For example some individuals may say 'a poor life of an individual is because that he doesn't work enough'.

The world advanced as much as inventing many advanced technologies such as gun, calculator, radio and car, yet people still have to work hard (or long) in order to not face poverty.

(Maybe even many people around the world are very poor and can hardly survive in spite of working very hard.)

Yet why would the world be able to discover these many advanced technologies, but not solve the problem of poverty?

Are there recognized philosophers who have considered this problem? What have they said about it?

  • 3
    The existing question was too open-ended for our site, which discourages original philosophizing or discussion-type questions. I have converted it to a reference request question, which is on-topic. Feb 16, 2021 at 15:48
  • Why does greed still exist?
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 17, 2021 at 1:35

5 Answers 5


Some very crude calculations:

The most basic measurement of wealth I can think of is GDP per capita. The world's GDP is about 87.55 trillion US dollars per year. The world population is about 7.674 billion people. If you divide one by the other, you get about $11,400 per person. The international poverty line is set at $1.90 per day, or about $700 a year. From another angle, it's estimated the world produces more than 1.5 times the amount of food needed to feed everyone.

What it comes down to is this:

  1. If you are willing to solve the problem of inequality, unequal access to services, etc., then there is more than enough wealth in the world so that poverty/hunger need not exist in our time.

  2. Maintaining present levels of inequality, the only solution to poverty I can think of would be more growth.

To summarize, it seems to me that in our times, poverty is not a problem of lack of resources, or of humanity struggling against nature (think famines and droughts), but rather a political problem of assigning resources, and a result of perverse models.

If you are asking what has prompted certain countries to attain development, and why others haven't, that's a much different question...

I'm not sure which philosophers have tackled this issue, but economists and politicians have, you may want to look at the thought of politicians and economists from Latin America in the last few years.


Being Latin American, I think I can shed light on the matter. The main reasons why there is so much poverty is for 3 reasons (in my opinion):

  1. Much corruption influenced by drug trafficking, trade unionists (who have incredible power almost at the level of mafias) and social parasites (public workers) that they have an unnecessary task and in which most of the time they are not qualified.

  2. Total inefficiency in managing resources and population (see Estonia as counterpart). A huge bureaucracy that affects even our elderly citizens.

  3. Poor education and perpetuation of ignorance. Nobody invests in education and every year its quality decreases. What I learned in high school is not even close to the rigor of a school in a first world country (there are exceptions such as technical schools and some prestigious private and public schools but they are the minority).

Education is an especially important problem since it does not teach moral values, cultural values ​​are completely corrupted, that makes no one care or have respect for others not even for the law.

  • This assumes economy is a zero-sum game: rich people (drug lords, "trade unionists", "social parasites") cause others to be poor. False. Illegal organizations produce economic movement instead. Parasites are not only economical byproducts, but natural ones. etc. Agree with point 3, except that stating that "nobody invests in education" implies that my education is not my responsibility, but of someone else.
    – RodolfoAP
    Feb 18, 2021 at 11:25

For me the best account of what money is, is David Graeber's Debt:_The_First_5000_Years. He argues that currency does not arise out of barter, but instead from fairness about reciprocal obligations, and records of debt in regard to them. The perspective he builds from the archeological and anthropological record, highlights that the real basis of wealth is in the accruing of trust and cooperation, that facilitating these is the true purpose of currency.

Graeber gave a talk on Indigenous Culture, which fits in to the dispute about human nature, which finds extremes in Rousseau's 'noble savage', and Hobbes' 'war of all against all'. In Graeber's account, based on studying the second-to-last large land mass to become populated by humans Madagascar, a behaviour like taking slaves, can only exist where technological inequality exists, and where that is not the case, ie no cities, not only do people tend to return to greater equality, but those who were most oppressed contribute to the new culture most, instilling an ethic that strongly acts against emerging inequality. So he sees the 'noble savage' not as a default loaded on to an otherwise blank slate, but as a more stable state, with a tendancy to both reccur & persist.

Alexander MacKenzie, the first person to cross the Americas North of Mexico, was only able to do so after being forcibly re-educated by native Canadian tribes (similarly to The Mayflower colonists requiring similar support/education). It is notable that he is advised how to plan his route around violently hostile tribes. Those would not benefit from trade networks, or the kind of support for the unlucky MacKenzie benefited from. Though we can't know how much the plains tribes were changed by European contact, especially disease, it seems broadly in practice, tribes had a mix of strategies. This for me points to game theory.

I discuss the emergence of moral cultures from game theory here, note in particular ethics as about maintaining unstable equilibria with mutual benefits, over lose-lose outcomes Is it possible for morality to exist?

And I discussed tyrannicide and the social contract from game theory here, nb free-rider problems and the emergence of groups insulated from selection causing instability Is the tyrannicide perpetrated by William Tell morally legitimate?

Economists Pickett & Wilkinson wrote The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, and The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone's Well-Being. Their tightly reasoned and strongly evidenced case, goes against trickle-down economics and Randian ethic of mutually-beneficial selfishness, which have proved completely unevidencable, & inneffective, in practice - to the extent we can declare them completely untethered from reality, more like harmful meme-viruses. While these untethered views can be seen as 'pure ideology', we can also understand game-theoretical stasis of an all-powerful state as intrinsically problematic too, building a free-rider problem, and becoming vulnerable to the expanding power of social systems that build trust & cooperation more efficiently.

Probably one of the most significant philosophical contributions to this emerging picture of the need for maintenance of a dynamic balance between individualistic selfishness & total reliance on state-provision, is effective altruism, popularised by Peter Singer who's 'expanding circle of moral concern' helps us see that welfare of non-humans should concern us too, in the wider picture of economic & power inequalities.

I would relate the requirement for a welfare system, to habeus corpus. Once trial by a jury of peers was an established right, the death penalty for stealing to feed a starving family could not result in a prosecution. So state provision had to be made, so that circumstance wasn't inevitable. Situations of rapid impoverishment, pandemics, economic collapses, or war, have tended to challenge, basically lies, about the poor. WW1 forced the British state to recognise that rickets & other consequences of poverty permanently damaged large numbers of people, in ways that could be cheaply fixed. New York & the scale of food insecurity among children during the covid pandemic, may shine a similar spotlight.

In conclusion. Stasis is bad, & can fossilise inequality & force a social systems destruction internally or externally. Having smaller-group or individualist ethics can help prevent stasis, but impose substantial social costs. Small universal costs, can create an unstable equilbria, that is mutually beneficial, and rational agents should seek this. Allowing talented and motivated people to succeed rather than be crippled by childhood circumstances, is always better for the community as a whole, and having an elite insulated from any need to have competance creates a free-rider problem that destroys societies more than any other circumstance, as they fail to adapt.

  • Poverty would be the consequence of a bunch of dissimilar problems ("stasis is bad", "individualist ethics can help [bad things]", "rational agents should...", "Allowing talented [people] to succeed is always better"), all having moral issues in common. Don't agree. This is like saying that poverty is due to bad actions.
    – RodolfoAP
    Feb 18, 2021 at 9:05

The world needs people to work to support the operations of the world.

And how can you force people to work. It is by letting them have no money. That they have to pay bills every month, and they have to work.

Look at it right now, people put money in the bank, getting 2% interest for 10 years, and get nothing much. Worse, they have to owe the credit card and pay 15% interest.

Rich people go into business of lending people money on credit card, or in real estate, or business that can gain 15% per year. Year 2000, they have $100 million. Year 2005, $200 million (note that it is 15% compounding), Year 2010, $400 million, Year 2015, $800 million, Year 2020, $1.6 billion. How are the poor people's $10,000 going to compete with their $1.6 billion?

So the poor remains poor, or poorer, and the rich becomes richer. It is by design.


There are some fallacies and wrong assumptions on the formulation of the question, so here's a pure economic perspective.

Money represents the amount of interactions a person performs with the rest of the society[1]. Money is the equivalent to points (or tokens in [1]) earned by helping others, provided by the state and printed in paper, or admitted by the same state as variables in the database of a bank. So, money is not a limited resource, but usually is constantly injected by central banks to a society, according to the amount of interactions in the last period. If banks wouldn't introduce money, past transactions would have more value, and future transactions will value less. Injection of money allows conservation of value.

This fact, the permanent variation of the money amount in circulation, controlled by the banks that print it, is important for the subject: as a consequence of this mechanism, as economists say, "money is not a zero-sum game" [2]. Otherwise, we would just explain poverty, as many people do, "because rich people have it all" [2]. Poverty is not the consequence of others getting rich. In any case, rich people cause less poverty around them, because their money keeps circulating (banks don't really store the money: they profit of it by loans and investments; they are forced only to keep a minimum of 10% of the money of their clients [3]). So, rich people just give more momentum to economic interactions, by two ways: 1) they create large pools of economic interaction and 2) they inevitably allow banks to produce more economic interactions by using their money. In addition, central banks are forced to inject into society the amount of money that rich people require to keep interacting. And the amount of money that such fortune produces, just for existing (because it produces interests), that is, the amount of money that the bank saving the fortune needs to keep it producing interests and earnings [3].

Poverty is, in such context, just the lack of commercial interaction, for an individual or a group. Being poor is essentially a decision, perhaps not conscious, but effective. All societies have a lot of needs waiting to be satisfied. Satisfying needs produces money. Poor people has neither a) the clear intention to satisfy them (they want the rewards instead, the money, not the intention of satisfying needs, of helping), nor b) the capability to do so.

The causes are multiple, but they can be simply reduced to a simple element: education [4]. Education provides mainly the second element discussed above: (b) the capability to satisfy specific needs. So, with some effort, any individual can learn how to satisfy specific needs. For example, becoming a barber or a dentist. But the former element (a), the intention to satisfy needs, requires not only of education, but of creativity, passion and genuine effort. This is something that is not learned at schools, but is moreover part of the culture of human groups.

Education can supply the intention required to satisfy needs (a), but that is quite complex. People who knows how to satisfy needs usually just do it, make money and get to their goals. They are not school teachers. As G. B. Shaw stated, Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. Not in the pejorative sense (that teaching would be the last resort for an improductive individual), but in the sense that teachers are usually focused on transmission of educative contents and not on promoting healthy interaction.

[1] See: credit theory of money

[2] https://www.handelsblatt.com/english/opinion/prized-mentality-the-economy-is-not-a-zero-sum-game/23566026.html?ticket=ST-408999-x7bQP2KyaIQxxpmWZLxL-ap4

[3] https://education.howthemarketworks.com/how-is-money-created/

[4] https://www.ets.org/s/research/pdf/poverty_and_education_report.pdf

  • This is terrible economics, and just absurd. "Money represents the amount of interactions a person performs with the rest of the society. Money is the equivalent to points" According to who? What rationale even? Shouldn't Youtubers be the powers behind the throne(s), rather than the Koch & Barclay brothers? You have no account of power, fairness, inequality diverging or converging. You don't mention a single philosopher. And you show zero grasp whatsoever of economics.
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 17, 2021 at 23:42
  • @CriglCragl your pejorative and prejudiced categorization of the "youtubers" group is grotesque, just a form of racism. I use youtube to listen to jazz, so I imagine I really am a "youtuber". I have no argument for an ad hominem attack, just to accept you (and Koch & Barclay) are probably better. In your comment, you assume the answer must be a macroeconomic approach. Not necessarily.
    – RodolfoAP
    Feb 18, 2021 at 8:12
  • Racist.. 🤣 Wow that shows the level of your thinking. Smh
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 18, 2021 at 12:56

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .