The existence of absolute poverty today points to the indifference of many in the rich worldby AC Grayling / November 19, 2013 / Leave a comment
Boarded up terraced houses, Salford, Manchester © Photofusion/UIG via Getty Images
Free download: Poverty in the UK: Can it be eradicated—expert essays with contributions from Roger Scruton, Rowan Williams, Bonnie Greer and AC Grayling
In this essay, the philosopher AC Grayling disentangles the many meanings of poverty, paying particular attention to the distinction between the “absolute” and “relative” construals of the term. Both kinds of poverty should concern us, Grayling argues. They both involve “suffering, the loss of human potential, and barriers to opportunity”. Poverty, therefore, is a moral matter.
There are many kinds of poverty, and although some of them are related to the standard economic form—which in its simplest terms can be defined as a debilitating insufficiency of resources—not all of them are the result of lack of money. Even rich people can be poor: in time, in the quality of their relationships and in meaningful connection with the society around them. Doubtless there will be those who regard those forms of poverty as very bearable in the presence of wealth. But among other things this point relates to the saying of Lao Zi, that “he is rich who has enough”—the implication being that the person content with little is better off than the person who has much but is discontented.
There is an allied point. People who have great stores of wealth but never use it, who never spend a cent of the millions they have in the bank, are functionally no different from people who have no wealth at all. A person who has far less in money terms but spends it on things worthwhile and enjoyable, is far richer than the miser. Here the relative notions of wealth and poverty apply to the felt quality of life, to experience and happiness; and it is a commonplace to say that wealth by itself is no guarantor of happiness. Having is not as good a marker of wealth as how it is used, even if the quantity available for that use is much less than the quantity possessed. This implies that the true measure of wealth is how much you spend, not how much you have or earn.
These points should not however be taken to mask the much more serious problem of real material poverty. This is poverty as the lack of sufficient resources…