Search the Site

Is Poverty Awareness at Its Peak?

Martin Ravallion of the World Bank traces poverty awareness over the last three centuries and finds we may be at a historical peak. Using Google Books references as an indicator, Ravallion finds that “there was a seven-fold increase in the incidence of references to poverty between 1740 and 1790. Toward the end of the Enlightenment, around the time of the French and American Revolutions, there was what I will call a ‘Poverty Enlightenment.’ But attention then faded through the 19th and 20th centuries. A significant awakening of attention to poverty — a second Poverty Enlightenment — came around 1960. The peak in the average incidence of references to poverty was around 2000, when the available series ends.” Of course, poverty awareness doesn’t necessarily lead to effective policy, as Ravallion points out: “Translating this peak of awareness of poverty at the outset of the 21st century into effective action is, of course, another matter. The second Poverty Enlightenment has entailed much debate and a mixed record of successes and failures in the fight against poverty.” [%comments]