“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.” (Seneca)

It would be comforting to think that there is no one either rich or poor, but thinking makes it so. Consider those living in low-quality, temporary local authority accommodation. Most of us would say that they were poor, yet with adequate shelter, clothing, food, and healthcare, they are living in luxury compared to many in the developing world or the slums of Victorian Britain. Whether they are poor depends entirely on how you look at it. It’s your state of mind, not the state of your finances that counts, a view which much recent psychological research has been used to support.

Or perhaps what really matters is not how limited your means are, but that you live within them. I like what Mr Micawber says in David Copperfield, “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and six, result misery.”

Now, while such an outlook has much to commend it, we have to realize that if adopted too zealously it can make us forget that there is such a thing as real poverty. The starving person’s problem is not that she craves more, it is that she really does not have enough. The danger is also that Seneca’s insight can be taken as licence to withdraw justifiable concern for those in relative paucity. Why care about people living on the s0-called poverty line if they’re not really poor?

(Adapted from Julian Baggini’s ‘Should You Judge This Book by Its Cover?’)


~ by irwin on February 15, 2012.

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