Poverty as envy, not hunger

The New Yorker has an article on poverty in America, RELATIVELY DEPRIVED. The first part is a facinating look at the history of the measurement of powerty in America. Then assuming that the human urge of envy is not a sinful behavior to supress but natural inclination to support, the second part is a typical proscription of liberal economic policies as the solution to the ills of our time.
As PJ O’Rourke says:

But then there’s the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covert thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.”
Here are God’s basic rules about how the Tribes of Israel should live, a very brief list of sacred obligations and solemn moral precepts, and right at the end of it is, “Don’t envy your friend’s cow.”
What is that doing in there? Why would God, with just ten things to tell Moses, choose, as one of them, jealousy about the things the man next door has? And yet think about how important to the well-being of a community this commandment is. If you want a donkey, if you want a meal, if you want an employee, don’t complain about what other people have, go get your own. The tenth commandment sends a message to collectivists, to people who believe wealth is best obtained by redistribution. And the message is clear and concise: Go to hell.

Consumption-ability is an article on the amazing progress in absolute wealth in just the last 30 years.

One Response to “Poverty as envy, not hunger”

  1. giblfiz says:

    Relative Deprivation… What a load of tripe.
    Ok, well perhaps that’s a little harsh, its probably an interesting measure to keep around on the side, but the actual poverty line is reasonably well drawn. I do think that the poverty line could probably stand a little tweaking as the relitive cost of food drops in relation _specificly_ to housing (which like food is something you just can’t do without), but I pretty much think that “food makes up 1/3 of your budget” pattern is spot on. It’s also worth pointing out that if you vastly redefine “poverty” more than one or two times, then it becomes just another buzzword.
    At the same time I think that consumption-ability is also probably pretty much worthless when looking at the poverty question as well. Most of the consumables that keep droping in price really are more status symbol than anything else. (clothing, most furnature, most appliances and tools etc) Don’t get me wrong, They are great things, I would never want to be without them, or there relentless downward martch in price but the presence or absence of a washing machine does not have any effect on your poverty level (unless, of course you sell it and do something with the profits)
    People, even impoverished people, spend quite a bit of money on toys (tools, entertainment, appliances) and I’m not saying they should’nt. But most of the toy is wraped up in the act of buying the toy and or showing it off. It could all be jewlry and little would change.
    On the other hand Medical care, Housing, and the Price of food are key items. If you want to look at Consumption-ability in relation to poverty I feel like its only fair to stay in these areas (and other similar ones) Why? because being able to buy a toaster doesn’t make you any less poor.
    On the other hand increased Consumption-ability does allow people to buy more and better tools (which are often the same objects as the toys are, but it’s all a question of how you look at them) which should in theory allow more social mobility for the people ocupying the lowest segment.
    I want to end this very rambling post by echoing a point once made by Paul Graham. Often a Bad Thing is a sign of a greater Good Thing. I think the exsample he used was “a headache is a bad thing, but it can be the sign of returning to contiousness which is a greater Good Thing” He pointed out that though economic inequality might be a bad thing, in our society it seems to be a sign that some people are able to be _very_ productive compaired to any other time in history. And that is a Good Thing. (as he points out, if everyone in your society produces the exsact same amount, its unlikely that you are all produceing at the level of einstine)
    oh, and least anyone think that I have lost my somewhat liberal, if still somewhat libertarian leanings… I think that it is unbelevably sad that we still can’t get the actual, traditionally defined poverty line down below 5 percent. In fact given our relitive level of abundance, the amazingly low cost of food, it should be possible to _eliminate_ poverty in the country. And while I think relitive deprivation is mostly political crap, Genuine poverty is still unbelevably troubling to me. That is a battle worth fighting.
    And now I think I have rambled about as much as I care to. I’m not even going to spellcheck it. Ha.

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