THE NATURE OF MASS POVERTY: A Review Article*

Abstract

Professor Galbraith has written a book on mass poverty which is assured of a wide audience; his lucid exposition, probing commonsense and wit appear to be at their best. But despite these rare merits, on a less sympathetic view, this book does not seem to live up to its promise. Its main concept of poverty as a trap, to which accommodation by the poor is the only rational alternative, carries appeal on intuitive grounds. But not only is this concept essentially a historical, it cannot, as we shall see, stand up to empirical evidence. Moreover, accommodation to poverty, to the extent that it exists, rarely offers so intractable a resistance to change as claimed for it. Most of the poor in modern ยท times have managed, without help, to overcome accommodation. But not all have done equally well afterwards. This disparity, however, can scarcely be explained with reference to the numbers rejecting accommodation. One must focus on the human qualities as well of those rejecting accommodation. Differences of this order are recognized by Galbraith too, but he tends to slight them. I will argue that they are more instrumental. But before we elaborate on these objections, a summary of Galbraith’s thesis will be useful.

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