The Biggest Misconception About Poverty in the World

Thomas Sowell - A Basic Misconception about Poverty
Thomas Sowell - A Basic Misconception about Poverty

Thomas Sowell examines a prevailing assumption about poverty and equality.


In the greater conversation about poverty, it's important to avoid myths about why it exists in the first place. There are many causes attributed to the existence of poverty, but which one is right? Is it greed? Or racism? Or some forced unequal distribution of resources?

Actually, it's none of those things. As Professor Thomas Sowell explains in the clip above, poverty is not something unnatural to humanity. In fact, that's where we started.

There are actually books there with titles and subtitles about the origins of poverty. Well, the entire human species began in poverty.

As soon as I heard him say that, I took a second and pondered on the state of humanity for most of our recorded history. Going all the way back to the fall of man, poverty has been our natural state of being. The earliest humans had to labor incredibly hard just to make sure they could have some food, and for thousands of years it was that way for most people on this earth.

There were, however, some exceptions to that. Some societies rose up that became prosperous, where people had more leisure time and did not have to work as hard to provide for themselves. The modern Western world is one of those examples, with multiple societies having a foundation conducive to prosperity.

With that in mind, Professor Sowell believes that we should be asking some very different questions than those about the origin of poverty.

More than that, you're trying to explain why some countries are poor rather than trying to explain why other countries are more prosperous. There's no explanation needed for poverty; the species began in poverty, so what you really need to know is what are the things that enable some countries and some groups within countries to become prosperous.

It's a radically different way of thinking than that of many other people in our contemporary society. Too often, sociologists and economists want to explore what the "origin" of poverty is, but all along it's been sitting in front of our faces.

Wealth is not something that happens accidentally or randomly. Only those who are intentional about building their lives up can really make a fortune for themselves and their family. However, if they do not work to do so intentionally, the natural result will be to fall behind, and that can happen for almost anyone, no matter what their income is.

As some of you may know, I am an avid listener of the Dave Ramsey Show. I can't tell you how many times I have heard people calling in who make more than $100,000 a year, yet are living paycheck to paycheck. It's absolute insanity, yet there it is.

Those people in such situations feel like they are poor, but why is that? It's not because of "bad distributions" or anything of that sort, but because of bad behaviors on their part. Increases in income will not help a situation where there is a behavior problem.

So what's the solution for those people? They need to imitate people who are winning with money, and do so intentionally.

That same principle applies to countries as well. When considering how to make a country more prosperous, poorer nations need to follow what the wealthier countries do. More money and resources is not going to fix a behavior problem; only getting to the root of that can change a nation for the better.