Poverty Alleviation as an Economic Problem

Adam Martin*, Matias Petersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Economists distinguish between technological problems, in which variable means confront a given end, and economic problems, in which given means are allocated across competing ends. James Buchanan and F. A. Hayek each offer constructive criticisms of the standard definition of an economic problem, arguing that economists too easily slide into mechanistic and teleological thinking. Building on these accounts, we argue that there are three key dimensions to the economic problem: exchange, coordination and governance. We then make a case that poverty alleviation is more like an economic problem than a technological one, an economic problem with a small 'e'. We survey empirical evidence from economics, anthropology and sociology indicating that poverty is not a simple lack of objectively identifiable resources but rather a multidimensional and socially embedded phenomenon. Understanding what poverty alleviation would even look like requires thinking through problems of exchange, coordination and governance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-221
Number of pages17
JournalCambridge Journal of Economics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 17 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s). All rights reserved.


  • Governance
  • Institutions
  • Poverty


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