Poverty is a crime

By Raffique Shah
May 22, 2023

Raffique ShahNothing I have ever written in this space can be misconstrued to suggest that I proffered poverty as an excuse for crime. To the contrary, I have advanced many reasons why the link between poverty and crime is not axiomatic. And, I have warned the poor to stay clear of crime since they will be made to pay heaviest for it, while the real criminals have the wealth to retain high-priced attorneys, whose jobs are to keep the crooks out of prison.

Somehow, though, some readers interpreted my column last week as some kind of call to arms to the poor. What
I had hoped to hammer into their heads was that time and again in history, when the poor felt they were trapped in persistent poverty, they would erupt in violent revolution to claim a fair share of the national pie. The French revolution of the 1790s is often cited as a classic case in which the monarchy and upper classes reveled in luxury while the poor starved, quite literally. Marie Antoinette famously responded to an alert that the people ‘did not have bread to eat’ with royal insolence: ‘then let them eat cake’. Her royal head was sliced off her well-fed neck among hundreds of other elites who died by the guillotine when the masses revolted.

And that was just one revolution among many that took similar, violent paths. We do not need to go down that bloody road if the politicians and technocrats who formulate policies that are, in theory anyway, meant to not only increase the wealth of the nation, but set targets that will narrow the rich-poor gap, and with it, income inequality.

Given that this country has a relatively high per capita GDP {oh, how my economist friends love to quote GDP} – it averaged US$15K for much of the past decade. I maintain that poverty should not be a problem. Just to explain to my fellow patriots and non-economist friends, in 2021 with Covid hitting us hard, GDP which is the sum total of all goods and services produced by every man, woman and child, stood at US$16K up 15% from 2020 when Covid started affecting us. Still, that’s a lot of money, as my grand-nephew Sheeth would say, because we have to multiply that by approximately 1.3M people. Effectively a four member family household will have produced US$64K worth of goods and services or TT$240K.

If every such household got twenty percent which is about TT$50K per annum, it may not be a wealthy household but it certainly will not be wallowing in poverty. Realistically though, we have tens of thousands of nationals who never enjoy a fraction of that level of production and who can be classified as being poor. But that does not happen. The inequality that lies at the heart of our economic system, which is raw capitalism, ensures that maybe ten percent of the upper-crust enjoy that standard of living while the rest barely keep their heads above water and the mass of poor people struggle to stay alive.

Now that is my beef with this pork-flovoured system that persistently keeps the majority seeing hell to live in relative comfort, however hard they may work, and however many of them labour to provide for their families. I have long argued that GDP gives a false sense of the wealth of a nation. Had the system been more equitable, more citizens will have achieved higher living standards than what obtains now.

To return to the link between poverty and crime, I advocate that in a country such as ours, it is a crime to have so many poor people. Those who govern and run the economy, that if equitably distributed would see many more happy faces and fewer hungry bellies, are responsible for this sin against citizens. Take my numbers above, search the internet every-which-way, see how much money comes through the coffers every year and you would realise why the system is warped and why those who are serious about having this country realise its full potential, need to make fundamental structural changes.

I know many out there will dismiss my grass-roots approach to structuring economies and governing societies as untreated tahtah. Maybe it is. But I challenge anyone who has his or her eyes set on gaining power and running Trinidad and Tobago to come up with anything original. Any system that will take us out of this unholy mess that includes greedy and lazy young men who see the solution to their societal problems as wielding guns and taking what they believe is theirs by entitlement, even if they murder fellow citizens in the process. They are no different to the politically and economically well-placed, who through intricate nets of corruption, grab infinitely more than the lowly bandits and are never charged, far less convicted of capital crimes.

2 thoughts on “Poverty is a crime”

  1. Poverty is Hell and the root cause of criminality and wickedness in high and low places. A nation cannot survive when the government gives contracts to friends, family and financiers. The middle class dies a slow painful death and two classes exist in TnT the Rich PNM funded class and the poor UNC underfunded class.

    The existence of gangs and warlords in the PNM areas is nothing new. Police will not arrest these miscreants and bring them to Justice because many of them have powerful friends in high places protecting them. Joel Balcon operated his business of criminality for over a decade despite having 80 charges against. He rape, thief and murdered protected by the police service because he had a family member in uniform.

    The role of government is to bring the good life to the citizens of the honorable Republic. If they fail in their duty to deliver as the Constitution states to all citizens they should be put on the bread line. Poverty is something that deprives families of the joy of living. In Trinidad before 7 p.m. everyone is in their home prison looking through the bars for suspicious activities. Businesses get hit every time from pilfering of goods.

    If one were to look at Dubai. Dubai was pure desert, then like Trinidad they found oil. Trinidad had three oil booms, billions came into the nation. Dubai worked hard to provide the best for the citizenry. The oil dollars is there and so it was not shipped to the US, Cayman island, Ghana banks, Panama or Swiss banks. Or to Canada to build the twin towers. Today Dubai economy uses 5% of oil revenue and the rest is from investments. Where would Trinidad be under right leadership?

  2. Cudos, to the Union leader Basdeo Panday in seeking equitable earnings for the average Caroni cane cutter under the steward ship of economists Frank Barsotti and Frank Rampersad.

Comments are closed.