Poverty is not a simple economic question

Posted: April 16, 2011 in Analysis, culture

While Marxist doctrines underpin poverty as an implication of economic explotation of the wealthy capitalists with a rich historical material basis of class struggles, somewhere in the recesses of my mind I was not fully convinced with such construct, even until now. If my political officers could read this, they would brand me a failure and a traitor to Marxism.

While it is true that poverty is a phenomenon resulting from conflict of power and unequal distribution of wealth, as it is measurable in economic terms, there are still other truths in it that could lead to explain why some people just remain poor. In the lives and minsets of people, poverty is a shared construct, an experience that is associated to several meanings. So, it could be redefined.

The church in our community is currently surveying the population of 19 baranggays. In the survey, economic status is not even measured by the family income, but through some conditions in their life (i.e. having children studying in private schools, having a car, renting or owning a house, number of household members working etc.). It does not ask for the family income. Ownership or possessions, capacity to provide private education have become indicators to measure poverty or being well off.

Life quality has become an indicator of one’s income, the status in life is being reconstructed by the people themselves. I could probably own properties if I wanted to and so I could qualify in that survey in the upper middle class, with the salary I get for my own. But, then the context of family living that I find myself restricts me from doing that.

Dependency for one’s convenience deprives me from utilizing my income to generate more income or possess properties. In this dependency culture within the Filipino family, the biggest earner becomes the biggest loser in the end. The only gain he gets, if his generosity is appreciated is a “thank you”. In this condition, cultural orientation of the individual members of the family are more influencial to define the economic state of the family, rather than the exploitations of capitalism.

Poverty, then, is a life-condition that people in relationships create for themselves. While one earns more, the ones deprived are conditioned to demand or expect from him. The creation of wealth works in the oppposite way: to be more profitable in anything, one should be more efficient and effective to expend the least cost with the most gain. In the condition of dependency, the one deprived or economically powerless seek to deserve more than what they actually give.

While a family, with members who have regular income can practice equal distribution of wealth among them selves for their own gain, this does not seem to be applied. Again, understanding this relationship puts the critique on capitalism away from the issue. The condition brought about by dependency and the expectations of the deprived becomes a power relationship, where the powerless excise more from the supposed to be powerful. Instead of strengtening the powerful and strengthening each other, the poles move to keep the have nots from having without actually doing something.

The result is stagnation for everyone in the family and some breaking points when the money stops flowing because one ceases to give. It can be considered, indolence, crab mentality, or slothfulness to demand from others to give more because they have. On the other side of this trail is that those who have will be labeled greedy if they do not give. These mindsets create a vicious cycle that is unproductive for both.

Equal distribution of wealth in the family should begin by assessing the need to determine the amount of money that should be kept for the daily expenses. The available resources should then be determined, with allotment for contingencies. Budget has to be allocated as to the need of everyone above the basis of one’s capacity to earn. Those who do not have the capacity must then be shouldered not by a single individual but by everyone who is in that relationship. Ultimately, to reduce dependency, the one’s with no capacity to earn for their livelihood, must be given the opportunity to raise money for their own.

Some mistaken religious notions affect to perpetuate this condition: “”love one another”;”give generously”; “to those who gained more, more shall be added”. While loving is equalled to giving, and loving should be generous and unconditional, we tend to demand more from those who have even if we do not give anything in return. Demands and expectations are added to those who have gained more through their fruitful labor, instead of letting them enjoy their reward.  Who then is the one poor?

The illustrations I cited here may not be true for everyone, but it takes place in a family where other families depend allot from another. It would not exist if individual members who have the capacity add to each other’s contribution and means to gain more income rather than take more to some others just because they are in capacity and they earn more. That I guess illustrates generosity, love and responsibility.

A poor man may have the worth of all the wealth in this world, when he is rich in heart and mind. A rich man is no richer than a pauper who does not give anything to make another man richer. While we look at poverty as an economic issue, there is also a need for us to look at our selves as to how we enrich others to improve their lives, this is more than giving in monetary terms.


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