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Can someone please help come up with an introduction, including a thesis, for my argumentative paper to argue that we should not simply assume that because poverty has been a struggle historically that this will always be the case (mentioned in Chapter 3 of Poverty in America by John Iceland). 

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Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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While poverty has existed as long as recorded history, whether it is an inevitable condition or not is another matter. The underlying causes of poverty have long been debated, with no consensus on that question anticipated in the foreseeable future. The reason for that lack of a consensus on the causes of poverty is because there is no one cause; rather, poverty is the result of a number of factors, some man-made, others natural, the latter generally a reference to the vulnerability of a certain population to natural disasters, although the linkage between man-made environmental degradation and such disasters is causing even that factor to evolve considerably. In short, though, the fact of poverty as a persistent problem throughout history remains an embarrassment to the wealthier centers of population, especially those whose wealth was accumulated as a result of the exploitation of the natural resources of others. Without discounting the role of values, rights (e.g., freedom of expression, freedom to engage in the marketplace in competition with others, etc.), culture and traditions, there is no question that many of the wealthier nations of the developed world owe at least a little of their economic status to advantageous relationships to weaker regions. 

In preparing a thesis statement on the subject of poverty, then, one needs a firm grasp of the myriad issues that contribute to the propensity of certain categories of human beings to subsist at levels associated with poverty. Beyond that basic understanding of causes lies the key to developing the thesis statement. Class distinctions and endemic poverty have been around pretty much forever. One can, however, argue persuasively that such seeming permanence is not a given; ultimately, poverty can be alleviated through human actions, as its underlying causes are predominately the product of human activities, such as exploitation, excessively inequitable distributions of wealth, and the aggravation of natural calamities brought about by human endeavors, such as deforestation (which causes massive mudslides while depriving the land of natural resources needed to sustain itself; manufacturing processes that pollute rivers and lakes, as well as the air we breathe, thereby diminishing opportunities for certain professions (e.g., fishing) to profit from natural resources; and wage and revenue-sharing policies that unfairly or excessively benefit those who occupy the higher rungs of business at the expense of those at the lower, but equally essential rungs.

Admittedly, addressing or correcting deficiencies in human conduct that causes and/or exacerbates poverty is easier said than done. Even communism, which is posited upon the notion of absolute equality, failed miserably in practice due to systemic failures in its conceptualization and the brutality associated with its practice. Communism, in theory, did not really allow for the “natural” ability of some to excel above others on the basis of their abilities (despite Marx’s notion of “from each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs”). Some are simply more ambitious and/or capable than others, and resent being penalized monetarily for their success, for example, through taxation policies that seek to redistribute wealth more “equitably” despite the more advanced industriousness of some relative to others. To force greater levels of income redistribution upon those who generate productivity and profit historically drives them to one of two directions: insolvency or flight to countries with lower tax rates. [I’m reminded of Rolling Stones guitarist/songwriter Keith Richards’ memoir, Life, in which he describes the band’s decision to leave Great Britain for the south of France primarily because of the former’s exorbitantly high tax rates on that country’s wealthy: "The tax rate in the early '70s on the highest earners was 83 percent, and that went up to 98 percent for investments and so-called unearned income. So that's the same as being told to leave the country."] And, this does not even account for the role in the creation of poverty of unwise choices in where to establish communities. The enormous devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed much of New Orleans in August 2005, may have been exacerbated by climate-change attributed at least in part to activities. At the same time, however, it is reasonable to question the wisdom of establishing a coastal settlement on land that sits below sea-level and needs man-made barriers, or levees, to survive the most forceful element on the planet, the oceans.

So, all of that said, a potential thesis statement, which would follow the opening paragraph, which could discuss the difficulty of reconciling human activities and poverty throughout history, could be something along the lines of: “Poverty is considered a permanent feature of mankind, but could be alleviated or eliminated through sustained efforts at changing human behavior, including through changes in human expectations.”

John Iceland’s Poverty in America: A Handbook, is a very good discussion of the issue. Iceland, however, is sufficiently astute, and a competent-enough social scientist, to appreciate the intractability of this issue. As he notes in his introduction, even basic definitions of “poverty” have evolved over time, as economies have advanced and realistic assessments of what constitutes “poverty” have shifted upwards with that economic growth. The core of his findings, and arguments, however, are that income distribution and a relative paucity of government/national resources attributed to poverty-alleviation have been the primary factors in poverty’s resilience in the United States. If Iceland is correct, can poverty be eliminated, or seriously reduced, in a democratic society in which the wealthy and middle-class resist the levels of taxation that would be necessary to redistribute income to the extent required to raise the incomes of those living below the so-called “poverty line?” In theory, poverty can be alleviated through such measures; in reality, it is far from certain that can occur in a democratic system, and autocratic systems invariably have even worse income disparities than in freer societies. A thesis statement, however, can certainly be articulated that reflects Iceland’s conclusions, as the sample statement provided above suggests.