Poverty & Ethics
This booklet endeavors to examine if poverty is purely a material phenomenon or it is inexorably associated with the ethical question – the unethical practices of the rich minority to exploit the the poor majority. The matter is examined in the light of views on poverty of Karl Marx, Adam Smith, Amartya Sen and the ancient Indian Sankhya philosophy. More
Absolute poverty in the LDCs has in recent decades assumed a serious dimension in sheer physical terms and has posed a threat to the lives of millions of people residing in these countries. On the other hand, relative poverty as well as absolute poverty (even if in purely psychological sense) has been the basic source of social tensions in many a developed country. In the global context, poverty among nations has been widening nullifying all the predictions of meticulously constructed growth models emphasizing ‘convergence theories’. So far as the LDCs are concerned, low per capita income combined with extreme income inequality have forced these nations to the precipice of disaster.
The development of productive power and knowledge to have command over Nature through agricultural practices changed the situation that existed in the very primitive societies and clan lives. In course of time productive forces, through man’s increasing command over Nature, went on snowballing and at present material production has assumed a spectacular dimension by means of the trinity of science, technology and industrial innovation. Unfortunately human society is still being pestered with the nagging problem of poverty, haply in a more intensified form as compared to the malady as existed in the pre-capitalist societies. Both opulence and poverty have been marching steadily onwards with the latter taking the leading role.
The problem of poverty and private property emerged in this world as perfect twins. Prior to emergence of private property, poverty had very little association with social injustice. Poverty arose simply because of lack of material means of sustenance and it was equally applicable for all the members of primitive communities or clans. But with the advancement of methods of production and emergence of surplus value, it was no longer ‘poverty for all’ but poverty for the property less majority and riches for the property owning minority living on surplus values generated by the poor majority – poverty thus got associated with social injustice. Paucity of material means was no longer the basic cause of poverty but the cause lied deep in human psychosis – insatiable greed and resultant leanings of the propertied minority to perpetrate exploitation of the property less majority. Ownership or non-ownership of property also sprang from a basic vice, the cunning and unethical maneuver of the minority to grab all means of production.
Karl Marx could, to some extent, recognize this basic cause but erroneously fell into the same trap – sought the solution of the problem through material advancement alone. He failed to recognize that class division, inequality, exploitation and the resultant poverty spring from a deeper cause, the baser and unethical leanings in human nature (which exist side by side with nobler aspects in all human beings baring a few exceptions).
Long before the emergence of Marxian concepts, Adam Smith could identify the basic psychic nature of human beings that are responsible for poverty amidst plenty. But he could not suggest any meaningful way out of the vicious circle – the intricately interwoven forces of baser human sentiments strengthening one another to give the unethical entity perpetuity.
As regards the basis of human nature, most scientific analysis is to be found in Sankhya, one of the six major philosophies that sprang from Vedic world outlook. But it is questionable how far it is practicable to translate the Sankhya based process into reality to bring about an exploitation-free, poverty-free world.