Poverty Anywhere is a Threat to Prosperity Everywhere

Winner Of CSC November 2019 Essay Competition : Tiya Singh

In a post-globalised world order, humanity rests on imbricated systems of trade, economy, the environment and a massive, ever- expanding flow of ideas. In such a scenario, poverty threatens the very foundations of this fragile world order. Various economic research studies point toward a recent trend in increasing income inequalities within nations, as marked by the standardised measure of inequality known as the ‘Gini Coefficient’, especially over the past few decades. However, it is important to remember that the consequences of living in grossly unequal societies with millions living in poverty, goes beyond the perspective that mere economic denominators can provide. Poverty is a multi-dimensional problem which encompasses a state of total deprivation of the individual, in terms of social, healthcare and educational opportunities provided to him/ her. Thus, poverty stands in the path as an obstacle for individual to tap their potential to the fullest, and undermines the overall prosperity of the population.

Accepting status quo is often observed to be a commonality amongst the privileged sections of society. We must be aware of the imbalance of power dynamics present in our lives. There seem to exist some arbitrary, almost condescending demarcations of structural hierarchies that we accept as part of the norm, which can only be understood properly once we scratch below the surface. However, this does not mean that the privileged sections are not affected by them. For us to comprehend the imperative behind eradicating inequality, we must analyse the magnitude of social damage as well as the intensification of social evils that sustained inequality brings with itself, not only for those sitting on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, but for the society at large as well. It is the need of the hour for us to formulate a culture that departs from social injustices and cycles of oppression, and actively questions its own apathy.

Small examples of the ruthless pirates of Somalia or even the common fact that urban crime is often located in areas of high poverty, are all symptoms of the malady of poverty. Poverty not only creates wide-ranging economic difficulties, but it also fuels a social and/or political unrest, which is set off by the overpowering instinct for individuals to fulfil their basic needs or what the political thinker, Thomas Hobbes locates in man’s inherent need for ‘self-preservation’.

Thus, coexisting extremities ranging from astute poverty to unbound prosperity, act as a primer for reinforcing multi-layered and forms an interconnected web of social dysfunctionality’s, which almost never occur in isolation . These can of enhance the social distance between the have’s and the have- not’s, increases social tensions, which disrupts their integration due to a misplaced emphasis attributed to only individual status, provides a hindrance to social mobility, propagates social evils of oppression and domination, leads to overall economic stagnation, and reflects a poor quality of social relations. All of the social complexities pointed above lead to a pervasive deficit of trust amongst various social groups, spawning discontentment and thereby threatening the nation’s prosperity.

The factors above form conditions for impending chaos, radicalisation, uncontrolled violence and instability, which we can understand through the case of the Arab spring, where in revolts started in sprouts, emanating from citizens facing a high scarcity of jobs and a fragmented economy. These political tensions and living in sustained inequality also have far-reaching consequences when we talk in terms of the mental and physical health of the deprived- as it leads to their anxieties, diminished cognitive enrichment, nutritional deprivation, and chronic stress. This makes them vulnerable, volatile and socially insecure, undermining the maintenance of order in the society. This thought process viciously feeds upon itself, for the poor internalise their failings and accept these glaring, socio-economic and psychological inadequacies as a part of their lives- solidifying their overall inertia for change/ social mobility.

Karl Marx’s famous evaluation of capitalist structures also has time and again highlighted how in perpetuating systems of inequality, capitalism ensures that some will always remain subservient to those who own capital or private property, which will be convinced to accept low wages. This condition creates the grounds for revolution, as observed in the context of communism in Russia, an example of inevitable strife that results from an imbalance of power. In his one of his most films, ‘Modern Times’, Charlie Chaplin’s character offers a sharp critique of the crippling effects of industrialisation, in which the workers, who are treated as ‘cogs in a wheel’ are always made worse off by the system. That is not to say that capitalism itself is responsible for poverty- for, a novel approach to capitalism has emerged which propagates what is called as ‘conscious capitalism’. It is a system in which the institutions and stakeholders take into consideration the global supply chain and the communities it inevitably affects, providing a compassionate touch to doing business, with an enlightened self-interest at its core.

To conclude, it is crucial for us to remind ourselves that we must be cautious in our regard to poverty- for poverty must never be mistaken as a crutch to provide charity to the poor- for this according to Gandhiji “It furthers the degradation of a nation, promoting laziness, idleness, hypocrisy, and even crime.” Poverty is a malady that cannot simply be erased by a mere band- aiding of the symptoms, rather it demands in-depth measures that wipe out the root causes to put an end to the vicious cycle of poverty and underscore the long-term empowerment of the masses.

We must also be wary of the covert forces and institutional disequilibrium’s that legitimise systems of hierarchy. And our policies must reflect the same- they must be coupled along with systemic reforms in the major sectors of education and healthcare to generate a holistic system of welfare. There is also a need to set up robust models of good-governance which integrate policies that aim toward an equitable distribution of resources, that cuts across shackles of caste class or gender and can effectively reach out to the most marginalised sections. In order to improve social relationships, paving the path to a more tolerant and inclusive society, the youth of the nation, especially, can act as catalysts in the fight for a prosperous society, free from the many perils of poverty. This would be a step in the right direction to creatively align our development agenda with the objective that drives the overall well-being of the population- a population that doesn’t just survive, but thrives.