Acton Institute Powerblog

There’s Poverty and then there’s Poverty

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

As I have mentioned before, we must be extremely careful about our language when we debate one another on any issue. So often, an argument is won, lost, or irredeemably confused because of a definition. If truths can be unlocked in careful definition, so can lies be reified in careless ones.

A case in point: what we mean by ‘poverty.’ The BBC has a story exploring how the definition of this word has changed as social conditions improved in England. The gist of the article is that once the deep poverty of Victorian England became history, poverty aquired a new definition; the new definition emphasized not the inability of people to sustain themselves (as was once the measure) but how a given person’s income related to society at large.

This of course begs the question: in a society of immense wealth, are those people in poverty who can afford only a fraction of the luxuries that others can afford? Can we so easily hijack a word, complete with its connotations? If you think that words cannot be so easily hijacked, so easily skewed, or so simply misunderstood as to serious impact culture and life, I submit the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘human rights’ for your consideration.

David Michael Phelps


  • Lyn

    Okay, that’s helpful. The term poverty (as often used today, at least in America and Britain) is more like “not keeping up with the Joneses” than not being able to eat, which in turn can diminish the urgent need that true poverty around the globe elicits. This re-framing of the term can cause people to view themselves as poor, when in fact they are not. This is what I mean by having a *poverty mindset* vs an abundance mindset – which is the perspective that there is plenty of opportunity for each of us to create wealth for the benefit of others. lgp

    [url=]See earlier post[/url]

  • Because too much has already been said about the recent gulf hurricanes, I won’t put in my two cents. I will, however, direct the reader to the most insightful take on this situation that I have yet to stumble across. As you read it, think again a