Poverty in the Third World: ugly facts and fancy models

  • Keith Griffin


Development of the type experienced by the majority of Third World countries in the last quarter century has meant, for very large numbers of people, increased impoverishment. This is the conclusion which has emerged from a series of empirical studies on trends in levels of living in the rural areas of Asia.1 In most of the countries we have studied, the incomes of the very poor have been falling absolutely or the proportion of the rural population living below a designated ‘poverty line’ has been increasing, or both. Similar things almost certainly have been happening elsewhere, in Africa and parts of Latin America, for the mechanisms which generate growing poverty in Asia are present in greater or lesser degree in much of the rest of the underdeveloped world. Certainly there is no evidence that growth as such has succeeded in reducing the incidence of poverty.


Labour Force Wage Rate Poverty Line Real Wage Real Income 
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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    Joseph E. Stiglitz, ‘The Efficiency Wage Hypothesis, Surplus Labour, and the Distribution of Income in L.D.C.s’, Oxford Economic Papers (July 1976).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    James A. Mirrlees, ‘A Pure Theory of Underdeveloped Economies’, in Lloyd G. Reynolds (ed.), Agriculture in Development Theory (Yale University Press, 1975 ).Google Scholar
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    Christopher Bliss and Nicholas Stern, ‘Productivity, Wages and Nutrition in the Context of Less Developed Countries’, a paper presented to the 5th World Congress of the International Economic Association, Tokyo, Japan (Sep. 1977).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    David Turnham, The Employment Problem in Less Developed Countries: A Review of the Evidence (OECD, 1971) p. 76.Google Scholar
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    Colin Clark and Margaret Haswell, The Economics of Subsistence Agriculture, 2nd ed. ( London: Macmillan, 1966 ) p. 130.Google Scholar
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    M. Paglin, ‘“Surplus” Agricultural Labour and Development’, American Economic Review (Sep. 1965)Google Scholar
  7. for a careful study of Tamil Nadu, India see B. H. Farmer, (ed.), Green Revolution? (London: Macmillan, 1977) Table 14.5, p. 213 and Fig. 14. 2, pp. 214–15.Google Scholar
  8. Also see C. H. Hanumantha Rao, Technological Change and Distribution of Gains in Indian Agriculture, Macmillan of India, 1975, p. 119.Google Scholar
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    Bent Hansen, ‘Employment and Wages in Rural Egypt’, American Economic Review (June 1969).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    A. R. Khan, ‘Growth and Inequality in the Rural Philippines’, in ILO, Poverty and Landlessness in Rural Asia (1977) Table 98, p. 244 and Fig. 11, p. 246.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    James C. Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia (Yale University Press, 1976) p. 75Google Scholar
  12. citing Michael Adas, The Burma Delta: Economic Development and Social Change on an Asian Rice Frontier (University of Wisconsin Press, 1974) p. 152.Google Scholar
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    Samir Radwan, ‘The Impact of Agrarian Reform on Rural Egypt (1952–75)’, ILO, Geneva, WEP Working Paper (Jan. 1977) Table 3. 2, p. 29.Google Scholar
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    See for example, Government of India, Agricultural Labour in India: Report of the Second Enquiry, Vol. 1, (1960)Google Scholar
  15. P. S. Sanghvi, Surplus Manpower in Agriculture and Economic Development ( Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1969 )Google Scholar
  16. Jan Breman, Patronage and Exploitation: Changing Agrarian Relations in South Gujarat, India, (University of California Press, 1974) pp. 126–9.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    See P. K. Bardhan, ‘On the Incidence of Poverty in Rural India of the Sixties’, Economic and Political Weekly, (Feb. 1973).Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Louis Théron de Montaugé L’Agriculture et les Classes Rurales dans le Pays Toulousain depuis le Milieu du X Ville siècle, (1869)Google Scholar
  19. quoted in Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914 ( London: Chatto and Windus, 1977 ) p. 22.Google Scholar
  20. 21.
    Amartya Sen, ‘Poverty: An Ordinal Approach to Measurement’, Econometrica (Mar. 1976).Google Scholar

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© Keith Griffin 1978

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  • Keith Griffin

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