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Title: A review of the economic theories of poverty
Authors: Davis, EP
Keywords: Views of poverty;Economic schools;Eclectic theories
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: National Institute of Economic and Social Science
Citation: National Institute of Economic and Social Science, A review of the economic theories of poverty, 435, 2014
Abstract: ABSTRACT This paper critically analyses the views of poverty adopted by different economic schools of thought which are relevant to the UK, as well as eclectic theories focused on social exclusion and social capital. We contend that each of the economic approaches has an important contribution to make to the understanding of poverty but that no theory is sufficient in itself; a selective synthesis is needed. Furthermore, economics by its nature omits important aspects of the nature and causes of poverty. The key points that follow from this analysis are:  The definitions of poverty adopted over time have reflected a shift in thinking from a focus on monetary aspects to wider issues such as political participation and social exclusion.  Classical economic traditions contend that individuals are ultimately responsible for poverty and accordingly provide a foundation for laissez faire policies. By contrast, Neoclassical (mainstream) economics is more diverse and can provide explanations for poverty, notably market failures, that are beyond individuals’ control.  Both schools centre on the role of incentives and individual productivity in generating poverty but perhaps overemphasise monetary aspects, the individual as opposed to the group, and a limited role for government. They tend to be averse to policies of redistribution.  Keynesian/neo-liberal schools, in contrast, focus on macroeconomic forces and emphasise the key role of government in providing not only economic stabilisation but also public goods. Poverty is considered largely involuntary and mainly caused by unemployment.  Marxian/radical views see the role of class and group discrimination, which are largely political issues, as central to poverty. These theories assign a central role to the state in its intervention/regulation of markets. Prominent examples of anti-poverty proposals in this vein include minimum wages and anti discriminatory laws.  Social exclusion and social capital theories recognise the role of social as well as economic factors in explaining poverty, giving them a similar weight. They offer a helpful contribution in understanding not only what the precursors of poverty are but also what underlies its persistence over time  A selective synthesis of approaches is needed to maximise the relevance of economic insights in poverty reduction; furthermore, there is a need for a broader and richer range of motivations for human behaviour beyond the key focus of economics on purely material and individualistic aspects, such as the maximisation of one’s own consumption less disutility of labour. This calls for an integrated approach that draws elements from other social disciplines such as political theory and sociology.  The analysis implies a number of policy recommendations, notably the need to focus on provision of forms of capital (including education) to aid the poor; anti discriminatory laws; community development; and policies to offset adverse incentives and market failures that underlie poverty.
Appears in Collections:Dept of Social and Political Sciences Research Papers

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