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What is the cause of and solution to poverty?

Dinesh D

Poverty doesn’t need explanation, it’s the natural condition of man who has had to scratch a living out of the ground from time and memorial. The really interesting question is “What causes wealth?”

Wealth is the anomaly and has only been created in certain cultures and relatively recently in the grand sweep of history. So, to be poor, you don’t really have to do anything, you just pretty much stay where you are and you’ll be poor. It takes effort, initiative, creativity to get out of that and so it’s the cause of affluence which we should be focusing on [See: What causes an economy to prosper?].

Author, Commentator and President of The King's College, Dinesh D'Souza

Peter Schiff

The reason that people are poor is because they lack access to productive employment. If a farmer happened to own a piece of land but never grew anything on it, he would starve. But if he were to work the farm and produce food he would be able to eat. And if extra food is produced it can be traded for other things. So the key to escaping poverty is productivity and the key to increasing productivity is capital.

For example, the reason a person digging a hole with a bulldozer can earn more money than a person digging a hole with a shovel is that his capital equipment (a bulldozer) makes him more productive by enabling him to perform the work of one hundred men using shovels.

Naturally, people want to be rich and when they are free to profit by satisfying people's desires through ingenuity, creativity and hard work, they will do so. This not only causes them to be productive in meeting the desires of others, but causes others to be productive in meeting their desires. Despite its best intentions, the biggest obstacle to this freedom is government interference in the form of punitive taxation and over-regulation. In fact there's a direct correlation between the size of a country's government as a share of its GDP (gross domestic product) to its level of poverty.

Economist, investment advisor, author and commentator, Peter Schiff

Star Parker

We will always have the poor because there will always be somebody at a starting point, but what is often overlooked is that the poor which exist today aren’t the same poor which existed yesterday. The more education one receives, the harder one works and the more that one’s family remains in tact, the more likely that a poor person will leave poverty behind.

In the United States in particular, poverty is not a permanent class status, it’s simply a stage of life, which is what makes America so exceptional. The reason being that America built an environment in which anyone could become wealthy. Wealth wasn’t determined by a person’s parents or a child’s social climate, rather the individual was afforded the incentive and opportunity to prosper because of low taxes, the rule of law and the protection of private pursuits. This is a major difference between this country and other countries, including European countries, where the tendency is that if a person is born poor he will likely remain that way for generations.

One of the threats to this, however, is the tendency of government to create policies which undermine these pillars of prosperity. For example, when the government prevents tax payer money from following a child to any school that the parent chooses, in the form of a school voucher, it creates a government run education monopoly particularly in poorer communities and this always results in lower quality schools and education, from which these children can not escape. And when children receive a poor education it limits their options and ability to break free of poverty.

President of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, Star Parker

Carrie Lukas

There are many causes of poverty, but one main, unnecessary cause is our substandard public school system. Education is critical to ensuring that someone can find a job and support themselves. Too many of our public schools simply don't offer a quality education and lead kids to drop out of school. The United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars on our K-12 public education system, and we simply aren't getting our money's worth. We need serious, comprehensive reform that encourages more competition among schools and greater innovation within the education sector so that all children have the opportunity to climb out of poverty.

Independent Women's Forum director and Goldwater Institute senior fellow, Carrie Lukas

Tim Robinson

Poverty can be defined in an absolute or relative way. Absolute poverty is characterised by an insufficient intake of food, clothing and shelter to enable individuals to continue to live at a minimum standard. By contrast, relative poverty is defined by identifying the poorest group in a particular community. Thus, in a developed economy, poverty could be defined as being in the bottom 10 per cent of income earners. When poverty is defined in this way it can be the case that a rich nation’s poor have a much higher standard of living than the average standard of living of the residents of a poor nation. Clearly absolute poverty can be eliminated by raising the income of people currently below the minimum standard so that they have sufficient food, clothing and shelter to meet this standard. By contrast, relative poverty can only be improved by making the distribution of income more equitable such that the poorest group in society has a standard of living sufficiently close to that of the remainder of the population that to describe them as being in poverty does not make sense. While the formula for eliminating relative poverty in rich nations is relatively obvious, the world continues to struggle with solutions to the problem of absolute poverty in those nations where the vast majority of the population have experienced chronic poverty over many decades.

Professor & Head of QUT's School of Economics and Finance, Tim Robinson

Mike Connolly

The cause of poverty is human imperfection. Some people are poor because they do not work, and some people are poor because they can not work, and some people are poor because of horribly unlucky personal circumstances. (Some people are born into wealthy families in America, and some people are born into poor, sick villages in the Third World.)

That said, the greatest enemy poverty ever had is freedom. The economic power of a free United States over the last 100 years had been responsible for lifting literally billions of people out of poverty. When people are protected by the Rule of Law and are free to work and live as they please while keeping the fruits of their labor, they have greater opportunity for upward mobility than in any other political or economic system. Honestly, the greatest practical solution to poverty is the United States of America.

Communications Director, Club For Growth, Mike Connolly

Grover Norquist

Poverty is what happens without liberty, property rights and freedom of association and contract. The question is not why some are poor, but why some societies become rich. Freedom, property rights, the right of free association and contract and hard money lead to wealth and prosperity.

President of Americans For Tax Reform, Grover Norquist

Steven Malanga

This is a broad question and it changes from society to society. In the United States, where you continue to have opportunity, it’s very different from a third world country where there is a lack of opportunities.

Generally, in the United States, it has been said that there are three things which a person can do to almost guarantee that poverty will be avoided: graduating from high school, marrying, and not becoming a single parent by having a child if not married. The vast majority of people who follow those three prescripts, something like 98.8%, don’t wind up in poverty in the United States. So although there are select people who are victims of circumstance, these factors are really about personal choices.

Having said this, the definition of poverty in the United States is not the definition of poverty in countries where people’s rights are constrained and opportunity is limited because their governments don’t offer proper rights, basic freedoms, or a free education system where people are universally allowed to attend grammar school and high school.

Ultimately there’s a collective responsibility on the part of government to foster a system which creates opportunities and there’s a personal responsibility on the part of the individual to take those opportunities.

Contributing editor of City Journal and Manhattan Institute senior fellow, Steven Malanga

Ira Stoll

No one knows for sure. A consistent rule of law, property rights and low marginal tax rates that provide individuals incentives to reap and keep the rewards of their labor and capital investments all help, but those are all also desirable for other reasons than assuring a prosperous economy, reasons that may even be more important than assuring a prosperous economy. Other factors may include openness to trade and immigration, educational institutions, geography (a port); infrastructure (an airport); and religion or culture.

Editor of and author of "Samuel Adams: A Life", Ira Stoll

Michael J. Boskin

Solution: economic growth, equal opportunity, an efficient and effective temporary safety net.

Professor of Economics at Stanford University, Michael J. Boskin

David Ranson

Obstacles or distortions to the free flow of capital, and their removal.

President of H. C. Wainwright and Company, Economics, David Ranson

Jonathan Alter

The cause of poverty is a society that, for whatever reason, cannot offer people the tools to better themselves. The solution is to provide more such tools--especially education--and to use fiscal policy, especially tax credits, to reward work. Society should make sure that no one who works regularly will be forced to live in poverty.

Author, commentator and lead Bloomberg View columnist, Jonathan Alter

Steve Deace

The greatest way to combat poverty is to first recognize what causes it in the first place -- sinful human nature. Sometimes that sinful human nature manifests itself as a robber baron who exploits the community's natural and human resources, thus making it harder to impossible for his fellow man to maximize his God-given talent so he can provide for himself and his family. Sometimes that sinful human nature manifests itself in the wrongful choices individuals make that puts themselves at risk. Either way, this is the reason why God gave the church the primary role of distributing charity in human society, because ultimately the church has the moral message to confront the evils that cause poverty in the first place.

When an amoral agent like the state intervenes instead, the best it can do is apply a band-aid to a flesh wound. It can treat the symptom, but it lacks the prescription to become the cure. Then, after a while, it becomes an enabler of the very thing it's trying to fix, just like it is today.

Talk radio host and author, Steve Deace

Stephen Golub

Economic growth is the main determinant of poverty alleviation as shown by the huge international disparities in income per person. In most of Africa and parts of Latin America and Asia, poverty is the norm because economic growth has failed to take off. Economic growth, however, is necessary but not sufficient—growth must also be inclusive and shared. East Asian economic growth has contributed tremendously to poverty reduction because it has been based on growth of labor-intensive exports of manufactured products, thus generating large-scale employment for unskilled workers.

Participation in the global economy has been the key to growth and poverty reduction in countries such as Korea, Malaysia, China and Vietnam in Asia, Chile and Costa Rica in Central America, and Botswana and Mauritius in Africa. In addition, a social safety net plays an important part in sharing the fruits of growth and globalization.

Economic growth requires a market economy, but the market generates disparities in incomes. Social insurance programs and public education can alleviate these disparities. Before a country can distribute, however, it must produce, hence the importance of growth.

Professor of Economics at Swarthmore College, Stephen Golub

Rabbi Aryeh Spero

Poverty is caused by a lack of manufacturing jobs, out-of-wedlock births, the lack of a work ethic, laziness, a sense of entitlement, and families that do not instill important values and aspirations. And socialism and the wrong religion or wrong interpretation of religion.

Columnist and commentator, Rabbi Aryeh Spero