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Choice of Poverty or Independence

Making Choices

Freedoms Required Choice

Posted on January 25,2011

Poverty - just the term bursts into a kaleidoscope of definitions. Yet poverty is one of those terms we use that is recognizable but at the same time indefinable. This piece will not attempt to deal with definitions such as friendless, a broken spirit, or lost for ideas. All of which you can nuance into a definition of poverty.

Economic poverty is common among those unwilling or unable to provide for their needs. This definition also expands to whole societies that have to grapple with intense poverty on a daily basis.

When an individual or group has conquered the problem of how to provide for their sustenance, independent of handouts, then they have truly conquered poverty. But many in this world have the deck stacked against them. Bad choices or an unwillingness to improve economical circumstances does not tell the whole story about their poverty. Corrupt governments, over-population, and a lack of resources can trap a whole society into poverty.

It is sad when a people who are willing to rise above poverty can’t because of corrupt political systems, geographical disadvantages, or traditional taboos that limit how particular groups live. The poor in the different countries I have visited are too busy just trying to survive to worry about the reason for their plight.

But for those of us living in free societies with the ability to make choices, economic poverty only occurs if a person is unable or unwilling to sustain him/her self without charity. It is the freedom to choose the path we take that enables free societies to thrive. All of us, in a free society, whether we are rich, poor, or barely living, depend upon the choices we make for supplying the basic needs of life.

The choices we make determine our status. A person can decide at which level he/she want to live. Many are happy with the simpler life without the hassles of increased responsibilities. Each incremental step we take upward comes at a price. Additional responsibility and greater personal effort are what we pay for improving our economical status. As an example, assume that you live a carefree life and every morning you take only that which is handy or easy to get. In this example, we will assume that you go out each day and gather dandelion greens for your daily food needs. Not much effort here, depending on the season, it could be thistle, poke salad, or some other wild vegetation.

We all have dreams of a better life. The trick is to turn those dreams into reality. But a better life will require additional effort and it is up to the individual to choose whether to make the commitment for the better menu.

As luck would have it, a neighbor has a garden that produces a variety of vegetables. But the neighbor is unwilling to share the bounty without some help with the weeding, watering and keeping the pests out of the garden. The choice is yours. Do you increase your efforts for the reward of an upgrade to your menu, or would you rather not have to share in the responsibilities for the upgrade. There are two more options open. (Actually, there are three – but stealing will not be a consideration in this article.) Those two choices would be planting your own garden or depend on others to give you something to eat.

Planting a garden would allow you to grow the vegetables that you like. That sounds good, but by choosing to plant your own garden, you have to weigh the benefits against the additional effort and responsibility it would take. Planting a garden includes not only additional effort but also gardening tools, seed, plowing, and planting. On top of your investment comes the anxiety about the future of your garden. There could be too much rain, hail, gophers, or any other of the obstacles facing a gardener.

Everybody faces choices to improve their circumstances. The easiest choice is to just kick back and enjoy the charity of others. The food won’t be as good, but the savings in effort and responsibility may be attractive enough to live at that level. And who knows, enough people might feel sorry for you and up the ante of what they give to you.

These examples illustrate that each improvement we make in our life requires an increase in effort and responsibility. Most of us make commitments for those things that improve our existence. We don’t need that new car, but we are willing to accept the additional responsibility to have one. It would be much easier to acquire a cheaper used car because owning that new car will certainly add to our burgeoning list of responsibilities. In some cases, paying for that new car may mean living cheaper, like more pasta and beans, or even fewer Christmas gifts for friends and family.

Every increase in status we make imposes more responsibility as the price for that increase. And we know that the heavy weight of responsibility is not for everybody. For the record, those people who don’t choose to improve their lot also lose the opportunity for the great feeling of accomplishment. Self-satisfaction for overcoming obstacles is also a great reward. It is for that reason that we have different status levels. The good thing is that we as individuals are free to make those choices and can take on however much responsibility that makes us comfortable. One of the pitfalls of ambition is the over extension of our abilities as author Laurence J. Peter put it in his book – ‘The Peter Principle’, “Status seekers will rise to their level of incompetence”. We reach the incompetent level whenever our ambition overtakes our ability.

Try and visualize the economical status ladder. Every person on the bottom layer depends on those who made the choice to improve their lot in life. But efforts from the top to improve the quality of life for those on the bottom layer have its consequences. To provide the bottom with better food and services means that those higher than the bottom will have to increase their contributions. Eventually, the burden becomes too much for those just above the bottom and they too become part of the bottom. The bottom grows in number, and the amount it takes to sustain them also grows until keeping the bottom supplied becomes unsustainable. There isn’t enough top to keep supplying the bottom.

There has never been a successful bottom-up run economy. But the other side of the coin is that success isn’t forever either. Success breeds guilt at the top and compassion for the bottom. A bad situation because once the economics reaches over the balance point, the bottom asserts itself and is in control until poverty forces changes that lead to reinstating a way for people to improve their status.

This vicious circle is correctable. But correcting the situation has always had the same enemy – neither side recognizes their location economically until it is too late to reverse course. The obvious point of economic balance is when both sides of the political spectrum see each other as extremists. But even then, it may be too late to change the outcome.

"We are only a version of Aesop's Ant and Grasshopper fable."
- Unknown


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