Poverty is a word that has always been a part of people’s lives at different stages of the development of human society. The most common definition of the concept is associated with the absence of basic resources for an individual’s life. In terms of sociology, poverty is divided into two important concepts: absolute and relative (Van Krieken, 2013). Absolute poverty is defined as the absence of “the material resources” needed to meet people’s needs (Van Krieken, 2013, p. 221). Relative poverty is often defined as the lack of material resources needed to have the lifestyle acceptable in society. In the western world, when people speak about the concept, they mean relative poverty as the vast majority of the poor have certain resources although they cannot afford a lot of things that are seen common and necessary for proper living. In many South Asian or African countries, poverty is often absolute as thousands of people strive as they do not have food or money to buy it.
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As has been mentioned above, poverty has always been a part of human history. As for modern times, poverty is often associated with capitalism. Capitalism can be defined as an economic system “based on private ownership” where resources are distributed by the laws of a free market (Tischler, 2013, p. 402). Many theorists and practitioners have criticized this economic framework heavily. For example, Marx stressed that capitalism was an unfair world order that is doomed (Fracchia, 2017). However, some economists and sociologists have been less critical. Fracchia (2017) notes that Bernstein called capitalism an effective system that would be used for many decades or even hundreds of years. Irrespective of these differences in opinions, researchers, and practitioners agree that capitalism contributes to the spread of poverty in certain regions.
It has been acknowledged that this world is characterized by a relative lack of resources or rather different access to them. Wealthier nations have access to almost all resources scattered across the globe while poorer countries cannot extract their resources to address poverty (Thompson, 2013). The United States has always been associated with capitalism and can be seen as an example of the major vices of this system. People focus on the accumulation of resources, which means that stronger, smarter, or simply more assertive people manage to receive and often take resources from others. Such ways and practices contribute to the spread of poverty as some people find it difficult or impossible to find resources for their proper living. Historically, certain classes managed to obtain a major part of the available resources, which enables their children to retain this position. Capitalism was often associated with the lack of morality and ethical choices, which led to disproportionate allocation and use of resources.
Fracchia, J. (2017). The untimely timeliness of Rosa Luxemburg. In W. Bonefeld & K. Psychopedis (Eds.), Human dignity: Social autonomy and the critique of capitalism (pp. 105-131). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
Thompson, J. L. (2013). Sociology: Made simple. Oxford, England: Elsevier.
Tischler, H. L. (2013). Cengage advantage books: Introduction to sociology (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
Van Krieken, R., Habibis, D., Smith, P., Hutchins, B., Martin, G., & Maton, K. (2013). Sociology. Frenchs Forest, Australia: Pearson Higher Education.