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Poverty: A Pluridimensional Concept

  • Alessandro Pinzani
  • Walquiria Leão Rego
Chapter

Abstract

As Amartya Sen has pointed out, “poverty should be seen as a privation of basic capabilities instead of merely a limited level of income, which has been the traditional criterion for identifying poverty.” However, Sen himself recognizes that “a lack of income is one of the principal causes of poverty, so that the lack of income may be the primordial reason for the lack of capabilities,” (Sen 2000, 109). Thus, even if the study of poverty cannot be limited to a mere analysis of inequality, this phenomenon is always associated with insufficient income. This means that it is essential to take income into account when studying poverty. Sen suggests two steps to be taken when defining poverty. Firstly, we should identify the poor people among the general population. Secondly, we should identify the characteristics these people share so that we can arrive at an evaluation of the level of poverty of the community in question (Sen, Amartya, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997, 164 s.). In the first step, we should draw a “poverty line” which might vary considerably from community to community. Sen points out that identifying who is poor does not necessarily imply per se a legal right to public assistance (Ibid., 167), since this may depend on the state’s actual capacity to fulfill its duties to these people. In the case of impoverished states, such as, for example, Ethiopia or Eritrea, the state may find it impossible to adopt anti-poverty policies. However, the situation changes when the state in question has the necessary resources to at least guarantee a minimal level of aid (such as in the case of Brazil). The state sometimes draws a second line between those poor who have a right to public assistance and those that do not. In the case of Brazil, the BF is granted to nuclear families whose members have a monthly income per capital less than R$ 70, although people earning between R$ 80 and R$ 100 may be considered poor in the context of Brazilian society. Various political and pragmatic factors come into play when setting the line in question and identifying who has the right to public assistance. It is important to emphasize that a shocking number of poor people in the population co-exist with an immense wealth of resources. Furthermore, there is striking hostility on the part of the media and the so-called public opinion against public programs that combat poverty. This hostility expresses the position of the upper-middle classes who, although numerically limited, are incredibly powerful. Furthermore, Brazil has one of the highest levels of income concentration in the world. Its grossly unfair distribution is well known.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alessandro Pinzani
    • 1
  • Walquiria Leão Rego
    • 2
  1. 1.Centro de Filosofia e Ciências HumanasUniversidade Federal de Santa CatarinaFlorianopolisBrazil
  2. 2.Instituto de Filosofia e Ciências HumanasUniversidade Estadual de CampinasCampinasBrazil

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