Willpower and poverty
June 7, 2011
Mark D. White
Just read a very interesting article from The New Republic by Jamie Holmes titled "Why Can't More Poor People Escape Poverty?", detailing new work on the intersection of psychological studies of ego depletion and self-management--the work by Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Vohs, and others that I've cited widely in my own work on willpower--and economists working on development and poverty.
The basic insight in that deprivation imposes greater cognitive costs on the poor since the relative scarcity of resources leads to higher negative consequences of choice (even in decision-making contexts that seem trivial to the wealthy) and therefore greater decision-making costs (with respect to trade-offs as well as self-control problems), which in turn makes the ascent out of poverty all the more difficult. Some reasonable policy suggestions are offered at the end, which (thankfully) do not veer into Nudge territory, but which mostly involve increasing options for leveraging willpower.
A very worthwhile read, and a fascinating application of the psychological work on willpower to a pressing economic problem.
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