If you listen to the "Social Justice" religious left then you might easily be misled into believing poverty only has one cause and that cause is free market capitalism. In the propaganda narratives spewed by the left, the poor are always cast as the helpless victims of an evil and unfair economic system that is exploiting them. This one-size fits all approach to poverty and its causes is not only naive but it is outright deceitful.
What are the causes of poverty?
There are many causes of poverty and it is beyond the scope of this article to provide an extensive look at all of the causes of poverty. Instead this article will challenge the assumptions of the one-size fits all poverty victim narratives offered by the "Social Justice" left.
Yes, it is true that there are well documented instances of greedy and unscrupulous business owners and CEOs and corporate management teams who, in an effort to maximize corporate profits have resorted to enslaving people, including women and children. It is important to note that when examples of this type of exploitation surface that it does not reflect the inherent nature of free market capitalism but instead demonstrates the bad character and criminal activity of those who've made the decisions to enslave and exploit. Saying that free market capitalism is to blame for these instances of exploitation is like blaming constitutional liberty when there is an increase in the crime rate in any particular city in the United States and then offering martial law as the solution. Fact is poverty has many many causes, two of which are worth noting. The first is evil totalitarian governments and another is laziness.
Just like some heads of corporations break the law and enslave and exploit, heads of state also rig their own country's system so that they and their cronies can steal the wealth and resources of their own nation at the expense of those whom they should be serving. The examples of this type of governmental abuse throughout the ages of human history are too numerous to count. One could argue that the temptation to corruption of governmental power is so strong that good rulers are the exception in human history rather than the norm. This is precisely why the founders of the United States framed the Constitution the way that they did. The goal was to distribute power across multiple branches of government to keep it from being centralized so that the government would serve the people rather than enslave them. When a bad government enslaves its people, especially the way Marxist governments do, scarcity and mass poverty becomes the norm.
In light of this fact, those who are truly concerned for the world's poor would do well to focus their efforts on bringing freedom and a true free market to those countries where corrupt governments have enslaved its citizens. In the case where corrupt corporate managers are doing the exploiting, their crimes need to be uncovered and those responsible need to be brought to justice.
The other cause of poverty that is worth noting is laziness. Yes that is right. There are some people who are poor and it is their own fault. They are not victims and they are not being exploited. Instead they are poor because they just won't work. These are those who feel entitled to sit on their laurels and mooch off other people. Those in the religious left rarely if ever talk about such people because it doesn't fit their victim narratives. Yet, the Bible has plenty to say about them. Here are just a few examples:
“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” (Proverbs 13:4)
“How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:9–11)
“A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4)
“The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.” (Proverbs 12:24)
“He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.” (Proverbs 10:5)
“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–12)
To put it more bluntly, those who can work but refuse to do so are disobeying God and their poverty is the just wage for their laziness. Notice also that the Bible doesn't consider it inherently unjust that there are unequal economic results. Diligent and hardworking folk have more money, more property and more resources than the slothful and in God's economy that is exactly how it should be. If it is always unjust that some people have more than others as the "Social Justice" Neo-Marxist theologians would have you believe, then God would never have said "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" or “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” In fact, God's word knows nothing of the so-called human right of "economically equal results". In this fallen creation, God's economy requires that we eat bread "by the sweat of our brows" (Gen. 3:18) and those who refuse to work do not have an divine entitlement to take from those who work diligently and have taken the time to learn the skills necessary to increase their value in the free market.
Maybe this is why Benjamin Franklin noted:
"I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed...that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer."
Poverty is a complex issue with many causes. Helping the poor and saving out a portion of our resources in order to assist them is the epitome of what it means to "love our neighbor as ourselves." That being the case, it is important that we have a realistic understanding of poverty and its complex causes and that our efforts are spent working to free those who are enslaved by corrupt governments and corrupt corporations as well as offering financial assistance and relief to those who are willing to work but are genuinely unable and also giving a swift kick in the butt to those who are lazy and selfishly refuse to work but instead feel entitled to live off the hard work of others.