Prof. Barbara Stark’s ‘Theories of Poverty/The Poverty of Theory’ Published in BYU Law Review

Professor Barbara Stark recently published “Theories of Poverty / The Poverty of Theory” in 2009 BYU L. Rev. 381-430.

The chasm between the rich and the poor has become unfathomable. As a recent United Nations University study explained, global wealth is distributed as “if one person in a group of ten takes 99% of the total pie and the other nine share the remaining 1%.”

Few argue that this is inevitable or unimportant, but there is little consensus on how to proceed. What should be done? Who should do it? These questions should not be left entirely to politicians, economists, and celebrities. Rather, theory can illuminate what has become a series of heated but murky arguments. It can clarify the possibilities.

This Article explains why theory in general is both necessary and problematic in this context. It explains how liberal theories in particular dominate post-Cold War poverty law, as shown in three major legal instruments. It then introduces other theories of poverty, those of liberalism’s “discontents,” conspicuously absent from post-Cold War poverty discourse. Finally, it explains why theory itself is impoverished, concluding that the international legal system has neither the muscle to effectively address global poverty nor the political will to develop it.