Matthew Desmond’s Misguided Interpretation of the Root Causes of Poverty in Princeton

Matthew Desmond is a highly accomplished Princeton University professor and the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Pulitzer Prize, a PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, and a National Book Critics Circle award. His recent book “Poverty, by America” has gained widespread recognition and acclaim as a New York Times bestseller. Desmond employs a storytelling approach, similar to the muckrakers of the Progressive Era, to shed light on social issues related to poverty. However, while he effectively brings attention to these issues, his failure to offer comprehensive analyses or effective solutions is evident. When asked about the causes of poverty in America, Desmond’s responses are criticized for their lack of depth and substantive solutions. He dismisses cultural explanations and ideologies surrounding the welfare state, citing a decline in the American poverty rate before government intervention as an argument against these ideas. Instead, Desmond attributes poverty to capitalist exploitation and greed, leading to a shortage of affordable housing in urban areas.

Additionally, Desmond’s criticism of government welfare programs for the rich and middle class is brought into question for inaccuracies and flawed interpretations of the data. His calls for homeowners to pay more taxes as a means of addressing poverty are met with skepticism due to the potential adverse effects on the housing market and construction industry. These critiques indicate Desmond’s lack of expertise in economic and public policy matters.

The book also falls short in its assessment of evictions as a primary cause of poverty, with the evidence presented revealing that evictions are merely one aspect of a multitude of factors contributing to poverty. Desmond’s failure to acknowledge this complexity and depth is a significant flaw in his arguments. Moreover, the claim that “the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing” is contradicted by more reliable sources, further undermining the credibility of his work.

While Matthew Desmond’s storytelling and emphasis on the challenges faced by those living in poverty are commendable, his book lacks the necessary depth and accuracy to effectively address the underlying issues. It is evident that Desmond’s areas of expertise do not extend to economic and public policy analysis, and his work would benefit from a more comprehensive and balanced approach to these complex social problems.