Why is society responsible for poverty?

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Aside from any ethical considerations, on a practical level, society should be responsible for poverty because the consequences of poverty harm all of society. Poverty increases crime, for example, which we must all pay for, one way or another, in increased policing and the very high cost of incarceration.  ...

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Aside from any ethical considerations, on a practical level, society should be responsible for poverty because the consequences of poverty harm all of society. Poverty increases crime, for example, which we must all pay for, one way or another, in increased policing and the very high cost of incarceration.   Poverty means people are not contributing as much as they could to the tax rolls, which means all of us must pay more.  Poverty harms business interests, as people who have businesses frequently complain, for instance, that congregations of homeless people near their shops make it unpalatable for customers to frequent those shops.  Poverty has an adverse effect upon real estate values, too, which can diminish societal assets. Poverty harms the economy, since poor people do not receive as good educations as middle-class and wealthy people do, and thus we are not capitalizing on all the talent and intelligence that we could.  Poverty is also a factor in political instability.  A nation with a large middle class is far less likely to have a revolution, and there seems to be some evidence that terrorists are bred more in poverty than in wealth.  All in all, why would a society not want to tackle the problem of poverty? 

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In his book CHAVS: The Demonization of the Working Class, author Owen Jones offers a detailed and fascinating look at the problems facing working class Britons today. One theme that occurs frequently is the idea that the working classes are poor because they lack ambition, due in part to lack of education. But in previous generations, many Britons who lacked a formal education were able to have secure financial lives because they worked in trades, such as manufacturing, building, and various domestic services. Many manufacturing industries have moved to countries where costs are far lower, in order to maximize profit (clothing and shoes are a good example of this, as these were once staple industries of Great Britain--most shoes are now made in China, where the cost of labor is much lower).

Similarly, in the United States, many jobs once done by the working classes (who may or may not have been college educated) are no longer as prevalent as they once were. Many jobs have been replaced by automated functions, for example, highway toll collectors and automatic check out stations at grocery stores. We tend to throw away items instead of having them repaired (repair shops for everything from shoes to televisions were once commonplace). Most major manufacturing (of automobiles, electronics, etc.) have moved overseas, again, to maximize profits.

The reason that "society" is responsible for this downturn in the fortunes and opportunities of the working classes is that society dictates what is valuable in the marketplace, as well as identifying what is considered more desirable among consumers in terms of convenience. Our society seems to value cheap goods and speed over durability and local employment.

 

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First of all, not everyone would agree that society is responsible for poverty.  Some would say that people who are poor are poor through their own fault.  If they would work harder and make better decisions, they would not be poor.  Therefore, it is their responsibility and not that of society.

If, however, we say that society is responsible for poverty it is because society sets up the “rules of the game” and the “playing field” by which and on which people live their lives.  This helps to determine who becomes poor and who becomes wealthy.

For example, it is society that decides how the school system will be set up.  Will children in poor areas have poorer schools or will more resources be given to their schools to try to help them catch up?  Will people who cannot easily afford to go to college be given financial aid to help them?  These sorts of questions are decided by society and have a major impact on the life chances of various classes of people.

As another example, society sets rules for what will be done with wealth.  Will there be high taxes on the wealthy so that the poor may be helped?  Will there be programs to help the poor get the training they need for good jobs or to get child care that will allow them to work?

All of these are reasons why we should hold society responsible poverty.  Society determines the rules by which people have to live their lives.  At times, these rules make it hard for some people to get out of poverty.  Therefore, society is responsible for the fact that they are poor.

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