"Social Exclusion": It's Your Fault I'm Poor

November 1, 2002

In Australia, a new concept, "social exclusion," is displacing an older and more familiar one -- the idea of "poverty." The term "social exclusion" can mean almost anything and can be applied to almost anybody, and unlike the word "poverty" it always implies causation. Identifying someone as "socially excluded" fixes in advance the presumption that they are not to be held responsible for their condition -- and is language that apportions blame and guilt to justify redistributing people's money, critics warn.

They also argue language is not neutral. If universities, the media and government departments decide to use one kind of terminology while rejecting another, sooner or later, the rest of us follow suit, and then the new terminology takes on an intellectual life of its own. Hence, the problem with "social exclusion."

  • People are "excluded" if they are unable to participate in a style of life deemed "normal" in their society.
  • "Social exclusion" occurs at the top as well as the bottom of society as privileged groups withdraw from participation in mass society.
  • The finger of blame is being pointed at higher earners, who are shirking their social obligations, and at government, which is letting them get away with it.
  • But the claim that there is a deprived stratum of people who cannot participate effectively in social life turns out to be empirically untrue.

The main cause of poverty today is lack of employment, and the principal solution to poverty lies in getting more welfare claimants into work. The language of social exclusion obscures these simple truths, critics argue.

Source: Peter Saunders and Kayoko Tsumori, "Poor Concepts: 'Social Exclusion', Poverty and the Politics of Guilt," Policy, Winter 2002, Vol. 18, No. 2, Center for Independent Studies.

 

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