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Poverty seems to be an economic phenomenon, and we notice it by its hallmark of material want.  But this is an illusion.  

Consider:  Henry VII of England could afford neither an air condition for hot days nor oil-furnace central heating for cold days;  He could not afford a CD player for his favorite music, nor a TV.  Most Americans can afford this much, and more.  So:  Was he poor?  Of course not.  

Less dramatically, when I was traveling in India a couple of decades ago, it occurred to me that if the poor of America could move to India with their incomes, they would be modestly well off.  But of course that could not happen, and it does not work that way.  Instead they have to live in America and be subject, because of material want, to daily contempt.  The expressing and receiving of contempt is the whole point.  

Poverty is the natural compliment to wealth.  When some members of a society manage to have assigned to themselves special value in that society, greater than other members, and then arrange to have that status marked by the accumulation of material goods and the material deprivation of others, then we have wealth and poverty.  

Wealth/poverty is a single thing, and America we have a very, very great wealth/poverty.  

The opposite of wealth/poverty is prosperity, where no member of society is greatly valued above another, and where there is no great material accumulation and deprivation.  Whereas wealth/poverty focuses on accumulation/deprivation, prosperity focuses on maintaining a material flow.  

Are many Americans in material distress?  Sure, as the recent events in New Orleans makes vivid.  I don't mean the hurricane damage, per se, though that was one thing.  Rather, Katrina pulled back the veil.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 09:55:17 PM EST

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