Insular poverty is the second type of poverty Galbraith looks into in his writing. This particular type of poverty does not depend on what has happened to an individual, but what has happened to the environment the individual lives in. Galbraith describes insular poverty as “an ‘island’ of poverty. In the island, everyone or nearly everyone is poor.”(409) The people that live on this “island” have been affected by some harmful thing in their environment or some sort of a natural disaster – things they cannot control no matter how hard they try.
They may be afflicted by poverty because the soil where they live is rocky or unfertile, making it very hard to produce their own food and leaving them unable to provide adequate food for their families. When areas are ruined environmentally, people often say “It’s basically a poor country.” or “It’s a pretty barren region.” as if to use these as excuses to why those inhabitants are poor (410). A natural disaster such as a tsunami, hurricane, tornado, or earthquake can also aid in the deprivation of the people of a city. When awful disasters like this happen, the inhabitants of the affected area are often unprepared and therefore are left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
They then have to start over with almost nothing and try to provide for their families as best they can. People affected by insular poverty tend to move to areas that offer more hope and chances for survival even if they are not much better than where they were before. Galbraith describes it when he says “Grim as life is in the urban ghetto, it still offers more hope, income, and interest than in the rural slum.” (410)
Although the exact cause of poverty is unknown, many people have their theories as to why it is a problem throughout the world. Poverty is not a thing that has occurred just recently, and there are people from earlier centuries who have studied the problem it has created. In his book Progress and Poverty, Henry George believes one of the reasons for poverty may be the progress made in machinery and factories over the last century (George 8). George’s book was published in 1879 right around the time of the Industrial Revolution and the advancements in factories. Throughout his book, he constantly asks the question: “Why, in spite of increase in productive power, do wages tend to a minimum which will give but a bare living?”(17) George has reason to believe that although the United States has made progress in technology through the Industrial Revolution, they have fallen further into poverty because the wages are being lowered and the standard of living is raised.
Another reason George believes poverty exists is because there are too many people living in one area. He says that the more a population increases, the more people there are to feed and the less amount of money there is to buy food. George states that “The globe may be surveyed and history may be reviewed in vain for any instance of a considerable country in which poverty and want can be fairly attributed to the pressure of an increasing population.”(106)
Galbraith also has his ideas as to why poverty exists in this world. He explains that insular poverty may be caused by certain things that “restrain or prevent participation in economic life at going rates of return.” There are several restraints including race, poor educational facilities, and the disintegration of family life in the slum (Galbraith 410-411). Race is one restraint that a poor person cannot escape, but the poor educational facilities might happen because of that person’s race. Galbraith touches on the breakdown of the nuclear family in rural slums when he says that this breakdown “leaves households in the hands of women”. He says that a nuclear family is one thing a poor person can be proud of, but when it is broken apart, it “is the shared sense of helplessness and rejection and the resulting demoralization which is the product of the common misfortune.”
While all these men have their ideas about why poverty has created such a problem, there are also many government policies put into place that in certain ways only hurt people afflicted by poverty instead of helping them. Although this is a pretty big problem, it is hardly ever found on the front of newspapers or in the top stories on the news channels. When a person sees or hears anything in the news about poverty, it is usually about how well a certain charity is doing providing food and aid for poor people in Third World countries, but there is rarely anything about the problems governments create when they put in policies that only exacerbate the problem.
According to Anup Shah in his web article “Causes of Poverty”, poor people have limited access to health, education, and other services so they, in turn, are more affected by hunger, malnutrition, and disease. The poorest people also have little say in what happens politically where they live so they have no say in what the government does to help them escape poverty (Shah). Galbraith says that “with the transition of the very poor from a majority to a comparative minority position, there has been a change in their political position.”(Galbraith 411)
One government policy that looks like it would help poor people but really does not is food aid. Some people call this “food dumping” because that is pretty much what happens when this policy is in action. When the United States decides to lend aid to a Third World country, they export food to that country hoping it will help solve hunger problems and aid in eliminating poverty. The reason this government policy does not help the poor people is because giving free or lower priced foods to them is harmful to the farmers in the area they are trying to give aid to. When these poor people receive free or lower priced food, they do not buy from the local farmers so the farmers can no longer compete with the lowered prices. This destroys the local markets and drives these farmers out of their jobs they depend on and into poverty because they no longer have a way to earn money (Shah). So in the end, this policy actually increases the poverty rate instead of reducing or eliminating it.
In J.W. Smith’s book The World’s Wasted Wealth II, he describes another problem with the policy of “food dumping”. He explains that the poor people receiving food from the United States eventually become dependent on the country that provides them with food (Smith 63). Smith says “much U.S. food exported [is] unnecessary, [and] it results in great harm to the very people they profess to be helping.” This government policy destroys that country’s market and reduces their food production so they are no longer independent. Many poor countries are rich in arable land and natural resources so Smith explains that “exporting food may be profitable for the exporting country, but when their land is capable of producing adequate food, it is a disaster to the importing countries.” (Smith 66) When the United States continues furnishing free or lower priced foods to Third World countries, it results in “shattered Third World economies” (Smith 67).
Poverty is an ongoing problem that will probably be around for a very long time. While many people think they can solve the problem of poverty, Galbraith says it may not be able to be completely fixed. He says “it is not remedied by a general advance in income”. (Galbraith 411) In other words, just because the economy improves and people earn more money, it does not mean people will magically emerge out of poverty. People can try to overcome the frustrations of the environment around them like infertile soil or natural disasters, but something will always hinder them from overcoming it completely.
Galbraith explains it like this: “advance cannot improve the position of those who, by virtue of self or environment, cannot participate.”(411) Government policies that are being enforced are also not helping eliminate the problem of poverty. Instead, they are only exacerbating the problem and therefore, poor people are suffering because of it. All in all, poverty will never be eradicated, but we can try our best to do our part to end it.
George, Henry. Progress and Poverty. 1879. Google Books. Web. 3 April 2010. Jacobus, Lee A. The Position of Poverty. Boston, New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010 Lichter, Daniel T. “Poverty and Inequality Among Children”. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 23, pp. 121-145. JSTOR. 1997. Web. 3 April 2010. Marshall, Alfred. Principles of Economics. 1898. Google Books. Web. 3 April 2010. Shah, Anup. “Causes of Poverty”. Global Issues. 20 July 1998. 28 March 2010 http://www.globalissues.org/issue/2/causes-of-poverty