Poverty and personal narrative.

August 29th, 2007

This morning, on my professional blog, I quoted Steven Pearlstine’s current Washington Post column about poverty; Megan McArdle also quoted it on her blog, which led to an interesting series of comments from her audience. Some of her commenters seem stymied as to why poor people don’t save a dollar here or there to make their lives better. McArdle herself suggests that there may be many “threshold effects” in play in the lives of the poor, such that an extra dollar doesn’t — or can’t — make a big difference.

It’s late and I’m tired, so this is just a placeholder for now. But I wonder whether the poor don’t face both threshold effects and the kind of narrative problems that Dean Ornish finds in his cardiac patients: all the facts in the world won’t make an intelligent recipient of a triple-bypass operation stop eating triple cheeseburgers . . . if he doesn’t change the narrative about what he eats. Could the same be true for poor people, beholden to the culture of poverty in which they live?

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