Poverty in Canada and its Newspapers

As Marc noted, the Toronto Star is waging a journalistic “war on poverty”. The editorial in Monday’s National Post chastised “The Toronto Star’s poverty scam” for using the Low-Income Cut-Off, a relative measure, as an indicator of poverty.

Today’s National Post includes the following letter from yours truly:

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, the founder of free-market economics, wrote, “By necessaries I understand not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but what ever the customs of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even the lowest order, to be without.”

Poverty can only be defined in relation to its social context. By any measure, a disturbingly large minority of Canadians cannot afford what most of us consider to be basic necessities. Kudos to the Toronto Star for proposing solutions to this social problem rather than trying to downplay it.

Erin Weir, Ottawa

3 comments

  • Amartya Sen has a good sentence about this in the same spirit as Smith. I don’t have it with me, but it’s something like “relative poverty in terms of money yields absolute poverty in terms of capabilities”

  • There is also lots of epidemiological evidence that the steepness of the wealth distribution gradient within a society is of tremendous importance in shaping the health impacts of poverty — i.e. it is being at the bottom in a highly unequal society that hurts your health, even when the absolute wealth of the society you are in is high in comparison to other nations.

  • I agree with much of this…but, don’t you think the absolute poverty between nations needs to be considered. Is the solution here really that those with low incomes need more or that those whith higher incomes have way too much? When does the out of control consumerism end? We have to not only look at the poor end of the scale as the problem…the targets of the asymmetry btw and within countries need to be the ‘upper’ ends.

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