What is Poverty? Who are the Poor? What Do the Poor Want?

This week I had the opportunity to give a guest lecture in the undergraduate “Microeconomics of International Development” class at the University of Minnesota. The usual professor (my advisor) was out of town and I happily agreed to substitute. It was a fun experience for me as I’ve never taught an undergraduate class before this experience.

Here is a link to the lecture slides.

I began the lecture with the following pictures.

Thanks to Our World in Data for visualizing these data!

I ended the lecture with a paraphrased list of 12 things we can agree on about global poverty, published by the Center for Global Development. The last two points are (perhaps) a bit pessimistic, particularly after showing how much global poverty has decreased in recent years.

  • The present rate of poverty reduction is too slow to end $1.90/day poverty by 2030, or $7.40/day poverty in any of our lifetimes.
  • Perhaps a more important (or morally relevant) measure is the extent of global poverty relative to the world’s capacity to end it. (This refers to global inequality.) By this measure, we are failing—perhaps more than ever.

The point is, however, that it is possible to feel both optimistic and pessimistic at the same time about global poverty reduction. It all depends on the metric we use to measure poverty.

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