Can We End Poverty?

While poverty is a subjective term, it is a fact that, right now, not the marketplace, public policy, nor charitable giving consistently covers the necessities that so many people in this country desperately need. Millions must choose between healthy food, adequate housing, reliable health insurance, quality childcare, and many other essentials because their job doesn’t pay a living wage, or they cannot work for various justifiable reasons.

Meanwhile, many of the wealthiest Americans pay no income tax and do an outstanding job of converting taxable income into protected wealth, playing a massive role in keeping America’s public coffers without the resources to address this situation, along with other needs. Similarly, tax loopholes allow U. S. companies to create “headquarters” in other (low-tax) counties to escape paying their fair share in this country.

Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘What are our responsibilities to others?’ We discuss another question as well, ‘Are we too busy?’

From a different perspective, many well-intentioned people point to various religious texts that say, in effect, the poor will always be with us. But there is theological debate over whether this means there will always be poor people or, coming at it from a completely different angle, advising those with means to have an affinity or allegiance with those of extremely limited resources over the “needs” of those who either do all right or, more to the point, have considerable resources that could help meet more needs in this country.

On the political front, many wonder if anybody is worth enough to be a billionaire. Did you know that there are 614 billionaires? The wealthiest 400, in fact, hold $3.2 trillion in assets. A slice of those resources could go a long way toward meeting the needs of our poorest neighbors.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, when those in government decide to help the poor, our existing programs do a pretty good job at alleviating their immediate needs?

Can we end poverty? Should we at least give it a try?

Related questions: What is the greatest problem facing humanity? How will the economy be impacted by COVID-19? What is the purpose of money? How do we turn ideas into actions?

5 thoughts on “Can We End Poverty?”

  1. In my estimation, we cannot end poverty. There are two simple reasons for this:

    1) As long as capitalism is our primary economic system, we will have poverty. This is because capitalism demands winners and losers, and thus wealth inequality.

    In theory, capitalism should actually *reduce* poverty. Companies, always willing to get a sales advantage, will hire the least expensive workforce, meaning that jobs and a regular salary will be made available to the least fortunate. This would, in an ideal world, lift that person or group out of poverty.

    However, as we have seen recently, if possible, companies will hire someone and make every effort to pay them as little as possible. This means, unfortunately, not paying a livable wage, manipulating circumstances to avoid paying benefits, or shipping jobs overseas altogether to find an even cheaper workforce elsewhere.

    Which leads me to reason number 2: there is no desire to end poverty among the majority of people who could do something about it. This is a consequence of the first reason, as our economic system incentivizes having a group of people be perpetually poor. One would hope that empathy and concern for our fellow human beings would outweigh crass financial policy, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Which is not to say that we shouldn’t try. Even if eliminating poverty is not possible, reducing it as much as possible is a noble goal. The fewer people struggling to get enough food, a decent education, a good-paying job, the better off we all are.

    And as Michael points out in his discussion of the question, while the pandemic has let a lot of death and suffering in it’s wake, it has also illustrated that we can do great things for large numbers of people when we have the proper motivation to do so. Which makes it a little sad that we need extreme circumstances like this to do anything at all.

    1. I should point out that while I seem to be complaining about capitalism, I should point out that I am not against capitalism in theory. I am, however, against the form of hyper-capitalism we are living through right now, where profit is put above individual or societal good.

      I think capitalism can be a useful tool, but it needs reasonable checks and balances to avoid some of the excesses we are seeing.

      1. I just finished reading a book on the history of Scotland. Times were much harder then. There was so much fighting and killing between neighboring groups and neighboring countries, even up to about 1800. Ending poverty is a noble goal, but I believe can only be realized to a certain extent. Progress will best be achieved, I believe, mainly by a combination of local, community and state efforts with some more limited backing by national programs. No matter how many taxes are paid in, people in charge of it will waste and misuse much of it, especially in Washington.

  2. No. To end poverty, we would have to eliminate greed and selfishness, things that are ingrained in us. “For hundreds of millions of the desperately poor, the outlook for food and other necessities of life will be no better . . . unless the nations of the world act decisively to alter current trends.”— Anne Buchanan in Food, Poverty & Power.
    It’s unrealistic to pin our hopes for eliminating poverty on some kind of fundamental change in human nature, which is what would have to happen.
    While people can be taught how to be generous and selfless, no amount of education will rid the earth of greedy people. Education will produce change only in people who want to change. The harsh facts of history raise serious questions about people’s desire, and even their ability, to make the changes that are needed.

  3. Yes we can. I’ve heard that the $300 a month child tax credit has reduced the number of poor children in this country by 50%. And this in a politically polarized country! Imagine what we can accomplish if we all come together and decide that all children should have the opportunity to thrive. That would take a miracle, but I believe that nothing is impossible with God.

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