What's bad about poverty?

Poverty exists in all societies, and is widely considered a bad thing. This suggests two questions. First, why, if at all, is it a bad thing that poverty persists in a given society? Second, why is it a bad thing to be poor? This paper aims to give us a better purchase on the first question by tackling the second. Accordingly, it asks: What is it that, above all else, makes it a bad thing to be poor? What is the chief bad-maker of individual poverty? In answer, the paper argues that what chiefly makes being poor bad is that it throws one into a condition of stigmatized vulnerability. To be in this condition is, on the one hand, to have society consider you socially disgraced and, on the other, to be particularly vulnerable to being harmed by the actions of other people or the workings of social institutions. The paper begins by considering four alternative explanations of poverty's badness: Hegel's theory that it forces the poor into moral degradation; J. Wolff and A. de-Shalit's theory that it constitutes a corrosive disadvantage; social policy researchers’ view that it is a form of social exclusion; and A. Margalit's theory that it is seen as humiliating failure. The paper tries to show that all four theories face grave objections. The paper then defines poverty as a lack of capabilities to achieve basic functionings, presents the stigmatized vulnerability theory, and gives a positive reason for thinking it the best explanation of poverty’s badness. The reason is that stigmatized vulnerability, in addition to its own intrinsic badness, institutionalizes the shaming involved in stigmatization and thus produces a moral bad which masquerades as morally acceptable.
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