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The Moral Issue of Having Poverty Amongst Affluence

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  • 0:01 Poverty vs. Affluence
  • 0:48 Is Poverty Wrong?
  • 1:59 Affluence
  • 2:54 Why Relieve Poverty?
  • 4:18 Why to Avoid Directly…
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

While we, as a society, seem to be onboard with some degree of economic inequality, a desire to avoid poverty is still apparent. That said, not every way of fixing poverty is as easy as it seems.

Poverty vs. Affluence

Across societies, we see examples of people who have plenty and people who don't have enough. This is especially true from an international perspective, where some countries are wealthy and others have populations that live in the sorts of places that we can't imagine. That said, there is also plenty of distance between the sports star making $20 million a year and the homeless person living in the shadow of the baseball stadium.

In this lesson, we'll examine poverty, or not having the economic resources to ensure a basic standard of well-being. We will also look at affluence, defined as having a surplus of resources to ensure a comfortable standard of life. Finally, we will look at reasons to end poverty, but also examples of times when intervening did more harm than good.

Is Poverty Wrong?

Like I said earlier, poverty is about not having the economic resources to ensure a basic standard of living. However, what defines a basic standard of living differs greatly across societies. Take someone living in the United States, for example. We define a basic standard of living as having running water and electricity, certainly at the most basic levels.

However, there are people today who live without running water and electricity. For example, many Bedouin in Saudi Arabia lack running water, and their only sources of electricity are gasoline-powered generators. Are they living in poverty? Given the fact that many of them drive very expensive SUVs alongside their camels, chances are they aren't.

Worldwide, the measure of poverty is given as having to live on a dollar or two a day. Recently, the amount has shifted towards two dollars, but a lot of what you read still uses one dollar as the benchmark. Remember, prices are lower elsewhere, so whereas a pound of rice costs a dollar at an American grocery store, it could be significantly less elsewhere. Still, those two dollars don't exactly provide a great deal of budgeting room.

Affluence

Affluence, on the other hand, is having a surplus of resources to ensure a comfortable standard of life. Note that I did not say fabulously rich. In this context, affluence is simply the real-life equivalent of the college student who has money saved over after paying tuition, room, board, and a weekly pizza. It is not the bare minimum of survival one would find of a college student who pays tuition, but then survives off of freeze-dried noodles and lives on his buddy's couch, but it is still a far cry from the person whose parents bought him a house and a foreign car as a senior-year surprise.

In short, an affluent society is a successful society. People are working, there's hope for better things to come, and people aren't stuck between decisions like paying tuition or paying for food. However, even in affluent societies, there are often people stuck in poverty.

Why Relieve Poverty?

Let's take two examples, one of which shows poverty on a local level, and the other shows poverty on a global level. Both of these examples serve to show why getting rid of poverty is generally a good thing. First, let's start locally.

Say that you have a group of economically-disadvantaged people living with no easy way out in the midst of relative affluence. By the way, by economically-disadvantaged, I mean severe poverty - the type that you would imagine homeless or living in run-down abandoned buildings. Some of these individuals, by no means all, could turn to an alternative way of getting what they can't have. In short, crime escalates. However, this wouldn't happen if the poverty had been avoided in the first place.

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