Poverty Alleviation as an Economic Problem
39 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2017 Last revised: 10 Mar 2018
Date Written: February 26, 2017
Lionel Robbins famously distinguishes between technological problems, in which variable means confront a given end, and economic problems, in which given means are allocated across competing ends. This essay explores the implications of this distinction for poverty alleviation. We argue that there are three key dimensions to the economic problem: exchange, coordination, and governance. We then make a case that poverty alleviation is more like an economic problem than a technological one, an economic problem with a small ‘e.’ We survey empirical evidence from economics, anthropology, and sociology indicating that poverty is not a simple lack of objectively identifiable resources but rather a multidimensional and socially embedded phenomenon. Understanding what poverty alleviation would even look like requires thinking through problems of exchange, coordination, and governance.
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