The distinguished economic historian Max Hartwell wrote in 1972 that “Economics is, in essence, the study of poverty.” Alas that is not how most people see economics today. Nor do most students of economics learn much about poverty.
This website tries to help make poverty a central theme of economics. While economics is not sufficient for understanding and fighting poverty, it is necessary.
I created the site to accompany my book, The Economics of Poverty: History, Measurement, and Policy. The site carries extra material, blog posts, relevant links and teaching tools to aid readers of my book.
I hope that the site will also provide a useful forum for public discussion of the economics of poverty.
This is an early 19th century etching of a workhouse in London (courtesy of Bridgeman Images). For centuries, workhouses were an important element of antipoverty policy in England, Europe and North America. To receive help, able-bodied people were often obliged to be confined to a workhouse. This was rationalized by economic arguments about incentives and cost effectiveness. Critics argued that the policy treated innocent people like criminals. The workhouse policy discouraged many people, including some in real need, from seeking help.
We have made much progress in economic thinking about how best to address poverty since the days of the workhouse, although it is still the case that poor people are treated like criminals at times, or otherwise victimized, in much of the world today, including the rich world. The idea of using incentives to “self-target” assistance to poor people continues to play an important role in the “workfare” policies found in countries at all stages of development. The debate continues on these policies, as discussed in The Economics of Poverty.