In a developed country like Australia, the issue of what constitutes poverty must be linked to expectations. Alain De Botton wrote a book called Status Anxiety a year ago which promptly sold like hotcakes not only in your more niche cultural elite bookshops but also in general bookshops pretty much everywhere. I’ve not read the book, just reviews of it and I’ve browsed through it a couple of times. It seemed ok, I’ll probably read it if I find a copy of it a local library but I’m more interested in what it says about our society that it was so popular.
It strikes me as the Gini coefficient of our country increases and I dont doubt that it has and will continue to do so, so too will status anxiety about where we are on that widening bell curve of earnings. Physical poverty at the bottom 10 percentile may not exist (and it is my contention that it does not when measured against developing countries) but status anxiety must. The ironic thing about that is that status anxiety cuts right across all percentiles. Regardless of income, people appear to be relentlessly comparing themselves with others and finding that what they do have is never enough. In that respect, we are all poor. In the longer term, this means that as a species we are more likely to consume more and more natural resources.
I have, in my opinion, a well paid job and have some assets, so I am conscious that it can be heartless to say that poverty, in Australia, is a relative state of mind. But I firmly believe that complete freedom from financial worry can be achieved in a more healthy and sustainable way by decreasing expenditure as opposed to increasing income. Measurements which focus on income inequality when overall in real terms income in every percentile have been increasing concerns me greatly because I think that emphasis can only lead to greater status anxiety.
I believe that focus should be maintained where it belongs: are the lowest income earners of our society making enough to have a comfortable physical existence? Are the Lathamite ladders of oppurtunity in place and functioning? Are our health and education systems able to care for those who are unable to look after themselves? If so, then some overeducated sod who is working 100 hours a week for the pleasure of 150k a year is not my concern.
In the end, I am convinced that it is the duty of a mature and wealthy State to provide a level of safety net which fulfills the lowest tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for all of its citizens, beyond that it is up to the individual.