Who is Poor? (Or, how Slate Star Codex got poverty wrong.)

Cross-posted from www.currion.net.

The Rabbit Warren

One of the reasons why Slate Star Codex (SSC) was so successful is that it’s often a rabbit hole of links that readers can dive into — or more specifically a rabbit warren which connects across multiple posts on multiple subjects, all promising to build into a coherent narrative based on knowledge which is hidden to all but the initiated, for whom it is in plain sight. Let’s dive into one of those rabbit holes.

Guilt by Association

If we revisit the SSC article in which Charles Murray makes an unscheduled appearance, we find SSC doing SSC does best, which is writing a wall of text with a huge signal to noise ratio while making up an oversimplified analytical framework to explain himself. (I had to get that out of the way, because these are two of the most frustrating things about Scott Alexander’s writing.)

The First Irrelevance

When we started the discussion, Chivers clarified his position:

The Second Irrelevance

If you remember, the research paper that Alexander linked to described a set of economic outcomes. What I found interesting about them is how disconnected they are from poverty as I understand it, which is based on my experience of working with and for organisations concerned with reducing poverty, and from following the literature on poverty issues as best I can. I subscribe to Sen’s capabilities approach to poverty, which I think captures it best.

  1. Conflict
  2. Hunger, Malnutrition and Stunting
  3. Poor Healthcare Systems — especially for Mothers and Children
  4. Little or No Access to Clean Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
  5. Climate Change
  6. Lack of Education
  7. Poor Public Works and Infrastructure
  8. Lack of Government Support
  9. Lack of Jobs or Livelihood
  10. Lack of Reserves
  1. Debt
  2. Ill health and accidents
  3. Large families
  4. Disasters
  5. Migration from rural poverty
  6. Evictions
  7. Laziness
  8. Structural injustice, including lack of ID and credit access

Postscript to Poverty

I’m rationalist-adjacent. I read Slate Star Codex (now Astral Codex Ten) and I subscribe to the Rational Newsletter. I’m interested in many of the same topics that rationalists are, but I am not a rationalist.

I live in the city because I got tired of living up the mountain.