What People Mean When They Say Reducing Poverty Is Difficult

Reducing poverty in an extremely rich country like the United States is not difficult. Low poverty countries in Western and Northern Europe have shown the way: tax money and transfer it to the poor. This seems too good to be true, but this blindingly simplistic approach to poverty reduction actually works quite well.

Nonetheless, I constantly hear it expressed that poverty reduction is a very complicated policy issue. When you press on people who say that kind of thing, you eventually realize that they mean something else. It is not that reducing poverty is difficult; rather, it is that doing so without changing the laws that govern the distribution of income is difficult. And indeed that is difficult. I am not sure it can be done at all, certainly not in the short or medium term.

But this is an artificial constraint. We can change the laws that govern the distribution of income and we should.

To be sure, the people who remark on how complicated and difficult poverty reduction is do not consciously reflect on the fact that they are constraining our possible solutions to policies that do not change our distributive laws. They just do not see these laws. It does not occur to them that they are policy constructs that can be changed. Instead, because they are so seldom challenged in any serious way, the laws are naturalized into the background as constants. That is what cultural hegemony does to someone.

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