I’ve been looking through the new Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Poverty, edited by Philip Jefferson. It isn’t a book to read from cover to cover and review, as a handbook, and I’ve only read two of the chapters. Still, this looks like a useful resource for economists interested in two fields, development economics and income dynamics. In fact, this is something I particularly like about the book, that it includes some research on developing countries alongside the US (although a shortcoming is that its developed world focus is very US-centric). Surely, to the extent that we think economics should aspire to any universality, the economics of poverty must have some application to poverty in any country? So there are chapters by Martin Ravallion (about global patterns) and by Gary Fields (about low earnings in the developing world – he wrote the excellent Working Hard, Working Poor, which I reviewed here) and by Juliet Elu & Gregory Price about gender inequality in sub-Saharan Africa.
The overlap between development economics and the economics of poverty in western societies is surely fruitful territory. One of my favourite books is Portfolios of the Poor, a sort of ethnographic, diary-based study of how poor people in India and South Africa actually handle money. A study of this kind would be most helpful in assessing concerns about payday lending in the UK; these short-term lenders are clearly satisfying an otherwise unmet demand. What financial needs of people on low incomes, exactly, are conventional financial services unable to address and is there really a policy or regulatory gap, or is payday lending actually a market solution?
The Handbook also has some cross-cutting chapters that look interesting, on subjects like obesity, healthcare, housing and place-based policies. I read and liked the chapter on the need to get the best from both economics (analytical & empirical rigour) and sociology (illuminating detail and understanding of social networks/capital) in studying poverty.