For 250 Years an Ongoing Dilemma
July 8, 2010----In researching poverty definitions and associated concerns surrounding use of those definitions in enabling access to various supportive services, I came across a reference to the ongoing dilemma about 250 years ago --- thought it might be of some interest.
Larry Morse, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, The Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries
Central to any discussion on the definition of poverty is the classical economist Adam Smith (1723 – 1790) whose thoughts relating to poverty continue to be used by both sides of the debate today. For Smith poverty was essentially the lack of the basic necessities of life, which he called “necessaries”. Smith wrote:
By necessaries I understand not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without. A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt…. Custom, in the same manner, has rendered leather shoes a necessary of life in England. The poorest creditable person of either sex would be ashamed to appear in public without them. (Adam Smith: An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776, Book Five: Chapter II, Article IV)