Optimism and Poverty

Esther Duflo, a MIT economist known for her data driven analyses of poverty, recently gave a provocative lecture at Harvard. Her data showed, she explained, that the absence of optimism plays a large role in maintaining people trapped into poverty. Hopelessness manifests itself in any number of ways. One for example is called pathological conservatism, where people forego engaging in certain behaviors for fear of loosing the little they have. In that way they may remain in a drought ridden village when going to the city could be a bus ride away. The lack of optimism is also reflected in attitudes about education or making small changes in the way poor people use fertilizers or use their energy, even if those changes could yield bigger rewards. We are increasingly aware that fighting poverty goes beyond the idea of aid programs. The more we can understand what it means to be poor, the more we can devise ways to conquer poverty—not to speak of developing the compassion needed to see the fight to the finish.