Asking the wrong questions

Tuesday, 28th October 2008 at 9:00 UTC 1 comment

I went to a workshop at a conference not long ago during which a person first asked us what we thought of the statement “Make Poverty History”, and then asked us to think through the consequences of trying to run a campaign entitled “Make Wealth History”. I was reminded of this whilst reading a story based on some completely unhelpful statistics.

Apparently the gap between poor and wealthy in Britain is getting smaller. Two things strike me from this; first, it doesn’t tell us enough about how they did the measurements, but I’m sure similarly to finding the mean of the top 20% and the mean of the bottom 80%, and comparing them, in turn meaning that the super-rich might be getting astronomically richer whilst the poorest of those in the rich bracket get significantly poorer. As such, we’re letting the super-rich off the hook. The other problem is that it measures wealth and not happiness. Other research happily shows there’s no point getting beyond the average point of wealth.

I find this kind of statistics excercise to be such a case of values, and here, the values are most certainly not my own. Its clear from some of the ancilliary facts stated lower down that they’re looking at the state of families in a conventional sense, and whilst I might get round to writing my own response to this aspect of government statistics, here’s a friend’s comments (she also lives in a shared house).

This just assumes that the ideal is for everyone to get endlessly richer, without actually dealing with the real things that affect our lives. It assumes that economic independence will make us feel better, despite the fact it weakens our emotional ties to each other and ergo, we start to lose the strong relationships that make life so worth living. Richer people often live in smaller households, in less densely populated areas, meaning real community interaction becomes harder. Wealth, whilst nice on one level, is not a universal panacea, indeed, it tends to create its own problems. For a start, its wealthy kids who attempt suicide far more often than poor kids. Girls in private schools are twice as likely to develop eating disorders as girls in public schools. So it goes on.

Its this socialisation towards the pursuit of money that gets me. Sure, get enough to live on, which I do (just about!) but if we measure the success of economic policies, we need to do it in a way that really asks if the wealth is being redistributed through Active Justice, or merely spread around through Passive Justice*. We simply can’t treat the wealth of the poorest and the wealth of the richest as being in any way separable from one another, and if both Britain’s rich and poor are getting richer, someone somewhere is taking the crunch, or, as we’re discovering, someone is lying about the amount of money that really exists.

(P.S. * Yes, I believe those two terms are actually ones I have created. Broadly speaking, Active Justice means specifically removing accrued privelleges from people, whereas Passive means making an adjustment to benefit the poorer party. An example would be male and female contributions in a meeting. Adding women speakers is passive. Telling men to shut up and take less turns at speaking is active.


Entry filed under: Community, Culture, Economics, Materialism, News, Politics, Poverty.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jeremy  |  Monday, 12th January 2009 at 13:41 UTC

    Interesting thoughts – not least because I’m running a campaign called Make Wealth History! The consequences of a successful campaign could be fairly serious, so it’s a slightly tongue in cheek name. We’re trying to provoke debate and stimulate a more ‘active justice’ approach, to use your useful delineation.


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