One other note on “solving” poverty

My last post was about how wrong it is to say education is the only way to solve poverty. I said that changing the distribution of income is the only and best way. But there is also some trouble in the language of “solving” poverty.

When you say you want to “solve” poverty, you generally assume poverty just exists as an independent-from-policy phenomenon and that we are then going to tackle it with policy interventions. So we talk about it as if it’s akin to someone being trapped in a burning house that we then come from the outside of to rescue.

But that is not true. Poverty doesn’t just happen. Poverty is created. It is a consequence of policy. We have in our society a set of policies that govern the distribution of income. That set of policies distributes income very unevenly such that a lot of people have very little and are thus impoverished. Poverty is not a thing that just exists that we then try to solve with policy. It is a thing that is brought into existence by our (distributive) policy in the first place. In the burning house metaphor, policy sets the house on fire.

What I am saying is that we should stop setting houses on fire. And what people who don’t focus on distribution are saying is that we should keep setting houses on fire and try to come up with better ways to rescue people from burning homes. It’s insane.

So it’s not so much that I want to “solve” poverty; rather it is that I want to stop making it happen to begin with. But since we live in a world where even top educated people are blinded to the fact that our current set of distributive policies aren’t written into the physical structure of the universe, the “solutions” (there’s the word again) we get operate on the assumption that our distributive institutions just exist standing alone as permanent, neutral constants. This is why, I think, we get such comically bad proclamations like “only education can solve poverty.”

As hit Lifetime television show Dance Moms teaches us, cultural hegemony is real and it’s a beast to fight against.