On the Origins of the Idea of Ending Poverty

Martin Ravallion

NBER Working Paper No. 27808
Issued in September 2020
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, Development Economics

The late 18th century saw the intellectual germ of the idea of “ending poverty,” but the idea did not get far in economics or policy making until much more recently. Over the 19th century, poverty rates fell substantially in Western Europe and North America, and we started to see mainstream advocates of ending chronic poverty, and policies for doing so. There was an explosion of interest in the idea from around 1960, with policy responses in many countries, including America. In the post-Colonial period, the newly independent states were keen to see an end to poverty. From the 1990s, development agencies began to identify this as their overarching objective. The U.N.’s first Millennium Development Goal (MDG1) of halving the 1990 poverty rate by 2015 was achieved ahead of time. The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals came to include ending extreme poverty by 2030. This is more ambitious than MDG1, and more politically challenging. Economic growth in poor countries is likely to remain important, but the policy emphasis has shifted to redistributive interventions, though these will require a deeper reach to the poorest if we are to see the end of poverty, judged by any chosen poverty line.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w27808

NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us