Conventional thinking?

No-one could accuse Adam of conventional thinking on economic matters ('˜Poverty is our natural state', Letters, September 3).

I’m not a social or economic historian, but I suspect his argument has not had an airing for several centuries.

Even right-wing Tories would raise their eyebrows at the assumption that poverty in the midst of great wealth (for that’s what we’re talking about in today’s Britain) is simply part of the human condition.

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To be fair to Adam, though, I can see why he might have chosen this lonely road to travel down.

After all, if great inequality and the poverty it engenders are such bad things, and if generations of politicians have been claiming to be doing something about the problem, why are millions of people getting poorer while the rich are getting richer?

In my view, the answers are more likely to be found through a study of the relationship between class and power than in essentialist notions of what’s natural or unnatural.

Indeed, it’s Adam’s seeming indifference to the question of power that undermines his carefully constructed argument.

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The distribution of power between capital and labour is self-evidently not an equal one.

Ask those who can’t get a job, or those on zero-hours contracts or wages that have to be subsidised by the tax-payer.

He appears to believe the only way someone living in poverty could overcome this ‘natural state’ is by becoming a capitalist too.

Presumably the main obstacle to achieving this happy transformation lies in the inability or unwillingness of the poor to take Adam’s advice.

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I’m sure many people would agree that equality of opportunity is preferable to equality of outcome.

My own view is that too much inequality of outcome is deeply corrosive in any society.

What surprises me, however, is that Adam appears to believe equality of opportunity exists now (a belief not even shared by the present government).

Does he really think any children of his will be competing on a level playing-field with David Cameron’s children?

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Behind the amusing fantasy of an economic system made up entirely of capitalists, I sense a vestige of that Victorian standby, the undeserving poor.

I suggest Adam turns instead to a more positive Victorian legacy, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

I’d be surprised if he can read through any of their reports and still remain attached to the notion that poverty is caused and sustained by the poor themselves rather than being the result of structural (and cultural) defects in the kind of capitalism we’ve chosen to adopt.

The Foundation’s views are not only more realistic than Adam’s, they have the merit of offering a way out of a mess that’s not only ruining the life-chances of millions of people but exacting a toll on the whole country (£78 billion a year according to the Foundation).

Kevin Hanson

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