Poverty, Work, and Freedom: Political Economy and the Moral Order.

Author:Champlin, Dell
Position:Book review

Poverty, Work, and Freedom: Political Economy and the Moral Order, by David P. Levine and S. Abu Turab Rizvi. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2005. Hardcover: ISBN-10: 0521848261, $65.00. 172 pages.

In this book, the authors have undertaken a very ambitious project. Their stated goal is to present a new approach to the concept of poverty that incorporates meaningful work and the freedom to create a meaningful life. As the authors point out, each of these concepts is exceedingly complex as is the relationship between them. What is poverty? How is it defined? What is the relationship between poverty and work? What is freedom? What is the relationship between freedom and work? To add to the complexity the authors add a psychological, and a moral dimension. What is the importance of work in our lives? What kind of work will enrich or impoverish us? What is the moral dimension of poverty? What is the relationship between the moral order and individual freedom? These are all very big questions. Do the authors pull it off?. If the objective is to convince the reader of the validity of their new approach, I would say the answer is no. On the other hand, if the objective of the book is to explore familiar ideas in novel and thought-provoking ways, the answer is yes.

The authors have made their task even more difficult by exploring these concepts and the relationship between them over time and over space. Part I of the book begins with a review of current views of poverty, work and freedom. Chapter 2 examines work and poverty in the European middle ages, the Protestant reformation, Mercantilism and in the nineteenth century classical economics of Ricardo, Malthus and Marx. Chapter 3 looks at poverty policy primarily in twentieth century America with some reference to the English Poor Laws. Chapter 4 then breaks out of the Anglo-American world and looks at notions of world poverty, briefly covering longstanding disputes over the meaning of poverty among development economists. These three chapters address important ideas that have long interested economists, and there is now a substantial literature in each area. Thus, while the brief review of the three topics in 50 pages is well done, it is not quite enough to do justice to the subject matter. More important, however, is the fact that these chapters do not advance the argument of the book. They appear to be stand alone essays rather than part of a logical sequence moving toward the authors'...

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