# Define - and defend - poverty

Mentor
jimmie said:
I agree with that statement.

Maybe a little off topic, but the next question was: what makes statistics relevant, so as to be represented by invented words such as "poverty"?
Ehh, good queston. You're starting earlier than I did, with what really is a foundation issue - how words can describe statistics or vice versa.

The word "poverty" predates modern statistical analysis, so to me it is clear that if one chooses to use the word, they should make the statistics match the definition of the word as opposed to changing the definition of the word to match the statistics. You can't just grab any random statistics and attach the label "poverty". Otherwise, what stops me from attaching the word "poverty" to the ratio of gray hairs on a person's head? Below 20% gray and you are "rich" and above that you are "poor"? Meaningless, right? So too with misapplying the word "poverty" to what is actually just "income distribution".

The point is, the verbal definition of poverty is clear - and when pressed, pretty much everyone will agree on it. So it should be equally clear that any statistical analysis should be an honest attempt to measure the concept described in that definition.

Meaningless, right?
In regards to attaching labels to numbers, I believe so.

What I am talking about is, prior to any invented word being applied to the "statistics", lets justify the "statistics" themselves, so as to determine that we are dealing with only data that is relevant and not deprecated.

Perhaps, the methodology of collecting "statistics" from any particular source without regards to its place within the whole planetary population is/was redundant. Highlights are/were an illusion.

Perhaps, what is needed is to intend to collect "statistics" from each individual human being on the planet.

Until all "statistic" compilers intend to collect "statistics" from each and every particular individual human being on the planet, all "statistics" are not relevant.

Mentor
jimmie said:
What I am talking about is, prior to any invented word being applied to the "statistics", lets justify the "statistics" themselves, so as to determine that we are dealing with only data that is relevant and not deprecated.

Perhaps, the methodology of collecting "statistics" from any particular source without regards to its place within the whole planetary population is/was redundant. Highlights are/were an illusion.

Perhaps, what is needed is to intend to collect "statistics" from each individual human being on the planet.

Until all "statistic" compilers intend to collect "statistics" from each and every particular individual human being on the planet, all "statistics" are not relevant.
I'm not sure what you mean - are you questioning the accuracy or the relevance of statistics in general? I don't think anyone would claim statistics are perfect. There are always margins for error and limitations. Discussions like this must presuppose that the numbers themselves are accurate.

I am saying that statistics are redundant by default.

The numbers themselves may be accurate, but they relate to only a particular portion of the planet.

How can the particular thing measured be truly known if we do not know its position within the big picture, because we do not know the big picture?

Furthermore, why was that statistic compiled in the first place? To determine how much "poverty" there was?

Last edited:
Art
russ_watters said:
It is an obvious fact that people measure poverty in two different ways. That isn't the issue here. What this discussion is about is whether or not both are correct as applications of the word "poverty". I disagree. Can you support your opinion with an argument?
I already have (see post #15) but you chose not to reply.
russ_watters said:
You've tried several times to apply a relative scale to the absolute concept of human condition, but so far you haven't succeeded.
That is simply your opinion. Perhaps the problem is you didn't understand my response??

Whilst we are stating opinions as fact let me say; You lost this argument long ago around the point where you started playing on the nuances of the words 'absolute' and 'relative' to try and pull any convincing arguments into your camp.

SOS2008
Gold Member
Art said:
I already have (see post #15) but you chose not to reply.
That is simply your opinion. Perhaps the problem is you didn't understand my response??

Whilst we are stating opinions as fact let me say; You lost this argument long ago around the point where you started playing on the nuances of the words 'absolute' and 'relative' to try and pull any convincing arguments into your camp.
The reason I brought up the concept of wealth was to point out how many people misperceive themselves as either being a part of that class in society, or believe they will be a part of that class in society at some point in life. That is the capitalist premise, whether realistic or not.

I brought up this point because as a result of this disillusionment, there are those who refuse to acknowledge poverty as a real problem in the world. They will even contest definitions, statistics, etc., that don’t fit into their black and white world view, so facts or logic can’t even overcome these people’s disillusionment.

alexandra
russ_watters said:
People who use a relative definition of poverty are misusing the word "poverty". The dictionary definition of "poverty" can only be take as an absolute definition.
This just doesn't make sense: unless everyone had exactly equal amounts of 'stuff', neither wealth nor poverty would exist. There can only be 'poverty' if there is 'wealth' - both terms are necessarily relative. Here are some dictionary definitions of poverty and, as far as I can tell, they seem to be 'relative':
POOR
1 a : the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=poverty
Note the words 'usual or socially acceptable' - surely those indicate 'relative' metrics?

“Poverty” from Econterms

Definition: Poverty is, as commonly defined by U.S. researchers: the state of living in a family with income below the federally defined poverty line.
Note the words 'federally defined poverty line' - again a 'relative' metric.

How can one define 'poverty' if not in juxtaposition to its opposite, 'wealth'? How can one define 'good' if not as the opposite of 'bad'?

russ_watters said:
In addition, when you step away from the words and the definitions and start talking about general concepts, you find (as we did in this thread) that people who advocate using the relative definition hold/express self-contradictory views on the subject. And the reason is the same as the above: when you get down to it, what is important is the human condition and if the definition of "poverty" being used doesn't reflect the human condition, it isn't useful. You end up with people [grudgingly] acknowledging that the human condition is improving while simultaneously claiming that poverty is rising.
Some people (like me) argue that the human condition is not improving for most people on the planet (and is actually getting worse), that more people are living in 'relative poverty' (relative to how they lived before the 'economic restructuring' wrought by this phase of global capitalism), and that a relatively tiny minority of people are becoming very (obscenely) wealthy.

Amp1
Let me take a crack at it.

To be in poverty, is the state wherein a group or individual does not have the quantity of possesions (food,wealth,land,shelter) minimally required for contentment relative to their inhaabited region. I think this definition takes into account people who may be greedy, needy, stoic or satisfied.

Mentor
Art said:
I already have (see post #15) but you chose not to reply.
I guess in my absence, I missed that one....
I don't know definitively...
Indeed - that's my point. You'd like it to work that way, but you don't know how it is possible. Perhaps if you made an effort to develop your idea, you'd find that it isn't feasible...?
And why do expectations change? Because people judge their condition relative to their peers.
That's one reason expectations change - people want to "keep up with the Jones's" - but keep your eye on the ball here: how does that fit with the definition of "poverty"? Simple answer: it doesn't. If your neighbors buy a new car and that makes you jealous, have you actually become more poor? Of course not! (but than you for supporting my opinion that liberals base their beliefs about this on envy)

What does change the scale is things like advances in technology. Refrigeration and air conditioning didn't exist 50 years ago, so they couldn't be factored into the equation. Now that they do, you adjust the scale to compensate, but be careful: you aren't adjusting the scale because your neighbor has air conditioning, you are adjusting the scale simply because air conditioning exists. So the scale changes, but it is still based on absolute condition.
I chose lifespan randomly as an example rather than the definitive measure of poverty but as for a longer lifespan=good I think most people would consider this to be true.
Lifespan is a good example, and it is a component of poverty, it just doesn't say what you wanted it to. But again, if you are having trouble making the examples fit your underlying opinion, that should tell you something about your underlying opinion.
I don't follow your logic here?? Yes poverty should be referenced to the human condition as you say but the argument seems to be whether it is more relevent to reference against the human condition of one's predecessors or ones's peers. I do not see any supporting argument for your contention that this human condition has to be an absolute scale??
Yeah, I think you may be missing the point - a relative scale and a time-varying scale are not the same thing (*added bonus below). Ie., on a single day last year, the owners of Google became muti-billionaires. That had a small but measurable effect on the wealth distribution of the US. If you measure poverty based on relative wealth distribution, then you have instantly created probably (guess) 1,000 new poor people. Yesterday these people were not poor, nothing changed about their condition since yesterday, and nothing changed about what is typically achievable since yesterday - and yet now they are poor. So how does that fit the definition of the word "poverty?"

*Added bonus - even with the sliding scale, liberals still must acknowledge that it is a fact that the human condition is improving. Changing the definition doesn't change the facts and just labeling someone "poor" doesn't doesn't necessarily mean they are in need (if the relativity argument were correct).
It seems I was wrong but I thought the point of this thread was to first define what poverty is and then formulate how it should be measured and tracked so perhaps that is what we should do; take this one step at a time and first establish precisely what we mean by poverty and then address the issue of how best to measure it.
I gave the dictionary definition of the word in the very beginning of my explanation in post #2. Typically it is not useful to argue against definitions (and people seemed to like that definition anyway), but if you want to do that, there isn't anything stopping you...
My personal definition would probably be something based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs with the cut off being level 2 acquired.
Well, that's not a definition of the word "poverty", but a definition of a scale for measuring poverty. Regardless, that sounds good to me - so how does my being at level 4 affect anyone's ability to get above level 2? How can you apply that scale in a relative way? Ie, if I jump from self-esteem to self-actualization, will that automatically make someone unsafe? Sounds pretty absurd to measure your safety against my happiness, doesn't it?

So anyway, it doesn't look to me like you made a lot of progress with your explanation in post 15 - you came right out and admitted it has serious flaws.
Even setting aside that others pointed out the same flaws, - you came right out and admitted more than once that your examples don't work.
...let me say; You lost this argument long ago around the point where you started playing on the nuances of the words 'absolute' and 'relative' to try and pull any convincing arguments into your camp.
Try visiting the Relativity or math sections of the forum every now and then. We get the exact same misunderstanding of the word "relative" there as you are using here.

Mentor
SOS2008 said:
The reason I brought up the concept of wealth was to point out how many people misperceive themselves as either being a part of that class in society, or believe they will be a part of that class in society at some point in life. That is the capitalist premise, whether realistic or not.
I think that's a pretty neat thing and a good indicator of the beauty of capitalism. 200 years ago, you could look down at your floor and know precisely which class you were in (if it is dirt, you are poor). Today, it isn't so much that the lines have blurred, but that they have become irrelevant.
I brought up this point because as a result of this disillusionment, there are those who refuse to acknowledge poverty as a real problem in the world. They will even contest definitions, statistics, etc., that don’t fit into their black and white world view, so facts or logic can’t even overcome these people’s disillusionment.
Certainly there are those who both under and overstate the poverty issue. And that's why it is important to pin down those definitions and make them meaningful. We've had a number of discussions on this board where it has seemed as if people were using the word "poverty" in such a way that it was saying something intentionally deceptive about the state of the human condition. Certainly the public must be confused when a politician says "the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer" - I can't remember who said it, but I heard it during the DNC. When Joe Public hears that, turns to his dictionary and looks up the definition of "poverty", he concludes - erroneously - that the physical human condition is deteriorating. And that is simply not true.

Mentor
alexandra said:
This just doesn't make sense: unless everyone had exactly equal amounts of 'stuff', neither wealth nor poverty would exist.
"unless everyone had equal amounts of stuff, neither wealth nor poverty would exist" Um - you sure you didn't mean 'if everyone had equal amounts of stuff, neither wealth nor poverty would exist"? The way you are saying it now fits the situation we are in now: today not everyone has exactly equal amounts of stuff, therefore poverty and wealth do not exist.
There can only be 'poverty' if there is 'wealth' - both terms are necessarily relative.
I need to restate the math again: every measurement is relative to the scale at which it is measured. The question is whether the scale itself is absolute or relative.

In any case, lets say that everyone had equal amounts of stuff (the Marxist dream) but that every single person was naked, lived under a tree, and was on the verge of starvation. What word would you use to describe them?
Here are some dictionary definitions of poverty and, as far as I can tell, they seem to be 'relative':
Hmm, now that first one is interesting - it is somewhat different than the one I found on dictionary.com. "Socially acceptable" implies variation from one society to the next and from one time to the next. But here's the question: how do you determine what is socially acceptable? If you determine what is socially acceptable by looking over the fence into the Jones's yard, then, yes, you have a relative scale. But wait - you're a Marxist - aren't you supposed to be the one rejecting greed, not embracing it?

I'll tell you what - I'll concede that a greed-based-poverty definition is viable if you concede that greed is the basis of the desire to form a Marxist utopia.

I just don't think that's what is meant by "socially acceptable". I think "socially acceptable" is still referring to human condition issues: it is socially unacceptable to have people living without a roof, without enough food to eat, etc. Tell me what is really important to you: is ensuring that everyone has enough food to eat important or is ensuring that everyone has the same amount of food to eat - even if it isn't enough - what is important?

If what is important is the distribution, then doesn't that mean you would consider a country like Ethiopia to be wealthy? The income distribution is far flatter than the US's - so we're poor and they're rich, right?
Note the words 'federally defined poverty line' - again a 'relative' metric.
There is nothing descriptive at all about that term - it is just telling you who defined it. To know if it is relative or not, you need to know the actual definition they use. So let me tell you: the government defines poverty according to set standards of human condition.
How can one define 'poverty' if not in juxtaposition to its opposite, 'wealth'? How can one define 'good' if not as the opposite of 'bad'?
If tomorrow everyone stopped breaking the law, would you feel the need to redefine the scales of "good" and "bad" or would you just say that there are less bad people than there used to be?

Tell me - how is the word "poverty" used or useful if you define it so that there is a constand fraction of poor people or a fraction dependent on what the top of the scale is? What has it told us of value for making decisions about the future?
Some people (like me) argue that the human condition is not improving for most people on the planet (and is actually getting worse), that more people are living in 'relative poverty' (relative to how they lived before the 'economic restructuring' wrought by this phase of global capitalism), and that a relatively tiny minority of people are becoming very (obscenely) wealthy.
And there's the contradiction again. Yes that's what I have alluded to previously: you do care about how many people are starving to death and you do care about how many children are getting their vaccinations, etc. But that statement of yours strongly implies that the data will show, in absolute terms that more people died of starvation last year than the previous year and that fewer children got their vaccinations last year than the previous year.

You are using your relative definition of poverty to make factually inaccurate claims about the absolute condition of the humans on this planet.

Last edited:
Hi everyone!

My name is Rui. It's been a long time since my last post here.
As for this post, i must say i haven't read it with detail (it's late :zzz: ) but i just wanted to add my view and re-affirm some things already said and posted.

The following definitions were established by the World Bank:

Extreme (or absolute) poverty: Living in extreme poverty (less than $1 a day) mean not being able to afford the most basic necessitites to ensure survival. 8 million people a year die from absolute poverty. Moderate poverty: Moderate poverty, defined as earning about$1 to \$2 a day, enables households to just barely meet their basic needs, but they still must forgo many of the things-education, health care-that many of us take for granted. The smallest misfortune (health issue, job loss, etc.) threatens survival.

Relative poverty: Lastly, relative poverty means that a household has an income below the national average.

I understand these were already mentionated but i think it's important to re-post them.

The establishment of these definitions arises from the need to have criteria so that is possible to diminish the wealth gap within a country and between countries. This is the ultimate goal when such criteria are made, to provide a more equal and just world.

Definitions allow to establish priorities and a framework of action.

Rui.