How poverty is defined Is essential as a starting point to this argument. The definition can fluctuate drastically depending on who you ask. The answers are almost as varied as the proposed solutions. As nice as It Is to Imagine ways to fix the problem we need to first define what the problem Is. If we are looking at poverty as a problem that has existed before us and will almost definitely continue to exist after us we need a definition that can function as a universal. That is a much more difficult ask than saying “under X- thousand dollars a year”.
A brief note: for this definition we will be working with the understanding of economics as a zero sum game, meaning that there is a finite number of resources a society can produce. To accomplish this we will need to start at the very beginning and work our way forward to the present day. As far back as we can go in terms of economics is to look at modern day tribal societies that still use hunter gatherer systems, with little of what we would call modern economics. Although many of these societies are far from deal most people would agree that even by the most broad definition poverty does not exist In them.
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This Is because of two major reasons, the first Is that In a hunting and gathering society people are the most valuable resource and keeping everyone in the tribe satisfied and healthy is of utmost importance. The second is that without agriculture and industry there can be no surplus and therefore no one can own more goods than anyone else for a significant amount of time. With the advent of agriculture on a large scale people were able to develop surpluses either by skill or y luck and to use those surpluses to their advantage.
This is when we start to see classes of people emerge, both those with more wealth than others and those with less. Although early agriculture varied from place to place and time to time generally we can say that this Is when the differences In people’s access to goods reached levels that could be considered poverty. Fundamentally then poverty exists when a fraction of a society Is lacking a surplus of the goods needed for subsistence and another fraction of the society has a wealth of such goods. Poverty cannot exist without wealth, and vice versa.
More specifically poverty is living at or below subsistence in a society that produces enough raw goods for each member to live at, but contains many who live above that, and a few who live far above that. Poverty has no quantifiable level and words like “subsistence” are relative to the the society in which it exists. Though no definition can be perfect this understanding of poverty does justice to how complicated a phenomenon it is, and importantly emphasizes the irony that poverty can only exist is societies that can produce more than they need to consume.