While money is measure of wealth, lack of cash can be a measure of lack of wealth, but it is not the social problem of poverty, as a social problem is a deeply embedded would that permeates every dimension of culture and society. It includes sustained low levels of income for members of a community. It includes a lack of access to services like education, markets, health care, lack of decision making ability, and lack of communal facilities like water, sanitation roads, transportation, and communications. Furthermore, it is a “poverty of spirit,” that allows members of that community to believe in a despair, hopelessness, apathy, and timidity.
A “factor” and a “cause” are not quite the same thing. A “cause can be something that contributes to the origin of a problem like poverty, while a “factor” can be seen as something that contributes to its continuation after it already exists. Poverty on a world scale has many historical causes: colonialism, slavery, war and conquest, etc. there is an important difference between those cause and what we call factors that maintain conditions of poverty. The difference is in terms of what we, today, can do about them. We cannot go back into history and change the past. Poverty exists. Poverty was caused. What we potentially can do something is about are the factors that perpetuate poverty.
The simple transfer of funds, even if it is to the victims of poverty, will not eradicate or reduce poverty. It will merely alleviate the symptoms of poverty in the short run. It is not a durable solution. Poverty as a social problem calls for a social solution. That solution is the clear, conscious and deliberate removal of the big given factors of poverty.
The factors of poverty (as a social problem)-ignorance, disease, apathy, dishonesty and dependency, are to be seen simply as conditions. They are not good or bad, they just are conditions. If it is decision of a group of people, as in a society or in a community, to reduce and remove poverty, they will have to, without value judgment, observe and identify these factors, and take action to remove them as the way to eradicate poverty. The big five, in turn, contribute to secondary factors such as lack of markets, poor infrastructure, poor leadership, bad governance, under-employment, lack of skills, absenteeism, lack of capital, and others. Each of them contribute to the perpetuation of poverty, and their eradication is necessary for the removal of poverty.
Let us look briefly at each of the big five in turn
Ignorance means having a lack of information, or lack of knowledge. It is different from stupidity which is lack of intelligence, and different from foolishness which is lack of wisdom. “Knowledge is power”, goes the old saying. Unfortunately, some people, knowing this, try to keep knowledge to themselves (as a strategy of obtaining an unfair advantage), and hinder others from obtaining knowledge. (do not expect that if you train someone in a particular skill or provide some information, that the information or skill will naturally trickle or leak into the rest of a community). It is important to determine what the information is that is missing. Many planners and good minded person, who want to help a community become stronger, think that the solution is education. But education means things. Some information is not important to the situation. It will not help a farmer to know that Romeo and Juliet both died in Shakespeare’s play, but it would be more useful to know which kind of seed would survive in the local soil, and which would not. Unlike a general education, which has its own history of causes for the selection of what is included, the recommended training should be aimed at strengthening capacity and the transfer of information, not for general enlighten.
Where a community has a high disease rate, absenteeism is high, productivity is low, and less wealth is created. Apart from the misery, discomfort and death that results from diseases, it is also a major factor in poverty in a community. Being well (well-being) not only helps the individuals who are healthy, it contributes to the eradication of poverty in the community. We believe it is one of the tenets of PHC (primary health care) that prevention is better than cure. The economy is mush healthier if the population is always healthy; more so than if people get sick and have to be treated. Health contributes to the eradication of poverty more in terms of access to safe and clean drinking water, separation of sanitation from the water supply, knowledge of hygiene and disease prevention – much more than clinics, doctors and drugs, which are costly curative solutions rather than prevention against disease.
Apathy is when people do not care, or when they feel so powerless that they do not try to change things, to right a wrong, to fix a mistake, or to improve conditions. Sometimes, some people feel so unable to achieve something, they are jealous of their family relatives or fellow members of their community who attempt to do so. Then they seek to bring the attempting achiever down to their own level of poverty. Apathy breeds apathy. In the fight against poverty, the mobilize must use encouragement and praise, so that people (1) will want to and (2) learn how to – take charge of their lives.
When resources that are intended to be used for community services or facilities, are diverted into the private pockets of someone in a position of power, there is more than morality at stake here. It is a major cause of poverty. The amount stolen from the public, that is received and enjoyed by the individual, is far less than decrease in wealth that was intended for the public. Economists tell the “multiplier effect.” Where new wealth is vested, the positive effect on the economy is more than the amount created. When investment money is taken out of circulation, the amount of wealth by which the community is deprived is greater than the amount gained by the embezzler. (when a Government official takes a 100 dollar bribe, social investment is decreased by as much as a 400 – dollar bribe, social ironic that we get very upset when a petty thief steals ten dollars’ worth of the society). It is ironic that we get very angry when petty thief steals ten dollars’ worth something in the market, yet an official may steal a thousand or millions dollars worth of damage to the society as a whole, yet we do not punish the second thief for her or his apparent wealth, and purse, which does four thousand or four million dollars worth of damage to the society as a whole, yet we do not punish the second thief. We respect the second thief for her or his apparent wealth, and praise that person for helping all her or his relatives and neighbors. In contrast, we need the police to protect the first thief from being beaten by people on the street. The second thief is the major cause of poverty, while the first thief may very well be a victim of poverty that is caused by the second. Our attitude, as described here, is more than ironic; it is a factor that is caused by the second. Our attitude, as described here, it is a factor that perpetuates poverty. If we reward the one who causes the major damage, and punish only the ones who are really victims, then our misplaced attitudes also contribute to poverty. When embezzled money is then taken out of the country and put in a foreign (eg. Swiss) bank, then it does not contribute anything to the national economy; it only helps the country of the offshore or foreign bank.
Dependency results from being on the receiving end of charity. In the short run. As after a disaster, that charity may be essential for survival. In the long run, that charity can contribute to the possible demise of the recipient, and certainly to ongoing poverty. It is attitude, a belief, that one is so poor, so helpless. That one can not help one’s self. That a group cannot help itself, and that it must depend on assistance from outside. The attitude and shared belief is the biggest self justifying factor in perpetuating the condition where the self or group belief is the biggest outside help. Among the five major factors of poverty, the dependency syndrome is the one closest to the concerns of the community.
These five factors are not independent of one another. Disease contributes to ignorance and apathy, dishonesty contributes to disease and dependency. And so on. They each contribute to each other. In any social change process, we are encouraged to “think globally, but act locally”. The Big Five factors of poverty appear to be widespread and deeply embedded in our cultural values and practices. We may mistakenly believe that any of us, at our small level of life, can do nothing about them. Do not despair. If each of us make a personal commitment to fight the factors of poverty at whatever station in life we occupy, then the sum total of all of us doing it, and the multiplier effect of our actions on others, will contribute to the decay of these factors, and the ultimate victory over poverty. The big five factors of poverty (as a social problem) include: ignorance, disease, apathy, dishonesty and dependency. These, in turn, contribute to secondary factors such as lack of markets, poor infrastructure, poor leadership, bad governance, under-employment, lack of skills, lack of capital, and others. The solution to the social problem of poverty is the social solution of removing the factors of poverty. We can not fight poverty by alleviating its symptoms, but only by attacking the factors of poverty