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Putting Poverty on the Table

Duvvuri Subbarao

Edited by Aasha Kapur Mehta and Andrew Shepherd
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 411, Rs. 720.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

Two hundred years after Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations, Gunnar Myrdal produced his seminal work on the Poverty of Nations. This is ironic for, in the intervening two centuries, the world shifted not from wealth to poverty but the other way round. The agriculture, industrial and scientific revolutions heralded unprecedented improvements in material well-being and social indicators. But the gains were so uneven that even as large parts of the world enjoyed remarkable prosperity, mass poverty continues to be a complex and compelling challenge in much of the Third World.   Within the Third World itself there has been an extraordinary diversity of experience in reducing poverty with some remarkable successes and some dismal failures. This record of experience has expanded our understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty, but it has also thrown up more questions than answers. Why do some policies work and some don’t? Why do policies that work in a certain context or in a certain country not work in another? Why do the same policies produce dramatically different results in different settings and situations?   An important lesson of experience, and indeed one of the few definitive ones is that poverty is too complex, multifaceted and multi-dimensional to respond to boiler plate and ‘one size fits all’ solutions. Even as the challenge can be framed in simple and straightforward terms – providing poor households a permanent exit out of poverty – the solutions have necessarily to be complex, context specific and depend on answers to questions such as who are the poor, where do they live, what do they do, what opportunities do they have and how do they respond to them.   The book under review, Chronic Poverty and Development Policy in India is relevant and important in the context of the above problematique. Its central message is that poverty is not a homogenous problem and the poor are not a homogenous group. Redressing chronic poverty requires special focus and possibly different interventions. The chronically poor are people who remain poor for much or all of their lives, pass on their poverty to their children and all too often die preventable deaths. Chronic poverty is more than just deeper poverty. Making permanent and irreversible exit out of poverty is evidently more difficult for the chronically poor. They benefit the least from economic growth and development, and are likely to remain poor even if the Millennium ...

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