Which Is Natural: Poverty or Wealth?, by Fred Foldvary, Ph.D. | Progress.org


15-03-21 11:59:00,

The natural condition of humanity is wealth and prosperity, not poverty. As stated by Nelson Mandela, “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”

Others have said the opposite, that poverty is natural. Writing in Forbes, Tim Worstall noted that the average income from ancient times until the 1500s was only $450 per year. Steven Pinker, in Enlightenment Now, states (p. 25) that poverty “is the default state of humankind.” This, he says, is because of entropy: things dissipate and fall into disorder unless work is done to reverse this. The natural state is to fall apart, and starve.

To analyze whether it is poverty or else prosperity that is natural, we need to clarify the meaning of “natural”. The distinction is between nature and human action. “Nature” is anything apart from human action. The deliberate acts of persons constitute human action. Therefore all of culture and acts influenced by culture and personal preferences are non-natural.

What, then, is “poverty”? A person is economically poor if he does not have sufficient income or wealth to provide oneself and one’s dependents with sufficient food, shelter, and medications to preserve their lives and good health. A society has substantial poverty when the people are unable to obtain goods above a poverty or subsistence level. The ultimate origins of income are labor and land, and therefore, the prevalence of poverty implies that for many, wages plus received rent are not sufficient to avoid economic deprivation.

No human being lives apart from culture and produced goods. Thus no person can have a purely natural existence. By the above definition, incomes are non-natural, as they are dependent on human action as well as on natural resources. By the above definition, the proposition that poverty is natural is neither true nor false, but rather, meaningless.

What did Mandela mean when he said that poverty is not natural? He meant that poverty is caused by human action. People could rise above poverty if not for coercive acts by others preventing them from rising. These acts by others generate poverty by using force, and the agent that can apply general force is, government. The implication is that poverty is not generally caused by a lack of natural resources,

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