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The Orthodox and Alternative Poverty Explanations Comparison


Poverty has over the years become a worldwide subject of concern for developing and developed economies. The current statistics paint a grave picture with over 1.2 billion people living on a budget of under a dollar a day. It is common ground that poverty is a worldwide phenomenon and therefore a cause for concern for international relations.

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Naturally there have been reactions by theorists in addressing this menace. They have developed several theories that seek to establish the causes and effects of poverty. This essay will explore two such theories- the orthodox and the alternative theories to poverty. To put the discussion into perspective, I will explore the meaning of poverty in the general pretext to set the stage for the explanations by the two theories as to what poverty really is. As it were there are other numerous attempts by other theorists that have been made at putting a concrete definition on poverty. Of these there is not a single one that may be said to be conclusive or otherwise.

The objective here is to create an understanding of the phenomenon and show the contribution of the two theories in such an understanding. The essay will among other things offer discuss the progress made by institution s such as the world bank and the united nations in the international context in creating an amicable solution to poverty as well as their failures and challenges in as far as international relations is concerned. (Sahn and Stifel, 2000)

There is no actual concrete definition of poverty. In fact the various attempts that have been made mostly explain the characteristics of poverty rather than the concept itself. This may be attributed to the fact that it is a multifaceted concept that keeps changing depending on the subject matter of examination. The standpoint taken by this essay will be one that conceives poverty as constant inadequacy of necessities i.e. food shelter clothing and education.

Comparison of the approaches

The orthodox approach

The theory was initially given little attention in as far as social theories are concerned. The explanation originally was used to explain poverty and individual income distribution in the context of the competitive market and market equilibrium analysis. All these were concepts introduced by the industrial capitalist ideologies that attached a firm bond between wages and marginal profitability. In effect the lower the individual’s income was the higher the probability that their levels of productivity will be low. The construction made here is that an individual’s income cannot be raised if their productivity can’t.

The modern day social scientists have engaged the theory even further creating modifications to suit the contemporary statistical indications and trends. They have construed the theory to imply that there is a stable connection between the individual’s income and the productiveness of the various factors of production such as labor land capital and the human potential. Wages are therefore a measure of the levels of productivity of an individual (Qizilbash, 2003). Profits on the other hand are a measure of the productivity f the capital invested in the business, land or enterprise. The theory therefore proposes that the different segmentations in the forms of pay grades and salary levels represent the various levels of productivity. The more productive the individual becomes the higher the salary or payment they receive.

The productivity based orthodox framework of poverty in a strict sense applies to the working population specifically in the informal subsistence sector. Consequently the suggested solution to low salaries is the increased productivity and increased salaries imply that the individual’s purchasing power increases and they will therefore be able to acquire the basic necessities. The alternative supplier based approach explains that increased productivity means that there will be substantial structural and situational changes that motivate increased production and availability of the basic resources hence increasing the levels of accessibility of such resources.

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The theory offered a justification of extensive examination of poverty from the standpoint of components of production such as skill educational knowhow, ability and experience. It also set the pace for the formulation of a set of sophisticated market based theories of demand and supply. Other variations of the theory based on the modern statistical justifications have been based on variations in the average earnings in an occupation, changes in the individual’s potential and ability within the profession and the influence of age in the variations in the levels of performance.

Through the levels of human ability may be adjusted to perform more and ensure that the full potential of the individual is exploited. Increased productivity can only be through increased performance. The cause and effect relationship is pegged on a measure of the wage or salary due.

At the heart of the theory is the concept of free will and independent choice and responsibility. The extent of an individual’s productivity is entirely a question of choice since they choose whether to work or not. The individual chooses between spending time on leisure activities and working harder to earn an extra income.

Originally the theory was criticizes for its lack of acknowledgement of the role of social prejudices in the determination of incomes between the various sexes. The gender based interpretation takes an unusual stand claiming that women are left to undertake domestic chores because they agree to do them in exercise of their freedom of choice. In effect women earn less than men in the general market economy situation and are therefore left to the reproductive process.

The justification offered by this approach for the lesser income of women is the fact that the reproductive process is quite involving and requires their constant attention. This therefore limits the time which could have been used in the acquisition of knowledge and skill that is necessary for increased productivity. The disruptions caused by the periods that the women are left to raise the children deprive them of opportunity to increase productivity.

The theory gives little regard to the effect caused by the discrimination of gender. In fact the theory dismisses the claim that gender discrimination has a role on the determination of income by stating that the aspect of social prejudices is partisan and can only be explained based on women’s earnings. (Nussbaum, 2000)

However the pertinent gender discrimination based concerns still remain unaddressed forming a critical failure of this theory. The general drift of the theory is towards the proposition that a particular mode of asset distribution, power relations and a rigid grouping of socio-cultural factors within specific institutional setups provide a logical and theoretically conclusive approach to the examination of poverty as a phenomenon.

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Alternative approach

This approach has been suggested by numerous global development partners such as the World Development Movement and The World Vision. The argument presented by this approach is on that demands self reliance by all. The theory pursues an independence approach stating that there is value attached to the common factors of social life such as nature, diversities in cultures well as community commonalities such as land air water and forests.

It places the burden of responsibility to the general community facilitated by local knowledge and technical support of the available technology to create an inverted community development strategy. The approach begins at the basic communal level by attempting to assist the individual members of society achieve in dependence. Proponents of the theory who are mainly dependency theorists have suggested that the approach tends to present a measure of enslavement of developing countries by creating a dependency the developed liberal capitalist nations.

The theory is therefore considered by many social and economic scientists as the most feasible solution to the growth of less developed countries. The theory campaigns for independent growth of the individual countries and therefore puts up a stable and spirited fight against the engagement of organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The policies adopted by these organizations present serious dependency concerns and offer ready solutions in the form of foreign aid. The option of foreign aid by developing countries goes further to increase the cycle of hunger and poverty since it is a short term solution. This approach has been criticized for the lack of monetary justification as well as its overreliance on the influence of the communal power as well as the influence of government regimes

Contrast of the approaches

the orthodox approach has been used tried and tested by many economies and found to offer a valid explanation of the relevance and influence of the free market.some theorists on the other hand form the opinion the approach is to simplistic and will be deficient in explaining the poverty concerns in a corrupt government scenario. It is therefore not enough to suggest that the free market alone can be the solution to hunger. As it is there are many countries whose levels of production are high but since the market is saturated with the commodity the sell it at low prices. Such a market offends the suggestion by orthodox theory that the level of production determines the level of pay. Farmers of tea in a saturated market may be producing plenty of the products but end up selling it at low prices. (Gibson, 2001)

The orthodox approach gives a selective explanation t the persistent hunger crisis. It state the hunger problem is caused by the increase on population beyond production levels hence causing a deficiency. On the other hand the alternative approach explains the problem as one of lack of access to the food as a resource. It pursues this explanation based on factors such as gender global divide race and social class.

Both theories present a justifiable case for their approach to poverty. Neither however has conlusively provided an amicable solution to the problem of poverty. The orthodox approach capitalizes on money and capital while the alternative approach takes a sided independence stand. It is clear that there is more to it than the influence of money and capital in the poverty debate. On the other hand the level of influence and ability of communal power in influencing social political and economic change varies depending on the society in question.

A reminiscence of these reflective questions places the burden of responsibility on the international players such as the World Bank and the United Nations to motivate individualized state actions and democratic governance. The non governmemtal organizations on the other hand bear the responsibility of local campaigns and awareness programs to reach out to individuals and communities to encourage them to pursue self reliance. The two theories present a compromise of the societal as well as market based concerns affecting the levels of poverty.


In as far as poverty reduction ad alleviation, neither of these two explanations offers a conclusive solution. Essentially many countries have been said to adopt a compromise of these two approaches to successfully cover all ends. Poverty has been for a long time a global cause of concern that has called for the attention of all interested parties to pull resources together. The international community has fostered relations between its members through membership in the various organizations that are set up to strategize on poverty reduction measures. The members have been brought together by the need to create a pool of resources upon which the worst hit members may source for assistance. Poverty generally takes the form of the orthodox stand. It is a consequence of reduced or low productivity levels coupled with the lack of training and education as well as other production components.

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The two theories set the pace for a poverty free world they define the benchmarks as improved productivity economic independence and investment in skill and educational advancement. These taken to together increase economic growth levels and allow a country top hedge against poverty.


Gibson, J. 2001. ‘Measuring chronic poverty without a panel’: Journal of Development Economics, 65, 243-266

Nussbaum, M.C. 2000. Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press:

Qizilbash, M. 2003. ‘Vague Language and Precise Measurement: The Case of Poverty’, Journal of Economic Methodology, 10(1), 41-58.

Sahn, D.E., and Stifel, D.C. 2000. ‘Poverty Comparisons Over Time and Across Countries in Africa’, World Development, 28(12), 2123-2155.

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