Poverty takes on multiple meanings

The danger that lies in ignoring a more broad definition of poverty (which includes “capability poverty” and “freedom poverty”) is that it doesn’t allow us to, non-judgmentally, observe the human or emotional side of what income growth analysis overlooks. I realize that LC is not necessarily a social service centered micro-finance organization, but it would be ignorant in my opinion to overlook what our clients’ social situation means to our work and their personal growth. We’re all pretty secure in the basic understanding that an increase in GDP is key to economic growth, and economic growth is/ was the linchpin of poverty alleviation. Sen’s argument stands to test this belief and forces practitioners of development to look past the financial stepping stones of poverty alleviation. Sen’s argument for greater freedom and not just increased income presents a side of the poverty alleviation argument that is often overlooked.  

In the comic there is an example of how although India implemented a structure and reforms to bolster economic growth they overlooked the other elements of “social reparation” which would allow for these reforms to take hold in the society. These social reparations include basic health care, education and land reform. These basic elements are the keys to eliminating freedom poverty because they allow individuals access and opportunities to make choices that can facilitate their movement out of poverty. The interconnectedness of these details suggests that freedom poverty and income poverty are by no means mutually exclusive. Without alleviating freedom poverty increased income cannot be realized, and without the factors contributing to increased income the choices available to continue the process of increasing freedom are limited too. This logic indicates that greater income means very little if it is not enough to facilitate the freedom to make choices.

With that, I believe we should consider how our actions can improve our clients’ freedom to make choices. What allows for the possibility of economic growth to occur is the express ability to choose actions that lead to growth rather than stagnation. For our clients and for people who live in former squatter communities the land reform laws, and the basic education and healthcare institutions necessary to allow for these choices do not exist.  So, while legally in the Honduran Constitution (as Russell cites) there may be relative social equality this does not translate over well into social justice or reduced freedom poverty. By virtue of the services we provide we see that our clients are lacking freedom. One main reason is that they are women, which Sen cites as an inherent inequality in many communities in the developing world.  This means they are automatically limited by social norms and traditions in their freedom to get an education. In other cases this means they are limited in their freedom to live peaceably with their husband or feel safe in their community, thus impinging upon their ability to make choices for their economic well-being or otherwise.

I don’t know how I feel about the rosy picture Sen paints about how social injustice can be identified and fixed. I need to further investigate the solutions she prescribes to see if there are tangible mechanisms to help our clients achieve the desired increase in capability freedom and poverty freedom. Overall, I like Sen’s argument because its forces us to think critically about a different aspect of this poverty puzzle (if you’ll excuse the lame alliteration).

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