Wednesday, April 18, 2012


"Forced to surrender their life`s chances before they even know their life`s choices because the poor have no powerful lobby, no political clout, and no good cards in a deck stacked against them already. In America today, we don`t just have a poverty of jobs, we have a poverty of affirmation, a poverty of opportunity, a poverty of optimism and a poverty of hope,”
Travis Smiley
I very much like this quote. In a sense, it reminds me of Amartya Sen's idea of Development as Freedom,
that income poverty should not be the single most important factor in determining development. Sen argues that in spite of a world of sheer abundance, there simultaneously exist populations living in a state of 'unfreedom', unable to realise their capabilities.
I see a lack of political power, even as a part of poverty. Providing food stamps may reduce hunger (and hunger is surely a part of poverty), but it does not restore political power.

In American society, not having a job is not simply not having a source of money, or a means of obtaining health insurance and thus affordable health services, but also not having the a valued role in society, and for many people not having the self respect that comes from work.

Poverty of affirmation is really interesting. How many of us really affirm the value of people as people when they are out of work, when their income falls below the poverty line, when they belong to an underclass with the values of that underclass?

Poverty of opportunity seems to be what Sen was getting at -- the lack of opportunity to get ahead in life, no matter how one defines "getting ahead".

Poverty of optimism is not restricted to those who have little monetary income, but it must be very hard to be optimistic if you don't have a job, don't have health insurance, don't have a decent place to live, and have been in that situation for a long time.

Poverty of hope -- hope of things getting better, hope of a better life for your kids -- is all to common today.

I read Smiley as saying that these conditions are all too often found together, a poverty syndrome if you wish.

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