Poverty is not just an economic condition; it is a psychological and economic condition that arises in unfortunate countries that are victims of denial of material and social goods and services. Reasons that contribute to the culture of poverty are unique in each country and each society.
While economic development can lead to positive change in a given country, it can have negative effects if replicated elsewhere. Therefore, every culture of poverty is unique in some ways and similar to other cultures in distinct ways.
One feature common to all poverty-stricken people is the phenomenon of dependency. Apart from economic dependency, there are psychological and social dependencies that detract from organizational health significantly in the culture of poverty.
In dependants, while the economic motive is very strong, the ability to attain economic wealth is absent or arrested in early stages of personality growth. Dependants have uncommonly strong economic drives that border on the anti-social. Lacking the means to make material wealth, dependants engage in predatory behavior against independent individuals and entities.
In the culture of poverty a single individual takes charge of ensuring that the family is well cared and provided for. That particular individual has to assume the backbreaking burden of supporting a family.
His dependants never acknowledge his toils and labors and in time he becomes a faceless individual always away from family gatherings and social events because he must go to work.
This breadwinner is relegated to a low social status and in time he becomes almost a pariah in his own family. Social sanctions are never applied to him for he is the sole earning member though he is never acknowledged as one. He is a worker par excellence and he is kept that way!
In the culture of poverty independence and initiative are never encouraged. Almost everyone is expected to obey the rules and strictures prescribed by the elders of the community. In this culture dependants become independent only by default.
These dependants may have no other option because the economic means of the family may be on the verge of depletion. When the support systems of the family collapse due to death or disability, there is a mad scramble by dependants to appropriate the remaining family assets.
The rush by dependants to accumulate whatever is left is of family wealth is often at the cost of depriving the old and infirm members of the family. Now, with the appropriation of the elders’ wealth, the dependant has the resources to set up a shop or an industrial unit.
However, a lifetime spent in economic dependency cannot be changed by isolated acts of individual initiative or entrepreneurship. The entire culture of the dependant and his family has to undergo a sea change in order to adapt to the changed circumstances.
Fundamental to organizations in the culture of poverty is the loss of responsibility that is engendered among its members. Dependants feel that since there never was any necessity to shoulder any family or societal burdens in the past, there is no need to do so in the present, too.
Then how do dependants survive the breakup of the family or the loss of the breadwinner due to death or illness? They simply appropriate the defunct breadwinner’s assets and coax and cajole the old and infirm members of the family to part with theirs.
Assets appropriated by dependants are then invested in enterprises that run solely on the talent and genius of subordinates. These subordinates were once entirely independent individuals upon whom the proprietor relies on for the planning, establishing and profit making of his enterprise.
Generally underpaid, these subordinates really have no other employment option open to them to complain about the boss’ niggardliness. This is a common pattern found in enterprises operating in poverty-stricken cultures.
Other dependants do not have sufficient resources to start enterprises of their own. They join large corporations where they become ‘yes’ men. These individuals strive to be as close as possible to the management or the proprietors instead of working hard.
In time these ‘yes’ men pose a threat to the organizational culture because they do not do any meaningful work that has value for the organization. Some yes men will survive in the organization because they have recourse to influence networks.
Others will simply pay to get an easy job elsewhere so they can avoid work or assume responsibility. When these people come under organizational scrutiny and are likely to be disciplined, they gravitate to other enterprises using influence networks.
In organizations found in the culture of poverty, merit does not count; kinship does, as do criteria such as the prospective job applicant’s family history or the influential people he knows who can help the organization obtain favors from the State.
On the other hand, job applicants who do finally get jobs on the basis of their own merit or qualifications are given hard backbreaking work that no one else is prepared to do. Generally, they are left out of all executive work such as decision-making or financial planning and their inputs are never acknowledged.
In time all meritorious employees of the organization are reduced to faceless men or cogs in a vast machine that no one notices or acknowledges. Because merit is not rewarded in the culture of poverty, there is no innovation, no creative thinking except the humdrum ideas of the average people who control the organization. All attempt to ‘get by’ with a minimum of effort or thinking.
As organizational planning is minimal or absent in the culture of poverty, there are high expectations of the future to compensate for this lacuna. Employees believe that somehow things will work out because fundamentally the culture of poverty is a culture of dependency.
Unrealistic expectations and wishful thinking are the bywords for most individuals employed in the organization. There’s a tendency to glorify one’s achievements even when they are paltry and insignificant.
Organizational health deteriorates as more and more employees take flights of fancy into the past. More and more dependants feel that since they had an illustrious past, they cannot fail in the future too.
All are content with the way things are and often indulge in self-congratulation on that score. There is no attempt to come to grips with reality because people have lived in a lifetime of fantasy and of hoping against hope.
When things do not work out as planned, there’s a tendency to avoid blame and responsibility. Just ‘plain bad luck’ or outsiders are blamed and supernatural reasons are sought for any debacle.
When the organization becomes unmanageable, purges of every department are carried out ruthlessly. Employees at the bottom rungs of the organizational hierarchy, who work to keep the organization alive and working, lose their jobs.
It is observed that employees at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy are also the first to feel the effects of any reshuffle or reorganization that entails loss of jobs. The higher-ups never come under any scrutiny because they have indeterminate functions and occupy posts that are protected by the organizational by-laws.
In the culture of poverty organizations fail because they are not geared to function in a market economy. Typically, proprietors will aim to secure monopoly or oligopoly positions in the market so as to avoid stressful work and real competition.
And because planning in the organization is minimal or rudimentary, the management comes up with ad hoc solutions that do not compensate for a more planned approach. Firmness in decision-making is largely absent and the organization simply muddles through its problematic agenda.
When finally the organization comes to a complete halt on account of the mistakes made by the management, bribes and pay-offs to the regulatory authorities are resorted to in order to buy time.
There’s a great deal of irrationality in organizations that are present in the culture of poverty. Astrologers, god men and soothsayers are often consulted before making important decisions. Organizational heads will go by horoscopes with the result that all rational time tables and schedules are abandoned – often with fatal results.
Even when science says otherwise, people will visit quacks and chiropractors, not genuine physicians!
A widespread belief holds that somehow these irrational practices are native and appropriate while rational solutions are foreign, hence suspect. It is not at all surprising to note that quacks are paid more than legitimate doctors; that astrologers and god men command a premium of fees than psychiatrists and family counselors.
As there is no philosophy or system of ethics in the organizational culture, employees have to be sensitive to the moods and whims of superiors. The boss, not being accountable to anyone, must be obeyed and idealized.
His intentions are never made known to any subordinate. So there must be a ‘wait, watch and see’ posture adopted by all those who come into contact with him. Even when the boss acts by fiat, his decisions have to be respected as gospel truth by his underlings.
This pattern of behavior percolates down to every hierarchical level of the organization. Superiors must be idolized and subordinates must learn to gauge and anticipate their next moves. Organizational paralysis ensues as a result.
In exceptional cases, the boss will appoint an outsider to take his place for some time so that the stranger can be blamed for the organization’s ills.
The matrix of poverty surrounding such organizations cannot be eliminated by injections of massive economic aid (as some economists believe) or largesse on an American scale. It can only change when all irrational solutions have failed the test of applicability and all further channels of aid are exhausted.
Only when the societal environment surrounding the organization is brought to its knees by sheer economic exigency, can there be a motivation to change from within. Otherwise, organizations must continue to falter – take one step forward and fall two behind – till they have regressed completely into the past.
NOTE: The author of this article is an Honors graduate in Literature from the University of Chicago. He has also studied Economic Development and Public Administration at the University of Pittsburgh.
He can be contacted at email@example.com