Questions like What’s for dinner? and How will I make it to the end of the week?tax a crucial capacity. “Mental bandwidth,” Shafir and Mullainathan call it. “If you want to understand the poor, imagine yourself with your mind elsewhere,” they write. “Self-control feels like a challenge. You are distracted and easily perturbed. And this happens every day.” This is how scarcity — whether of time or of money — leads to unwise decisions. There’s a key distinction though between people with busy lives and those living in poverty: You can’t take a break from poverty.
The flippant, condescending “poor people just need to pull themselves up” mentality has always bugged me. This article is a fascinating look at why that attitude is unfair and why poverty is not a simple, straightforward character or effort issue.