Poverty – the Only Way is Up

What’s the difference between those considered to be poor, perhaps as The Big Issue vendors are, and those considered to be rich or prosperous in the western world? I’ll give you a clue… it’s probably not what you think!

Well, one major difference is that a person having nothing (zero or minimal assets, including cash) is in reality probably far better off than the rest of the population who are often mortgaged to the hilt in order to buy their home, have a loan to buy their car, and carrying credit card debt.

The lives of the latter are in reality owned by the banks, finance companies, and their employers. Like it or not, these people are slaves whose lives are not their own, often dependent on a regular monthly salary deposit to bail them out. Ring any bells? Ouch!

It’s a matter of perception… in a capitalist society, prosperity is considered to be the result of amassing goods and property, no matter how they are obtained, whilst poverty is the opposite. And it is by cunning manipulation of two of the most powerful human drives – fear and greed – that marketing companies reinforce the capitalist ethic:

Greed – the drive to be perpetually acquisitive; to keep up with (and surpass) the Joneses. For he who has the most “wins”.

Fear – the fear of loss; of losing out; of being an outsider; and ultimately of death, where everything is considered lost. This is why the insurance industry is so enormous.

It is these two basic human instincts that drive global economies, propel stock and commodity markets, and shape national and international politics.

But for those having nothing – with nothing to lose – then a different paradigm can be formulated, with the fear of loss being removed from the equation. You can’t lose something you don’t have!

Not being subject to the limiting factor of the fear of loss actually positions the poor in an incredibly strong position relative to the prosperous. They are able to speak their minds, undertake bold and heroic initiatives, and simply be themselves. All because they have “nothing to lose”. How many successful people in the world – very successful people – have come from “nothing”? The answer is a very large percentage. How many conform to recognised norms? None. How many simply follow the herd? Again, none. And this is one reason why.

Having spent a year living on the streets of our capital amongst the homeless and disenfranchised, the frequenters of day centres and night shelters, what strikes me most is just how capable and resourceful many of these people are. Normal – as in conforming to society’s norms – no. But there is certainly much pent-up potential.

Yet what do the organisations that try to “help” such people do? Try to re-insert them back into a system that has already failed them in the past, and that is itself dysfunctional and failing. But let’s see how many brownie points we get for doing this.

This is absolute nonsense! A far more sensible approach involves The Big Issue’s fundamental axiom – a hand up not a hand out. There is so much raw potential yet contemporary society takes it upon itself to suppress it in favour of maintaining the status quo. This is what happens when governments are involved.

I admit to not being a great believer in the concept of “employment” and “employees”. It had its place in the past and got the Industrial Revolution off the ground. But – except in certain special cases, such as the emergency services, the health service, the military – it has little utility save as to reinforce the social divides and facilitate further governmental control and mismanagement. It would be more beneficial to business and growth in the long term if the norm were to revert to the traditional system of self-employment, with employment being the exception. A greater amount of “security” (if that’s what people want) will actually come from people being responsible for their own lives, successes and failures. And this will power a surge in economic activity from the ground up.

Empowerment of the poor and disenfranchised is what is needed. Removal of the barrier of the contemporary employment norm will help this. As will other changes, such as access to housing and financial services. Once again it is a question of perception and attitude where stereotypes need to be broken.

It is also necessary for individuals to realise and comprehend the position of power they actually hold. Then to seize it. A revolution wouldn’t be too strong a term, but more of a social revolution than a political one.

To complete the new paradigm requires a shift towards more social enterprise, but in partnership with commercial businesses on the premise that profit making (not profiteering) can, and indeed should, be embraced and that benefit will flow to all involved.

In this brief overview it has not been possible to detail the many methods of empowerment, nor the underlying philosophical and ideological principles. However the concept is one of taking the currently poor to a much higher level, in terms of both prosperity and dignity, and ultimately out of poverty, whilst creating a society that is equitable, ethical, innovatory and prosperous for all.