Relative poverty isn’t necessarily poverty

Dermot Desmond is a hundred times more wealthy than me. Maybe he’s a thousand times more wealthy. Who knows, he might be a hundred thousand times more wealthy.

Whatever the case, defined by Dermot Desmond’s wealth, I am poor.

But I’m not poor. And no matter how many times the bould Dermot doubles his wealth I’m not going to get any poorer because of it.

The idea that myself and Dermot’s well-being is proportional is one of the reasons that many people find the idea of socialism laughable.

Which is very unfortunate because most of the people who propound such nonsense aren’t socialists. They are what I would call ‘welfareists’. Their overriding concern is for the well-being of the permanent underclass. Good luck to them but that’s not socialism.

The basic idea of socialism is the control of wealth by the people who produce and consume it.

My understanding of the Marxism to which I subscribe is that bourgeois society is made up of four basic overlapping classes.

At the top is the capital owning super-rich which form up to five per cent of the population.

Then there is the bourgeoisie, the business owning and managing class making up around 20 per cent of the population. What distinguishes this class is that its income comes largely from its ownership of things.

Then comes the proletariat making up some 55 per cent of the population. This class largely gets its wealth from the sale of its labour.

Then, bottom of the heap, is the underclass. This class is unskilled, uncapitalised and frequently unemployed. This class makes up the lowest 20 per cent of society.

Classically, the socialist is concerned with the position of the proletariat. However modern ‘socialists’ seem more concerned with the position of the underclass. As the underclass depend in large part on handouts (paid for by the proletariat, of course) this adds up to the ‘welfarism’ that I’m talking about.

In Ireland the most consistent modern advocates of the underclass is CORI and almost all their policies have to do with giving increased welfare to poor people. I have a fundamental problem with this as a long-term solution because I believe that the only genuine way out of poverty is for the poor to participate in the economy.

On a global scale, there are no poor people in Ireland. Nobody starves to death in Ireland. That’s the bottom line. Poor people in Ireland suffer from disadvantage vis-à-vis the better off.

If we are going to talk poverty there must be some sort of standard to measure it by. Don’t talk to me about half the average income because that’s just nonsense. Tell me about poor housing. Tell me about school dropout rate. Tell me about unemployment and low wages.

It’s simple maths really. There is always going to be a proportion of the population earning less than half the average income. Even if we all lived in castles some would live in smaller castles.

Relative poverty as a concept is an insult to the intelligence.

In our western societies the classes of bourgeois and prole have tended to melt together. Practically all bourgeois have to work to keep their interests going and a huge number of latter-day proles own their own homes, cars and tellies.

This is what many liberals see as the success of western societies where the vast bulk of society participate in and benefit from the general economy. Really, they contend, we live in middle-class democracies.

My socialist instincts tell me that much of our prosperity is provided by the poor of the third world and that is nice to enjoy stability at the expense of others (while it lasts).

The problem with the rich is not that they own nice gaffs but that they control resources vital to the rest of the population. In Ireland as elsewhere in the west, this is not a critical problem as the middle class is still very powerful but in the third world it is disastrous where one per cent of a country’s population owns over 50 per cent of the wealth.

These are the real critical issues. Not whether I have one TV and Dermot Desmond has ten. That’s a very serious (and silly) confusion.