Mini-Feature: Poverty is Inevitable

Is poverty in society inevitable?

A basic difference between the way the left and right view the world revolves around the question of scarcity and abundance. Roughly speaking, leftists start with the assumption that there is enough to go around—more than enough—and that the problem with capitalist modes of wealth accumulation is that too much economic work is invested in over-producing luxury items for the top 1 percent of society. We expend resources that could be used to provide housing and other necessities for poor people on developing new generations of superyachts to replace the megayachts of ten years ago that only have one helipad, or lack a freshwater swimming pool. 

This waste is irrational and inefficient and represents theft, according to the left. The accreted surplus value of people's labor is stolen and fed upwards. If we assumed that the goal of society is to provide a good standard of living for all its members, then we could re-engineer our economic systems so that production was rationalized.

There is a pretty good case to be made for this perspective, and it's compelling, which is why so many people align themselves with it.

The conservative perspective isn't to ask why some people are poor, but—as Thomas Sowell explains—why everyone isn't poor. We emerged on the earth in a state of absolute impoverishment, having inherited nothing except certain genetic propensities that advantaged us against animals and the elements, namely the ability to comprehend the idea of tomorrow. Misery is the basic state of mankind, and all wealth derives from human labor and industry. 

The existence of luxury in the face of starvation is unpleasant, but starvation is really the historical norm. "Post-scarcity anarchism" or the more contemporary "Fully automated luxury communism" offer to give everyone ease and comfort based on inherited technological advances, as though humanity has spent 20,000 years winding the mainspring and now we can just coast on that stored energy forever. 

The problem is that entropy tends to unwind things more quickly than expected, and rapidly declining access to resources will promote hoarding and thus unequal deprivation. 

In sum, the poor you will have with you always.

-Seth Barron, managing editor of The American Mind

I'm sorry to report that Jesus was, once again, right about everything. Annoying, I know. "The poor you will always have with you": there is, so far as I am aware, not a single counter-example to this maxim anywhere to be found in human history. Which is remarkable, when you think about it. 

There will always be poor people. One reason for this is that "poor" is a relative term: even if today's lower classes can afford iPhones, they still have vastly less buying power and financial influence than the 1%. Eliminating this situation means reducing everyone to a state of complete equity, which somehow never seems to quite come off—perhaps because of something to do with the kinds of people who always undertake to do the reducing. See for example: Kamala Harris's stepdaughter vacationing on a yacht in St. Tropez while the rest of us scrounge for six-dollar gas.

This speaks to another reason, perhaps the main reason, why there will always be poverty: there will always be both tragic circumstances and moral failings. Laziness and profligacy make people poor; so do oligarchic depredations and systemic disenfranchisement. At the moment one very powerful minority faction (the woke Left) is accusing white middle America of the latter and the former at once, while participating enthusiastically in both. It seems they do so with clear consciences and sleep like babies, which suggests to me that Jesus was right about a few other things, too—in particular, about the nature of the human heart. Such is the way of the world.

-Spencer Klavan, associate editor of The American Mind

The poor will always be with us. But what, if ridding ourselves of wealth and trusting that God will provide what we truly need, is poverty? The term has two connotations or meanings, one having to do with money, one having to do with something else. It is clear in a conventional respect that utter destitution makes a person wretched. But even a complete lack of money does not necessarily have this effect. Babies are penniless. Most elderly people who live comfortably do not do so simply on the strength of their bank account. Poverty in the sense of wretchedness is a function of being deprived or bereft of love, of loved ones. 

So it only makes sense that, if ridding yourself of wealth and trusting God to provide is a wise and holy decision, the poor will always be with us because God's benediction extends to the poverty of the faithful itself; the phenomenon of poverty is perpetual because its province is divinely demarcated. Yet it also makes sense that the wretched, those utterly without loved ones, will always be with us, insofar as everyone cannot be forced to trust God and in that way everyone cannot be forced to love their neighbor as they love God, as they love themselves. It is important, in this respect, to feel out the distinction between the mistaken idea that "love wins" and the insight that love never dies.

-James Poulos, executive editor of The American Mind