Labour Markets, Poverty, and Development

By Giorgio Barba Navaretti; Riccardo Faini et al. | Go to book overview

8
Nutritional Status, the Capacity for Work, and Poverty Traps

Partha Dasgupta


1. MOTIVATION

Analytical economists, even analytical development economists, have in large measure found it reasonable to assume that the science of nutrition does not exist. At the same time, nutritionists have often ignored economics. Development economists have yet to incorporate into their theoretical models the dynamic effects of nutritional and health-care deprivation on human productivity. Nutritionists, in turn, could better design some of their experiments if they were informed of economic theory. There is a good deal that each group has to say to the other.

The links between the objects of inquiry in the two disciplines should be expected to be both subtle and deep. It is not merely a question of grafting into standard economic models the relationship between nutritional status and the capacity for work: more is involved.1 One imagines, for example, that in poor countries the relationship influences not only the way food is allocated among members of households experiencing acute poverty, but also the way labour markets work. More generally, we would expect it to influence the life-chances of those who are assetless. As a minimum, the physiological links between nutritional status and work capacity suggest that assetless people are just that: assetless. The only thing they possess is potential labour power, and this is not necessarily an asset.

Why? The reason is that if, over an extended period of time, a person is to convert potential labour power into actual labour power of any specified, physiologically admissible amount, he requires, among other things, nutrition

Much of the material in this article was presented in my Walras-Bowley Lecture to the Econometric Society at its 1989 Summer Meeting, held in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As I had then only recently begun work on my book, An Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution ( Dasgupta 1993), the lecture did not get written up, and I am most grateful to Alok Bhargava for asking me to write it for submission to the Luca d'Agliano conference. The present version has benefited greatly from discussions with him and with Mark Armstrong, Reynaldo Martorell, Paul Seabright, and John Waterlow, and from the comments of two referees. It is forthcoming in the Journal of Econometrics.

____________________
1
If it involved no more, a mere relabelling of models of 'human capital' formation would suffice, and in his review of Dasgupta ( 1993), Nerlove ( 1995) suggests that it would and leaves the matter at that. But as we will see below, such relabelling would not suffice. Recognition that nutritional status is a form of human capital is only the beginning of a thought, not the end of one.

-222-

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