How did poverty start?

  1. When humans started settling they divided tasks like farming, building etc. And perhaps then each profession was equally fruitful(in terms of money).
    How after this did poverty start?
    Was it an inevitable conclusion for the humans society or could it have been avoided?
  2. jcsd
  3. arildno

    arildno 11,265
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  4. Whilst there is no way to point out a certain moment and place in time when the first poor chap starved, it's well established that in just about any complex society of animals, there is a pecking order from the alpha male and female to the poor omega's who may have to struggle to get anything to survive, so maybe it was already an issue in a random group of Hominidae in the Miocene.

    Just my two cents. Google wasn't very helpful.
  5. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    In Japanese macaques if the monkey is not born into a privileged caste, it can't use hot springs during winter. That's poverty to me.
  6. According to David Graeber's book Debt: the first 5000 years. Class systems and monetary systems are intimately tied. As in before there was money there wasn't really class systems. This might be part of the answer.
  7. arildno

    arildno 11,265
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    That answer is more intelligent than the original question. I guess, on an idealistic level, I really ought to improve thread quality, rather than merely provide an accurate judgment of it.:smile:
  8. Along the lines of Borek's answer, poverty started when the first person who was better off emerged.
  9. SteamKing

    SteamKing 11,048
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    IMO, poverty didn't start at some arbitrary time; it was and is always present. The development of human civilization from tribes of hunter/gatherers to agricultural communities to the modern industrial society is the response to the question, "What's for dinner?"

    In the oldest human colonies, if you weren't fleet of foot or didn't have a weapon handy, the answer to the question above was 'You are.'

    Money and monetary systems are a relatively recent innovation. Money, in the sense of coins and whatnot, developed in Asia Minor in the first millennium BC.

    Before that development, there was plenty of poverty and class systems (pace Mr. Graeber) to go around. The Egyptians and the civilizations living in Mesopotamia did not have money as we know it, but they did have rulers/priestly castes, scribes, artisans, merchants, farmers, and finally ordinary working stiffs and slaves. All had their prescribed spheres of living and associations. Even in modern so-called 'classless' societies (cf. the Soviet Union and China), there was a definite sorting of individuals into various groups. Before WWI, Russia was an exporter of grain; within 15 years of the Bolshevik takeover, there was famine and starvation in the Ukraine, which previously supplied much of the grain harvested by tsarist Russia.

    Today, with all of the technology and scientific knowledge man has developed, the planet could be returned to widespread starvation in a matter of months if a natural disaster caused the loss of a significant portion of our agriculture. Man can only stockpile so much food because of its perishable nature.
  10. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    No, the way I see it is at first everyone was in poverty, then when someone became better off, poverty started to decrease.

    Heck, in my judgement, anyone who doesn't have access to electricity is poor, so that includes anyone who lived before about 1900.
  11. arildno

    arildno 11,265
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    Did they whine about being poor then, or did they live in blessed (or cursed?) ignorance about their poverty?
  12. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    I have no idea, but the two are not mutually exclusive.
  13. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    And then rivals/bullies took what you had and left you nothing, so your were poor. Those bullies became rulers, taking more and more that didn't belong to them causing more poverty. A wealthy couple, the husband dies, no male heirs of age, the woman and her children are impoverished. Murder, evil rulers, greedy neighbors, sickness, natural disasters. Being captured and forced into slavery (I'm referring to white slavery in what is now Eurasia going back to the beginning). There is no one thing going back to the beginning of humans that you can point to.
  14. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    The better question is "how did economic disparity develop?"
  15. Through most of history famine occurred regularly. Starving to death is certainly poverty, so poverty came and went. Aside from that, in tribal life there is usually egalitarianism with lots of sharing. Everyone is related to everyone else so the guy short on food is your cousin or uncle.

    Constant, inescapable poverty probably started with slavery, which is a very old practice. Captives from other tribes might become slaves.

    It has never been the case that every profession was equal. You start out with pretty much everyone hunters/farmers, with a few tradespeople and craftsmen. Then someone gets the idea of organizing militarily and enriching themselves through organized crime. Their victims are often impoverished via extortion/tribute.

    Poverty is not inevitable. Hardly anyone starves to death in the USA and I can't recall anyone dressed in rags, so I'd say there is no poverty.
  16. Okay as suggested I will rephrase my question as this.
    So how and why did it start? I am not looking for any specific point in time where it started. Just looking for vague and approximate answers as to why it is so.
  17. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    You might be interested in buying the book Debt: the first 5000 years. It's already been bought up in thread, it charts the history of various forms of monetary systems and loosely discusses their social consequences.

    As for the rest of the conversation it would be best to start using terms like absolute and relative poverty rather than the catchall poverty.
  18. the better question is how poverty ended in some parts of the world

  19. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    BWV GDP per capita is not the end of the poverty story by far.
  20. it is totally the end of the story - in developed countries absolute poverty barely exists
  21. jedishrfu

    Staff: Mentor

    You could approach this as a probability problem:

    you have 100 farmers each year some make money and some lose money.

    the amount of money each farmer makes or loses is a percentage with his total worth.

    If you run this simulation through many iterations then you see a bell curve with the middle being the majority of farmers who earn enough money to break even and to the right would be the arbitrarily defined poverty line with those the right of it becoming wealthy and those to the left living in poverty.

    You could also look at as an evolutionary problem adding in geographic disasters, risk-taking on the part of the farmer where they may invest a lot or be more conservative... Some farmers do quite well but others due to weather or bad decisions do very poorly. So it comes down to how adaptable they are to changing environments as to how well they will do over time.
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