The Illusion of Poverty: The Age of Sharing Awaits Us

Huge caveat: The author fortunately has not suffered directly from impoverishment during his life. (We all suffer from it indirectly.) Thus, he contributes this piece, not as an expert on the “topic,” but as attempt to generate productive exchange.

People in the world, in fact most people in the world, suffer greatly because they are economically poor. (Many are spiritually and culturally rich and this should give many unfulfilled “Northerners” pause regarding the “civilized” nature of our lifestyle.) They go without food, water, housing, health care, education, etc., because they cannot purchase these necessities. Why? It is because these items, despite being core basic necessities for a fully actualized life, have all been commodified. (All resources are commodified, even air–you don’t pay a monthly fee for air yet but you suffer, and pay for medical treatment, from the reckless polluting of the atmosphere.) Commodification in our capitalist world dictates that these (all) resources are provided (or not) so as to maximized profits for the few. This is a terribly inhumane situation and one that will continue to bring great suffering to the world if not ultimately trigger the elimination of our species.

But hold on. There is something incredibly simple about this terrible situation. It is completely an artificial construction! It isn’t like we don’t have enough food, land, water, or shelter to provide every human sufficient resources to self-actualize. We do! Yet we don’t make this grand aim a priority and most of us are not yet willing to share. But we could change this, couldn’t we?

What is holding us back? I think three things are key. One, we accept inequality and selfishness as reasonable/normal and a natural outcome of human society. I see this point of view as a cop out/rationale which can be tackled by intentional efforts to share and redistribute resources so that every person is a “have” and no one is a “have not.” Two, we must change the economy from a profit-based one to an equity-based one. We need progressive taxes (not more regressive ones) and shared resources. One need no further than the difference between health outcomes in the USA (where more and more hospitals are becoming privatized and costs are skyrocketing) and those in Europe (where socialized medicine reigns)–U.S. is ranked #37 by the WHO while 17 of the top 20 ranked are European (link) Similar benefits would come by making sure that all of us have true access to the best education possible, clean water, healthful food and safe housing. (Recent efforts to privatize these resources has resulted in worse conditions, not better.) Three, we should have more free time to give to our families, children, friendships, & communities; some European countries are moving in this direction. Capitalism has demanded more of our time (men and women) and not made us any happier or fulfilled. It is also destroying the planet due to its “rational” short-sightedness that dictates that an old-growth forest is worth more as a ream of paper now than a flourishing ecosystem for perpetuity.

So, some big changes in consciousness and structures are necessary, but we are closer than we think. Recall it was just 150 years ago that many thought slavery was necessary to deliver a good life. Some still do, but most do not and we are part of that most and we can make a better future for ourselves and the future.

1 thought on “The Illusion of Poverty: The Age of Sharing Awaits Us”

  1. Right on, Peter! A more balanced income distribution can be expected to put an end to overpopulation. When people feel sufficiently secure, they forego the large families that represent a sort of “savings” that they can draw on in their old age. Our “animal nature” builds in us the “territorial imperative” attitude that treats material goods as if they are a zero sum game and equates wealth with possessions when in fact the vast majority of wealth today comes through knowledge, which unlike material things GROWS WHEN IT IS SHARED. (Sorry to shout.) The “upside down” economy we live in is arranged so as to guide the flow of money “uphill” into the hands of those who could never spend what they have on the necessities of life while many are either just barely scraping by or without access to work that will provide them a chance to live dignified, healthy lives. I don’t blame capitalism, only this incarnation of it, which is an abomination. Good governance can allow the positive energies of free enterprise to deliver “goods” and equitably reward all. Sorry to preach, but I’m with you!

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