Poor Economics- Chapters 2 and 3

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According to chapters 2 and 3 of Poor Economics, if the poor cannot eat then they cannot build up their strength or even maintain their health, therefore they remain weak which affects their ability to work, forcing them to remain poor; they label this cycle the “poverty trap.” The opposite effect causes the rich to get richer- they can afford to eat well because they are employed, eating well allows them to maintain their strength and health which enables them to work hard.  This theory is supported with examples of poverty-stricken people who they have interviewed about their food situation and spending choices as well as providing statistics concerning hunger and nutrition.  I think they are convincing in terms of describing the “poverty trap,” I would agree with their logic there.

The authors introduce household budget issues by stating: “The poor often resist the wonderful plans we think up for them because they do not share our faith that those plans work, or work as well as we claim;” which sounds slightly condescending to me.  They continue to discuss events that are important to various cultures: weddings, dowries, christenings, and funerals.  They provide statistics on traditional funeral spending in South Africa and also discuss unexpected purchases, such as TVs to reinforce their thesis of poor people choosing not to spend as much money as possible on food.  These facts aren’t necessarily surprising; especially after reading the reasoning for spending money on cable- life can be boring in remote locations.

The authors stated even if poor people do have the money to purchase food, they do not purchase nutritious food that could significantly improve their health.  One thing I kept asking was: do these people really know which foods are the best to improve their health?  They did state that some people knowingly choose to purchase more unhealthy foods in order to experience a little pleasure in life, which is just human nature.  But I think the most obvious solution to this problem is education.  If poor people were provided with an education to learn about the nutritious values of certain foods, the medications/vaccines that they are so strongly encouraged to take and the effects that they could have on their lifestyles, they might be smarter about their spending choices.  I would have liked the authors to go into further detail about past attempts at providing education to poverty-stricken areas about these issues.

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2 responses »

  1. We’ve drawn similar conclusions with the hunger based poverty trap. I like you find it logical and feel like it is definitely there. I’m not sure if there is a way to prevent it though. I did find a contradiction in your post however. When you say it was condescending to assume that the poor resist the plans that we think up for them because they do not believe in the plans. Yet you make the assumption that they do not know the best food for them. It is a reasonable assumption, but there is a slight contradiction. Overall, I think you bring up good points with increasing education and learning from the past to help fix the current problem. If you were to research it, do you think you would find anything on what has been done to educate poverty-stricken nations?

  2. I find it very difficult to try and relate to the people in these poor economies. It is very easy for me to sit at home and look at the statistics and decide whether these people are maximizing the use of their incomes, but I doubt that in reality it is very different. I think you were on to something when you mentioned education, and that if the members of these economies were better education they would possibly make wiser decisions when spending as well as living habits would definitely change and most likely improve.
    On the statistics on funerals and wedding dowry’s i found alarming but like you was not surprised. I was glad to hear that many governments are trying to aim at stopping these traditions but still not much more has been done. Overall I believe I was surprised by many aspects of this reading but mainly that many of these poor families have the money needed to buy full meals, but instead they choose not to. It is very difficult to imagine such spending habits.

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