1 February 2000                                                           

eagle.gif (11717 bytes)


Poverty assumes modern disguises

In the debate about the Finnish welfare state, there is a common assumption that all is well. The wealthy, of course, still enjoy a comfortable life-style made possible by the efforts of ordinary working population. But even the wage slaves seem reasonably well off.

In the view of the columnist Mikko Heikka, this rosy picture is a bubble which needs to be burst. Writing in the weekly Suomen Kuvalehti (28 January 2000), Heikka – one of the most thoughtful columnists in Finnish media – points out that "poverty and suffering are usually seen as material deprivation".

Heikka writes that in addition to material poverty, a new kind of poverty has emerged. It has been described as "positional poverty". French sociologists have also talked about "small suffering" (la petite misère), in contrast to "big suffering" which refers to homelessness, unemployment, hunger and insufficient health care.

This new form of poverty co-exists with a materially satisfactory life. People have a roof above them and enough to eat. Their poverty is positional, ie. it stems from their position in societal development, Heikka says.

"The emergence of multi-millionaires may be functional for the economy. Socially, however, this development has a built-in time bomb. Workers, farmers and the middle class will have to face the deterioration of their position in comparison to the new rich."

Heikka also detects another new form of poverty. This has to do with the control of living space.

"Those who gain from new capital accumulation, also hold the keys to controlling space. They choose their place of accomodation which in turn accumulates a great amount of symbolic importance. Other areas are left for the use of those who do not gain from the new wealth. Countries and cities are labelled according to this control of space. Ever greater numbers of the population lose their control of space and have to move according to the dictates of capital.

"The lack of capital strengthens the experience of limited control: it both imprisons the human being into exclusion and forces him or her to move on and experience this exclusion all over again. This loss of control of space will be the fate of growing numbers of the population.

"The Finnish middle class, farmers and well-earning workers are in the midst of a new situation. Growing wage purses do not compensate for new forms of poverty: positional impoverishment and loss of control of space."


See also Eagle Street articles:

Index of back issues

Theuuslogo.jpg (2196 bytes) in London