Today we shall examine the issue of poverty. There is currently a fight being waged to eradicate poverty. The strategy appears to be to establish bureaucracies to administer funds earmarked for poverty related projects. To increase the likelihood that these funds will be used effectively, it would be prudent to examine how different cultures have historically managed their poor.
The cultures examined in this study were segments of the: American Indian, Middle Eastern, and African. While the methods for addressing poverty appeared to differ, there seemed to be a general principle that underlined how poverty was addressed.
The principle seemed to be that poverty was an experience to which all people were vulnerable and may pass through during their lifetime. Therefore since poverty was not a permanent state but a temporary experience, those who were not yet experiencing poverty were admonished not to despise those who were.
Poverty could be experienced due to a number or reasons including: transgressing a cultural norm, a poor attitude to work, addictions to negative behaviours, borrowing and being unable to repay, being a surety for a friend, poor investment decisions, ill health, death of a financially supportive relative, loss of employment, being born into it, war, poor government decisions, unfavourable climatic conditions, and expected or unexpected calamities.
The reasons for poverty can therefore be divided into three categories: the individual’s fault, someone else’s fault, nobody’s fault. Regardless of the reasons, the community appeared to see it as their responsibility to assist persons out of this experience.
In the first category, poverty was a consequence of a person’s negative behaviour. The community’s responsibility appeared to be to encourage the person to turn away from the negative behaviour. So whatever negative behaviour brought the individual into the poverty experience, the individual was encouraged to practise the opposite behaviour to get out of it.
In the second and third categories, a person’s poverty experience was not a consequence of their own choices. The communities’ responsibility appeared to be to lend assistance and reinforce the concept that the experience was temporary. This would help the individual not to be overcome by the experience to the extent of giving up. The community appeared to cultivate an environment where the individual experiencing poverty could maintain a positive attitude and thereby be prepared to recognize and take advantage of any opportunity that arose.
Assistance for persons experiencing poverty seemed to come from three sources. The first source was from businesses that accepted that there were aspects of their economic growth that they had little control over, and therefore became thankful enough to share some of their excess with the poor. The typical example is of farmers planting and tending crops who accept that the yield is beyond their control. They may influence the outcome with fertilizer and irrigation, but they cannot really control the yield.
Another example is with trading in goods and services. The business owners cannot control what the potential customer finds attractive enough to purchase. They may influence the decision to purchase by enhancing the presentation of an item or service, but they cannot really control the volume of sales.
The second form of assistance came from those who transgressed certain cultural standards and were brought before the authorities to be punished. The punishment for some transgressions was for the offender to assist the poor either financially or with their labour.
The third form of assistance came from persons in the community who were encouraged to lend to the poor. This appeared to reinforce the concept that poverty was a temporary experience.
Some of these methods of assisting the poor would be burdensome in an environment where personal income and corporate taxes are excessive, the motive for business growth is greed, crop larceny is effectively ignored, and those who reportedly forcibly remove garments donated to the Salvation Army for the poor, and subsequently sell them, are not prosecuted.
To properly address poverty in the manner described in this study requires a change in attitude within the community. The poor should not be viewed as if they do not deserve to aspire to the greatest heights of achievement. When they do succeed, it should be viewed as a confirmation of the temporary nature of the poverty experience, not that the person must have been exceptional.