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Poverty and the Rich: A Question of Morality

Povert, morality

The sad fact that no country in the world is free from is that a vast majority of people suffer from poverty. This problem seems to be becoming more serious day by day, despite many efforts to do away with it. What is more interesting is that poverty exists amidst plenty. "One poignant reality in contemporary experience," Edward Weisband observes, "is that, with each passing year, poverty engulfs many more individuals and families around the globe than those who become liberated from it despite increasing wealth throughout the world economy."

A person who suffers from poverty might have been less sad, angry and revolutionary if it had not been the case that poverty exists amidst plenty. The fact that poverty coexists with affluence has made its victims react in a variety of ways to the larger socio-economic system that determines the kind of life they lead. Some of them confine their response to poverty to their being sad. Some of them go beyond this sort of response to being angry with the socio-economic system that they believe is responsible for making them a victim of poverty. And, some go beyond even the second sort of response to show a response in which they raise arms against the socio-economic system.

The rich are morally responsible for solving the problem of poverty. According to Robert Chambers, the rich in general seem to ignore their moral responsibility to solve this problem. Chambers writes, "if any of us had a sick or starving child in the room with us, we imagine we would do something about it. A child crying from pain or hunger in a room is hard to shut out; it pins responsibility onto those present and demands, impels, action. Yet we live in a world where millions of children cry from avoidable hunger and pain everyday, where we can do something about it, and where for the most part we do little. ….. What is the difference between the room and the world? Why do we do so much less than we could?" Chambers' statement would implicitly teach a great lesson to those who, despite their being able to help the poor, do nothing. Those who are affluent enough to do something for the poor must ponder the question Chambers has raised. As one of the possible answers to that question, Robert Chambers writes that "the child is not in the room with us, but in Bihar, Bangladesh, the Sahel or a nameless camp for refugees, out of sight, sound and mind." Besides, he writes, "selfishness is a powerful force. Putting one's family first seems natural and good, and 'charity begins at home' is a great let-out."

Robert Chambers seems to assume that affluent people do something for a child crying from hunger in the same room as they live in. This has led him to say that rich people do so much less than they could or do nothing for the hungry child crying because, in his own words, "the child is not in the room with us," and by 'us' he means a class of affluent people of which he is also a part. I do not subscribe to this view. The child is in the room with the rich. The world we live in today has been so globalized that it has been like a small room. So, it is ridiculous to say that the child crying from pain or hunger is out of sight, sound and mind.

Implicit in Chambers' statement is the assumption that if the child suffering from hunger is in the same room in which the rich live, they do as much as they could for him/her. I think this assumption is incorrect. If it is true that the rich are, in general, kind enough to do something for the child crying from hunger or painful disease, it is true that they regard the globalized world as "a single room where both the rich and the poor live as a member of the same family," and would do as much as they could for the poor. Being kind, one of the qualities not everyone possesses, is something independent of time and place. If we are really kind, then we are always and everywhere kind. Therefore, saying that the rich do so much less than they could for the child crying from hunger because s/he is not in the room with them is no more than a pretext.

Today, we live in the world that has such a socio-economic system as inevitably leads to the concentration of much of the total wealth in the hands of a few. Until such a system is replaced with its alternative, which is egalitarian, the problem of the gap between the rich and the poor remains as something typical of the society we live in. Though the rich carry out their moral responsibility to help the poor by giving, if the exploitative capitalistic socio-economic system we live under remains unchanged, poverty, on the whole, also remains unchanged. It is probably because, in the words of Zakir Husain, "a capitalist must strive to gain, not always because he is greedy, not always because he is selfish, but just because he is a capitalist." Therefore, their "traditional" moral responsibility to help the poor by giving them things the latter need should not be the only moral responsibility they should feel. They should feel a moral responsibility to get involved in the movement against the exploitative capitalistic economic system.


Weisband, Edward "Poverty Amidst plenty: World Political Economy and Distributive Justice". Boulder, San Francisco & London: Westview Press. p.7. (ed). 1989.

Chambers, Robert. "Rural Development: Putting the Last First". USA: Longman Inc. p.3-4. 1983.

Husain, Zakir. "Capitalism: Essays in Understanding". London: Asia Publishing House. p.32. 1967.

Published: 2006-07-13
Author: khibinga tanchhalo

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