Rich Democracies, Poor People: How Politics Explain Poverty

Rich Democracies, Poor People: How Politics Explain Poverty

Rich Democracies, Poor People: How Politics Explain Poverty

Rich Democracies, Poor People: How Politics Explain Poverty

Synopsis

Poverty is not simply the result of an individual's characteristics, behaviors or abilities. Rather, as David Brady demonstrates, poverty is the result of politics. In Rich Democracies, Poor People, Brady investigates why poverty is so entrenched in some affluent democracies whereas it is a solvable problem in others. Drawing on over thirty years of data from eighteen countries, Brady argues that cross-national and historical variations in poverty are principally driven by differences in the generosity of the welfare state. An explicit challenge to mainstream views of poverty as an inescapable outcome of individual failings or a society's labor markets and demography, this book offers institutionalized power relations theory as an alternative explanation. The power of coalitions for egalitarianism, Leftist political groups and parties, and the social policies they are able to institutionalize shape the amount of poverty in society. Where poverty is low, equality has been institutionalized. Where poverty is widespread, exemplified by the U.S., there has been a failure to institutionalize equality. A comprehensive and state-of-the-art study, Rich Democracies, Poor People places the inherently political choices over resources and the political organization of states, markets, and societies at the center of the study of poverty and social inequality.

Excerpt

By the accident of birth, people face incredibly different odds of experiencing poverty. We are born into families that predict much of our socioeconomic attainment in life. Yet, even more consequentially, we are born into countries that carry with them a probability of poverty for their citizens. Poverty has existed as long as there have been markets, but what is striking about the contemporary world is how much poverty varies across countries. Those born into egalitarian countries are much more likely to be economically secure in their youth, sickness, and old age. In other countries, a much larger share of the population will be poor at some point in their life. For the most part, we do not get to choose the probability of poverty we face. Instead, our societies contextually shape the odds that an individual in a given country will be poor. Obviously this is true if one compares affluent democracies of Western Europe, like Sweden, to struggling Sub-Saharan African countries, like Sudan. But this is also true if one compares Sweden to the United States.

Even among these rich democracies, cross-national and historical variation in poverty is profound. In the postindustrial era, there have been dramatic differences between the affluent Western democracies and between the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The United States maintains nearly twice as much poverty as its neighbor Canada. Even more striking, the United States has three times as much poverty as some West European countries. Nearly 20% of Americans are poor, and almost a fourth of U.S. children and elderly are poor. Though the United States might be the richest country in the . . .

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