjured only by people smoking Champagne and drinking Havana cigars. There are no guarantees that crime and violence, diseases, and inhumane living conditions would be drastically reduced if poverty is outlawed.
Furthermore, being rich is motivational and who doesn’t want to be rich? Think of the displacement it could cause a few rich folks. (According to the 80/20 rule, 80% of the wealth of the world is owned by 20% of the population.) Wouldn’t this border on communism and authoritarian rule. Many will point out that it will even create a military police state which will deprive citizens of basic human rights and democratic freedom. Cuba is seen as an example.
Advocates of capitalism will let you know,that any attempt to interfere with the market structure will result in inefficiencies and bureaucracy. Of course, Cuba’s trump card would include the inequalities, inefficiencies and human rights violations that are traits and characteristic of capitalism and imperialism.
Ben Carson feels that poverty can be a state of mind and this is true. There are instances where the individual level of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation can help determine a life of poverty or wealth. Some misled folks also believe that some races are by characteristic lazy and not enterprising. Fortunately, we need not pay attention to such poppycock as the evidence shows that there are bums in all races. What is real is that poverty is an institution created by man and anything that man created can be destroyed. So far Apartheid and Slavery have been toppled and any effort to discredit and remove poverty should be welcomed.
Of course, outlawing poverty may see changes in the existing status quo and might require a paradigm shift. There will definitely be winners and losers to an extent but the glory will go towards humanity. There are no guarantees that a poverty free world will eliminate crime, violence and injustice but just imagine. Indeed, we may just be changing the types of crimes and ills but why stick to the evil we know when we can venture into a new and exciting world. Just imagine such nonsense. Poverty is illegal.
Clifton Neil is a university lecturer in marketing and a lover of history and literature. Contact – firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter. @cliftongneil