How did the world come to this – the poorest 40% of the population only account for 5% of global income. What’s even crazier is that the 8 most wealthy people in the world (only 0.0000001% of the world’s population), combined, have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the total population. That’s $426 billion in the hands of just 8 men. At first glance, this definitely looks like a massive problem! You would think that the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg (who are all part of these 8 men) would be a bit more generous. I mean, under 5% of their total wealth ($20 billion) was the GDP of Afghanistan in 2016!

How did this come to be? There are more than enough resources in the world to cater for the needs of every single human being who lives on it – is the problem just that some people are more selfish than others? It has to be the case: people are not willing to share. This certainly supports the utility maximisation theory (i.e. that consumers always want the most satisfaction possible), so maybe we, the economists, were right all along. After all, if people really were morally conscious and empathetic towards others, then 1 person wouldn’t die every 4 seconds due to a lack of food.

Ok, maybe I’m jumping to conclusions too quickly – I mean you, a caring, friendly person, cannot be responsible for the severe malnourishment of millions of children. But tell me something, when you walked past that homeless man on the street on your way to work this morning, did you offer him any money? I’ll admit it, I didn’t. For me, the possibility of the homeless man using the money to fuel a drug or alcohol addiction was too great – how could I guarantee that the money would buy resources to improve his situation? Well, I could have bought him a sandwich. But how would I know which sandwich fillings he likes? He may have allergies that I’m not aware of. Ok then, I could perhaps buy him some warm, comfortable clothes. But I don’t know his clothing size, or his colour preferences. You could argue that if his situation is so desperate, then he won’t care whether I get him a blue jacket or an orange one, however, wealthy people walk past him every day so I’m sure he must care about his appearance as his clothes are probably his only possessions. Alternatively, you could also argue that I should just ask the man about his tastes and preferences but doing this would show my lack of trust in him – why should I go with him to buy him some food/clothes when I could just give him the money and let him do it alone?

From the above discussion, I’ve come to the conclusion that helping the few homeless people in our neighbourhoods isn’t as easy as it seems. If we can’t meet the needs of the poor in our local communities, what hope do we have to help a whole developing country where the majority of the population is poor? To this day, the extreme living conditions of some people in the world astound me. For example, in Mumbai, each person has 1.1 square metres of open space; compared to the equivalent figure for London which is 31.68 square metres, 1.1 square metres seems like living in a small, cardboard box.

However, from experience I can tell you that the poorest of people can be the happiest. Likewise, the richest of people can be the most dissatisfied. The truth is, maybe we’ve been trying to solve the wrong problem this whole time – maybe the aim should be to alleviate stress, sadness and discontent in the world instead of trying to alleviate poverty.

Who knows, the poor people in the world might be happy with their lives – subjecting them to the developed world through financial aid and other acts of ‘kindness’ might be making them worse off. Think about it, if you were living with a tribe in a remote part of Africa with no knowledge of the luxuries of living in New York, you would have no reason to be resentful of your situation. In fact, you wouldn’t even need things like financial aid from the developed world. I bet you would be happier if charities like Oxfam didn’t keep hassling you and reminding you of the life you could have had if you were born in the rich suburbs of Chicago. Introducing the poor to these luxurious lifestyles through the provision of televisions and Internet access probably makes them more depressed, don’t you agree?

Therefore, although I’m sure that charities like Oxfam have good intentions and beliefs, they might be better off doing nothing at all. I propose that they let people live their lives, whether that be in a remote, poor village in India, or in a filthy rich neighbourhood in New York. After all, money isn’t what we need to have a happy life. We need food, shelter and strong relationships with others. I have confidence that anyone in the developing world can live their own happy life, so long as the guilty conscious of the wealthy don’t interrupt it.

Nonetheless, this still doesn’t solve the issue of the homeless man on the street whom I walked past this morning. For him, I’m not really sure what the solution could be. In my eyes, his situation is worse than those living in the most impoverished areas of the world because here, in the developed world, he is a minority. As a homeless man, he isn’t trusted with money (due to drug/alcohol addictions as described before) and he is forced to watch all of the wealthy people around him enjoy luxuries every single day. A sense of community and belonging is what the man needs the most so maybe this is what we should provide (if you have any ideas please let me know in the comments below!).

This post was partly inspired by the Poor Economics book – the start of the post talks about ideas from the book but then my thought process took over… due to this, I am aware that there may be some inaccuracies in this post so if you have read anything hugely invalid then please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance.

Also, the book I linked above is one of the best books I’ve ever read – it’s taught me so much so I would highly recommend checking it out.

Here’s a podcast episode from Freakonomics which you might like if you enjoyed this post.

The featured image for this post is from the Scottish Housing News.

These are some sources where I got some statistics from:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/16/worlds-eight-richest-people-have-same-wealth-as-poorest-50

http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats

http://www.poverty.com

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/You-have-just-1-1-square-metres-of-open-space/articleshow/13585198.cms

17 thoughts on “Is Poverty a Problem?

  1. Oh, gosh. There’s no easy answer, is there? I’ve just requested the book you’ve recommended from my local library. I suppose you can SPEAK to the homeless person and ask what he wants. You have to feel physically safe to do that, though, don’t you? That’s harder than it should be, too… My dad once offered a homeless man on the street in Portland, Oregon (USA) a sandwich. “Come into this store, I’ll buy you whatever food you want.” The man said no, so my father assumed he wanted money to buy alcohol or drugs. Statistically speaking, he probably did. I wish I had an answer…

    I enjoy your posts! Thanks!
    –willo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Willo, your dad’s experience shows just how hard it can be to help people in need – it begs the question: if the homeless aren’t willing to accept the resources we offer, do we still have a responsibility to help them? If so, how?

      Like

      1. I just finished Part 1 of Poor Economics this morning. I’m really enjoying it! Thanks for the recommendation.

        A quick tip: above, you provide the link the the book just saying “this book”–maybe give the title there in the link description for people who might be searching it out by cut & paste or something instead of navigating through Amazon’s site.

        The book title is too useful to hide under the link! 🙂 (Hope you don’t find this advice too forward.)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What an incredible post! Wanna share this quote from David-Leonard Willis who wrote it under a Amazon review of the book Principle-Centered Leadership :

    “I have concluded that the root cause of all the ills of the world is that humans do not live their lives according to the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have others do unto you.

    For myself I know that if I truly lived the Golden Rule I would feel much more pain at the unacceptable gap between the rich and the poor because as one of the rich I would see myself or my loved ones as one of the starving and would want to do something about it.

    We need more of the Mother Teresa style of leadership. She spoke very little, rolled up her sleeves and just waded into the slums of the poorest of the poor, while my leadership style has been to keep at a safe distance and say “Hey, someone should do something about this.”

    The big difference between Mother Teresa and me is that she lived the Golden Rule while I just mouth it.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yibo Wang,
      Your Mother Teresa reference is curious. She was not in the business of helping the poor. She was in the business of converting heathens (Hindus). She was not a friend of the poor, but a fried of poverty. Almost all the money that was given to her organization she used for maintaining her missions and almost nothing went to assist the poor. She had great press but did nothing much to help. Indeed, she harmed the poor out of her rigid religious dogma.
      I call her Teresa the Terrible. Hitchens wrote and spoke extensively about her. He called her “The Ghoul of Calcutta.” Check out some of Hitchens’ videos on Youtube where he lays it out clearly.
      Teresa the Terrible did not even allow palliative use of painkillers. She said that suffering was ennobling and when you suffer, Jesus was kissing you. She recommended pain for others but traveled about in First Class and had her medical treatment done at the Mayo Clinic.
      She was an evil person who has been painted as a saint by the Catholic church because she served the one important mission of the church — convert people to Catholicism. She did not even believe in the bs she was peddling.
      Twain had written that once a man gains a reputation as an early riser, he can peacefully sleep till noon. Teresa gained a reputation for serving the “poorest of the poor” and she lived a life of luxury and comfort, flying around the world mouthing inane platitudes while actually harming the interests of the poor on whose backs she built her fortune and reputation.
      I respectfully suggest you learn something about the reality of Teresa and her mission.

      Like

  3. One suggestion for helping hungry homeless people on the street is to keep gift certificates in your pocket. When I worked in Detroit years ago I handed out McDonalds gift certificates to homeless people on the street. It may not be the most nutritious food, but I knew it couldn’t be used for booze or smokes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My husband and I often carry gift cards with us for this purpose–especially if we’re on a trip to a big city. It’s just as easy to give a gift card as it is to give cash. And I’d guess that size and comfort matter to the homeless, yes. But color and style–probably not.

    And if Mother Teresa had been working to convert the lost of India, she would have been assassinated or at least given a ride out of the country. Somebody needs to get real.

    I appreciate your heart for the poor. God bless!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your initiative to use gift cards/vouchers is quite simple, yet extremely effective at solving a lot of the issues discussed in the post; I can’t believe the idea never crossed my mind! Nevertheless, I’m so grateful that you brought it to my attention because it’s the best idea I’ve heard so far. I’ll definitely be trying it out, although I don’t usually have many gift cards/vouchers… but I’m sure I can make it work!

      Like

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