Chapter 51: Poverty
Andy Sumner Introduction Poverty has long been a concern of economists. It drove not only the ‘founding fathers’ of quantitative economics, such as Petty and Quesnay, but also the ‘pioneers’ of political economy – Malthus, Marx, Mill, Ricardo and Smith. Many contemporary academics might place poverty at the heart of development economics. Definitions and conceptualizations of poverty Poverty is about deprivation, but deprivation of what? In this regard, considerable ground has been covered since World War II. For much of the earlier part of the period, poverty was viewed as economic in nature, with deprivation measured in terms of income. Since the late 1960s other dimensions have been added, notably deprivation of education and health. More recently, political dimensions, under the label of ‘participation’, have also been added to objective or universal understandings of poverty. Emphasis has, in fact, shifted from universal definitions of poverty towards recognition of the heterogeneity of location-specific meanings of poverty, such as those elicited via participatory poverty assessments. Further, definitions based purely on physiological conditions (that is, the objective condition of the individual) have given way to interest in the psychological experiences of poverty (the subjective experience of the individual). Dudley Seers (1963) launched the paradigm shift to broader understandings of poverty when he expanded the meaning of development beyond gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and into ‘basic needs’. These ‘basic needs’ include not only income and employment but also the physical necessities for a basic standard of living, such as food, shelter and public...
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