Poverty Anywhere is a Threat to Prosperity Everywhere.
Newspapers, discussions, budgets and surveys all echo, today, the path that humanity has trodden onto. This reflects how the world, this moment, is committed to a type of economic development that concentrates on the industrial sector, an absolute growth strategy and an exponentially increasing technological use. Yet this unidirectional focus on efficiency at the cost of scarcity considerations has not yielded desired results. Political upheavals, breakdown of the social fabric and the abject poverty seem to be the inescapable consequences of these rising growth rates.
We have compartmentalized humanity right from the global north-global south to the below and above poverty lines. Such a perspective, however, is problematic as it shadows over the interconnectedness of economies, societies and lives. The truth of the above theme, “Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere”, becomes starker in this context where all effects are permeated across borders and boundaries. In addition to this proximity of poverty, poverty is also a multidimensional concept.
Besides the financial (economic) aspect, poverty, as Amartya Sen would see it, is also ‘unfreedom’ in a number of ways. It entails in it social aspects like gender, political aspects like the right to freedom of speech and psychological aspects like happiness. All of these are also interwoven together, often forming the vicious circles of not only poverty but well being. Poverty is also inextricably linked to inequality. A highly unequal society is an implication of the large majority of the poverty-stricken population. While some scholars seem to look at inequality as a tool for efficiency, this view would persist only for some and for the shorter run. For the greater good and larger masses both poverty and inequality are like a disease that slowly eats up the entire social fabric of the country from within.
From an exclusively economic point of view, poverty would imply a low savings rate in the economy which is analogous to low investment and consequently slow growth of the economy. Besides this, increased poverty also hampers people’s access to basic facilities like clothing, food, and shelter. This leads to people being increasingly distrustful, crimes rising at an unprecedented rate and a growing unease and dissatisfaction that often take the form of violence and rage in society. Difficult conditions of living also make people question the legitimacy of the state. A decreasing voter turnout, larger number of strikes and protests etc. are some means of such expression.
Such implications of poverty have far-reaching consequences that do not limit themselves to the individual or household. These have consonance in the entire community, region and country. For instance-Depreciation in the American exchange rate due to political dynamics with West Asia may affect an Indian farmer’s daughter’s wedding too. Such everyday instances indicate that the corroborations mentioned above are not only limited to nation states but stretch far beyond.
The prosperity, which itself is a multidimensional and a dynamic aspect is naturally disrupted due to such a discourse. While prosperity may have financial or economic roots, it encompasses many more parameters. Analogous to poverty, prosperity also has a tautological relation with a number of variables. Prosperity can be measured in economic, social, political and behavioural terms. A mature democracy with a well functioning system of rights and a mutually cohesive community are both instances of prosperity. Decent employment, proper education and gender sensitivity are also indications towards a more prosperous country. While some issues indicate prosperity at the national level, some others extend to the world scale. Environment among these is the most essential. A healthy environment, fresh air to breathe and a check on the extinction of species are all issues that bother the entire international community and would lead to upliftment in the well being of all if improved.
Therefore not only capital, in its literal sense, but also social capital, cultural capital and natural capital are the fuels to the prosperity of the human race. All of these draw from the economic standing in terms of ‘poverty'. These are dynamics that form as a synthesis of human minds, behaviours and actions, and not in isolation.
There is no ‘they' and ‘we' but an all-encompassing ‘us'. Keeping aside our ideologically tainted lenses, we need to realize in unity, the singularity of the thread that weaves poverty and prosperity anywhere and everywhere around us. Ironical, as it may sound, the terms ‘poverty’ and ‘prosperity’ are not antonyms but two sides of the same coin that needs to be flipped with a guiding philosophy of development.
- Mimansa Sahrawat