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- Poverty: to what extent is it a distribution problem?
- Harkness, Peter
- More than 2 million Australians are estimated to be living in poverty at present. Income distribution in Australia is nearly the most unequal of the twenty four OECD countries: we battle it out with the USA and New Zealand for bottom spot. The most wealthy 1% of Australians own about 20% of its wealth. The most wealthy 10% own 60% of our wealth, while the poorest half of us own only 8% of Australian wealth. In terms of income, half of us enjoy 80% of Australia's National Income while the other half of us make do with 20%. About three quarters of the world's resources are consumed by one quarter of the world's population (living in first world countries). Yet even in first world countries, like Australia, there can be a lot of inequality as the figures above suggest. Obviously, then, the proportion of the world's resources being consumed by the upper class in the first world is enormous. This deduction is supported by statistics such as: the richest 10 people in Britain have as much wealth as 23 poor countries with over 174 million people. Orthodox and conservative economists don't regard wealth as a problem. It is a sign of success. Only poverty is a problem in: their opinion. It is not surprising therefore that conservative governments in Australia and elsewhere have periodically undertaken inquiries into the 'problem of poverty', without even thinking to inquire into its concomitant, wealth. These inquiries (such as the one by Professor Ronald Henderson in the mid 1970s established by the Whitlam Government) are inclined to focus on determining who are the poor: what are their characteristics in terms of occupation, age, sex, race, family size, place of domicile, place of birth, immigrant or not, etcetera. They have also focused on the determination of a 'poverty line'; meaning if your income is beneath this level or line you are officially poor. Both types of information (the characteristics of the poor, and the poverty line) have been very useful in improving our knowledge of poverty and in ordering social research. But there is another question we need to ask which these inquiries have done little to answer. It is what causes poverty?
- Publication type
- Seminar, speech or other presentation
- Research centre
- Swinburne University of Technology. School of Business
- Paper presented to the Economic Society of Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 29 July 1996
- Publication year
- Swinburne University of Technology
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