The difference between poverty and destitution

Dan Mitchell comments and expands on Thomas Sowell’s latest column. Both are well worth reading.

I just had to include this passage from Sowell:

“Poverty” once had some concrete meaning — not enough food to eat or not enough clothing or shelter to protect you from the elements, for example. Today it means whatever the government bureaucrats, who set up the statistical criteria, choose to make it mean. And they have every incentive to define poverty in a way that includes enough people to justify welfare state spending. Most Americans with incomes below the official poverty level have air-conditioning, television, own a motor vehicle and, far from being hungry, are more likely than other Americans to be overweight. But an arbitrary definition of words and numbers gives them access to the taxpayers’ money.

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3 thoughts on “The difference between poverty and destitution

  1. “Wealthy” once had some concrete meaning — enough food to eat and enough clothing and shelter to protect you from the elements, for example. Today it means whatever the Madison avenue bureaucrats, who create consumerist propaganda, choose to make it mean. And they have every incentive to define wealthy in a way that excludes a large enough number of people to make almost everyone else jealous and thus promote frivolous, emotionally driven spending and behavior. Most Americans have air-conditioning, television, own a motor vehicle and, far from being hungry, are overweight. But an arbitrary definition of words and numbers makes them feel inadequate and spiritually empty.

  2. Brilliant observation from Thomas Sowell. I’ve tried making the same point numerous times, but he does it much more eloquently than I ever could have.

    I would elaborate a little that poverty used to mean making hard economic decisions that bore on a person’s ability to survive: do I buy food or medicine, shoes or a blanket, do I let my child waste their day away in a schoolhouse or do I need them helping out in the fields to bring the crop in. Each of these decisions would be mutually exclusive and each, if guessed wrong, could cause severe future hardship, even death.

    Thus I generally scoff at the idea that there is any REAL poverty in the U.S.

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