The paradox of poverty | Pakistan Today

The paradox of poverty

There is an explanation for this, of course, as there is for almost every other thing, even if inadequate. According to studies, our minds are not wired to use the mental bandwidth for more than one thing at the same time

A lot has been written on the Bahawalpur oil tanker incident, ever since it took place on that fateful Sunday morning last week. The incident took the lives of many people who came towards the doomed oil tanker to claim their share of the golden liquid, at no cost.

While a fair amount has been said about how they should have known better, should have avoided the oil tanker or just run away as far as they could— the fact remains; something stopped them from doing so.

Something dragged them towards their imminent death, something that had established a hold on their senses in that one unfortunate moment.

Orhan Pamuk, in his novel Snow (2004), writes, “We’re not stupid! We’re just poor! And we have a right to insist on this distinction.”

Everything is thrown out of the window when you’re poor. You cannot think or even function properly. All you can think of is day-to-day survival, leaving room for little else.

There is an explanation for this, of course, as there is for almost every other thing, even if inadequate. According to studies, our minds are not wired to use the mental bandwidth for more than one thing at the same time. A fact that might explain why irrationality suddenly takes over when one is poor.

Princeton University professor of psychology and public policy, Eldar Shafir, and Harvard University economist Sendhil Mullainathan tackle this concept fittingly in their 2013 book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. According to this study, human beings cannot focus on more than one thing when they’re faced with the problem of scarcity. They can only focus only on the present issue that they face, get tunnel vision. It puts them in a constant survival mode and can happen with any key resource.”

In today’s day and age of grandiose schemes and projects, all this talk about poverty just seems a bit archaic. But incidents like these call upon the need for a more informed public discourse about the subject and a defter state approach to the issue

Amartya Sen writes in her famous study, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, that people do not die because of unavailability of food in a country per se, but because food is not available ‘to them,’ which brings us to the conundrum that is inequality.

Many would blame inequality instead of poverty. They would be unmistaken, of course, for poverty and inequality often go hand in hand. Behind every poor household is the unequal distribution of wealth somewhere else. So indeed, inequality is the bane of poverty, a vicious cycle that seems bent upon not ending — especially in this part of the world.

Inequality gives rise to poverty, which gives rise to incidents related to poverty, which Pakistan is no stranger to. There is a serious lack of research on inequality in our country; however, the little research that has been done is enough to prove that the distribution of wealth in Pakistan has become even more unequal of late.

In other words, ‘the rich are getting richer, whereas the poor are getting poorer.’

It is a vicious cycle of sorts and is getting worse with each passing moment. Unavoidable factors, such as load shedding, are causing industrialists to reduce working hours, hence cutting down their workforce. This results in unemployment, which eventually results in poverty. Even if a country is not tremendously poor itself, the fact that its resources are the property of only a selected few is enough to create an abyss that poor people cannot find their way out of.

According to Pakistan’s first ever-official report on multidimensional poverty that was launched last year, 40 per cent of Pakistan’s population is living below the poverty line right now. The report further states that the degree of poverty is significantly higher in rural areas than in urban centres.

In today’s day and age of grandiose schemes and projects, all this talk about poverty just seems a bit archaic. But incidents like these call upon the need for a more informed public discourse about the subject and a defter state approach to the issue.

According to the World Bank Organisation, “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter…Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, and has been described in many ways. Most often, poverty is a situation people want to escape.”

Poverty was not the only factor at play in the Bahawalpur oil tanker incident, though it was a pertinent one. Many of the victims may have even known the fatality of their actions; but the fact remains that the reality of poverty overcame the reality of death for them in that one moment. They were getting oil for free; in that one moment, they just wanted it, despite everything, and that was the reality of it all.



One Comment;

  1. Anser Mahmood Chughtai said:

    Great. Do read Pareto Efficiency and Pareto Optimality, then you will have some more insight on said topic…..

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