Capability deprivation is definitely a more effective way to combat poverty then simply raising the poor’s incomes. This will mean that those who are currently in a situation of unhappiness and deprivation will eventually be lifted out of this terrible environment where they cannot arrive at any sort of goals in their lives. In her seminal essay, Amartya Sen argues that poverty must first be seen as the deprivation of the ten specific cabailities which mean that humans lead a basically healthy and happy life. She also argues that the mere increase in comes will do nothing more than lift people temporarily out of poverty with the end result that after spending their excess income, they will be returned to the same situation as before. This thesis is also intriguingly underlined in the short story, ‘Swamp Nurse’ where the description of how children end up mired in a squabble of poverty is very rampant indeed especially in areas where there is incredible poverty such as Asia and Africa.
Martha Nussbaum’s description regarding then ten specific capabilities that humans require to lead a good life is also very instructive and revealing as it singularly demonstrates how poverty is to be assessed if countries can start climbing out of it.
Amartya Sen’s argument.
This quote from the Amartya Sen essay is extremely revealing:
“First, the relationship between income and capability would be strongly affected by the age of the person (e.g., by the specific needs of the old and the very young), by gender and social roles (e.g., through special responsibilities of maternity and also custom determined family obligations), by location (e.g., by proneness to flooding or drought, or by insecurity and violence in some inner-city living), by epidemiological atmosphere (e.g., through diseases endemic in a region) and by other variations over which a person may have no–or only limited–control”.
Here Sen explains that it is impossible to move out of poverty if the relationship between incomes and economic capability is not properly assessed. So in a sense this means that the capability to purchase items for a decent standard of living is important but the importance of getting out of the mire has to be assessed. Another crucial issue which is important regarding poverty is the way in which family customs are treated. It is obvious that cultures which are affected by large child populations means that is very difficult to get out of poverty since there are huge numbers of children without any sort of life expectancy in countries on the African continent and on the Asian continent.
This brings us to the argument that it is absolutely useless to increase income levels if this will not bring about a change in living conditions and customs. Sen’s observation on the natural disasters and ecological scenario is also interesting as this means that those who are singularly affected by climate conditions will be closer to the poverty line if such disasters occur.
“While it is important to distinguish conceptually the notion of poverty as capability inadequacy from that of poverty as lowness of income, the two perspectives cannot but be related, since income is such an important means to capabilities. And since enhanced capabilities in leading a life would tend, typically, to expand a person’s ability to be more productive and earn a higher income, we would also expect a connection going from capability improvement to greater earning power and not only the other way around”.
This quote from Sen’s essay basically sums up everything in a nutshell. It means that the effort to bring people out of the economic deprivation in which they find themselves through education and other social development programmes will then enable them to find better jobs, earn more money and thus move forward and out of the mire. It is succinctly explained in this manner – you have to enable people to make the most out of their abilities and if possible improve these abilities if you want them to move forward in life. Simply throwing money through social handouts will not solve the problem in any way.
It is interesting to observe the ten Central Human Capabilities as put forward by Nussbaun.
All these ten capabilities are obviously severely deprived where poverty is concerned. So in a sense Nussbaum completely conforms with Sen’s arguments that simply raining the incomes from the poor will not in any way solve the problem of poverty. It may be a small short term stop gap solution to throw money at the poor but the end result will certainly prove nothing. I find the activities of playing and control over one’s environment to be extremely important as they show that life cannot just be seen in a vacuum related solely to monetary compensation.
The problem of social justice has been an intrinsic one over several hundreds of years where those who have plenty cannot seem to be able to balance out their resources with those who have nothing.
The ten points raised by Nussbaum are instructive. The most important one is life and being in good health to ensure a better quality of living. Bodily integrity or the ability to move freely from one place to another is also very important whilst at the same time being secure against domestic violence. The fourth capability is centred upon senses, imagination and thought or the ability to be informed and cultivated through a proper education and also including literacy as well as basic mathematical and scientific training. The importance of being able to use one’s mind as well as imagination and thought in questions of music, religion and literature are also discussed by Nussbaum. Emotions are also an important part of capability since they enable us to use our imagination as well as build attachments with others. The lack of emotional development brings about poverty and a reduction in one’s life chances to build a successful family. Practical reason, affiliation, play and the control over one’s environment are also discussed by Nussbaum. The latter includes effective participation in the political sphere as well as the material question of being able to acquire and hold property and work opportunities on an equal basis with others.
Colonialism was a force for the creation of famine in the developing world. The manner in which several hundreds of thousands had to work for starvation wages in order to survive was really quite shocking as was the system where the crops produced by the agricultural labourers of the country in question were paid at prices which were as much as half the market price for such commodities. This system undoubtedly created a vicious circle which is still in evidence today as African products are still priced at way below the market level as are those in India and other former colonial countries. The phenomenon of cheap labour continues to provide situations which are ripe for hunger and famine all over the world and this situation really is the root of all problems where hunger is concerned. The authors provide a hugely convincing argument in this respect as they demonstrate that famine is indeed a man-made phenomenon which has caused the deaths of untold millions across the centuries with colonialism a force for evil in this respect. So one has to accept the fact that to come out of the vicious circle of poverty, a huge and wholesale effort has to be made to pull people out of the mire which was created by rampant colonialism.
The introduction to this short story sums up the disaster that is capability deprivation in areas such as Louisiana. Here one can see that there were several people who set up their dwellings close to swamps thus making them susceptible to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. And in Boo’s description of the vouchers system, we observe how most of the families who lived close to the swamps were utterly dependent on the food distribution system for survival and this made them sink much deeper into the mire of poverty and deprivation. The fate of Maggie is absolutely terrifying as it demonstrates that there was absolutely no chance for her to make good and after the hurricane she actually ended up homeless and without any hope for survival as a decent human being. Here we once again turn to the ten human capabilities which are completely missing in Maggie’s lfe and which definitely show that she has no sort of future ahead of her. So in a sense, the wheel has turned full circle and Maggie has no hope of lifting herself out of the mire. She cannot be happy, she cannot play and she cannot do anything else which will lift her out of the deprivation in which she has ended up.
However after being given the proper opportunities, Maggie managed to survive and actually lifted herself out of poverty even marrying. This means that her life was a success story as what appeared to be a hopeless and desperate situation ended up in a triumph of sorts.
The work of nurses in third world countries is also the heart of the story. With Sen’s focus on social justice as well as Nussbaun’s ten capabilities for human existence, the end result is that social programmes and improvement of educational programmes does actually help in improving capabilities for those who are mired in poverty. Katharine Boo’s article Swamp Nurse actually demonstrates that social justice and assistance for the poor does actually lift them up from a bad situation and improves their quality of life. It means that actually increasing salaries for the poor will not bring about a change in their quality of life if social programmes are not implemented accordingly.
Sen, Amartya. “Poverty as Capability Deprivation.” Development as Freedom. Random House Digital, Inc. 2011. Web. 5 May 2012.
Nussbaum, Martha. “Capabilities as Fundamental Entitlements: Sen and Social Justice.” Feminist Economics, 9(2-3), 2003, 33-59. Print.
Boo, Katherine. “Swamp Nurse.” The New Yorker. 06 Feb 2006. Print