After outlining some comparative features of poverty in India, this article reviews critically recent literature on the dynamics of poverty. On economic efficiency grounds, it rejects the view that the chronically poor are more deserving than the non-chronic poor of poverty assistance. Mechanisms of households and communities for coping with poverty are discussed. The possibility is raised that where poverty has been persistent that rational methods for coping with it are likely to be well established, and less suffering may occur than for households and communities thrown temporarily into poverty. However, situations can also be envisaged where such rational behaviours deepen the poverty trap and create unfavourable externalities for poverty alleviation. Conflict can arise between programmes to alleviate poverty in poor communities and the sustainability of these communities and their local cultures. Problems posed by this are discussed. Furthermore, the impact of market extension on poor landholders is considered. In contrast to the prevailing view that increased market extension and liberalisation is favourable to poor farmers, it is argued that inescapable market transaction cost makes it difficult for the poor to survive as landholders in a fluid and changing market system. The likelihood of poor landholders joining the landless poor rises, and if they migrate from the countryside to the city they face further adjustment hurdles. Consequently, poor landholders may be poorer after the extension of the market system and only their offspring may reap benefits from market reforms.


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