Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 8th 2013 Contents Last week a headline read: "Poverty
is not a major factor in cause of
crime." For the author, crime was
simply a matter of personal choice.
Such logic is seductive and piggy-
backs on the US ideology of individual
economic responsibility. Poverty
becomes something one chooses to
move from or not.
In such a world, failure to achieve is
viewed as the responsibility of the
This is poverty as moral failure and
justifies for many any personal preju-
dice against the poor, including the
nonsense that poverty does not impact
Such ideas about poverty are often
based on personal stories about people
who rose up and broke out of poverty.
Anecdote is not good science; it s more
Anthropological research into poverty
highlights a diversity of experiences
among people classified as poor---
including great resilience by those who
do not escape it.
And while there is certainly academic
debate about whether poverty causes
crime, it has been proven that many
conditions inherent in poverty are risk
factors for criminal behaviour.
Anthropologists do not document
poverty as an economic condition to be
measured. Rather they describe poverty
as a qualitative social relation of multi-
dimensional deprivation. That means
poverty affects the quality of a person s
life not just in terms of income but
rights, opportunities, capabilities and
Yes, poverty doesn t affect every per-
son in exactly the same way but pover-
ty does impact every person s ability to
achieve his or her full human potential
and the World Bank s 2001 report on
poverty said just that.
People living in poverty are more
likely to live or come from broken
homes, experience low levels of educa-
tion, suffer high rates of mortality, lack
support, possess weak social networks,
endure poor health conditions, includ-
ing poor nutrition, that effects many
different abilities. They are also likely
to be excluded from market participa-
tion and services.
Calling all people who live in poverty
"vagabonds" is not only prejudice and
deliberately misleading, it suggests
poverty is just about being hungry and
needing a job, and there is no structur-
al impediment to breaking the cycle.
People can come forward with their
examples of individual success stories
but it doesn t change the fact that
while some individuals break the cycle,
the group "poor" on the whole cannot
break the cycle and capitalism is
designed to function in that precise
Capitalism requires an underclass, a
poor, an industrial reserve army of
labour, to do all the low-paying, awful
jobs. That is a fact.
Great wealth was, and is, accumulat-
ed by dispossession and it produces/d
great poverty. Capitalism is a zero-sum
game. There must be winners and los-
This isn t a fun ride for everyone;
this is neoliberal 21st century capitalism
and it s not that different in its punish-
ments to late 19th century capitalism.
In this sense, poverty is a conse-
quence of historical relationships that
include white supremacy, racial hierar-
chy, underdevelopment, the creation of
laws, class warfare, urbanism, transna-
tional geopolitics, and how such big
processes made and make the world.
Poverty is not an abstraction one can
personally choose to overcome or not.
Rather, poverty is about social process-
es and the effects those processes have
on productive people.
Let s end with a simple question.
What came first: poverty or the culture
Anthropologist Phillipe Bourgois
spent years living and researching drugs
dealers in the ghettos of Puerto Rico.
He noted that rather than guns and
drug culture being the culture of the
ghetto, the ghetto and its poverty
should be understood in historical and
social context as the reaction to partic-
ular social and economic configurations
in the colonial relationship between the
USA and Puerto Rico.
A similar argument can be made
about T&T. Yes, a culture of poverty
can lead to criminality and anti-social
behaviour, but we should also under-
stand how the historical circumstances
of our colonial relationship gave us the
poverty that in turn constantly pro-
duces/d the culture of poverty we now
denigrate and fear.
Put bluntly, blaming the poor for liv-
ing in poverty rather than fixing the
society that produces/d poverty is a
massive blind spot found among some
who do not live in poverty. It helps
them feel successful and accom-
It s a hold over of the divide-and-
conquer politics of colonialism and
racist at heart.
Poverty and the many wider socio-
cultural issues, like crime, that it
impacts, exist (and always will) because
of the type of society we ve all built,
not because of the failure of individuals
to personally overcome poverty.
p , A
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, July 8, 2013
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