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Why It Matters That Politicians Have No Experience of Poverty (The Atlantic)

June 2, 2014

From the article:

On other issues, experience is deemed one of the most enviable characteristics for our elected officials. In times of war we seek veterans to lead and for troubled economies we want a proven hand, but the experience of poverty has never been held in as high esteem.

We can’t expect effective and humane policy without representatives who understand, witness, and investigate the experience that they control. The forces that act on people living in poverty would act on the rest of us the same way, as Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir argue in their book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. Poverty of all types—of time, mental bandwidth, and money—features a mindset of scarcity, where making the right choices are harder, and outcomes are bleaker.

Temporary forays into a form of poverty help show what it’s like to face scarcity—and why it’s hard to break out of it. Politicians ought to physically encounter the circumstances of their constituents, to observe the trials of the most needy, and most importantly to experience the conditions themselves. This isn’t a new suggestion, but its original iterations haven’t been taken seriously.

Read the article here