Why Do the Poor Make Such Poor Decisions?

Our efforts to combat poverty are often based on a misconception: that the poor must pull themselves up out of the mire. But a revolutionary new theory looks at the cognitive effects of living in poverty. What does the relentless struggle to make ends meet do to people?

On November 13, 1997, a new casino opened its doors just south of North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains. Despite the dismal weather, a long line had formed at the entrance, and as people continued to arrive by the hundreds, the casino boss began advising folks to stay at home.

The widespread interest was hardly surprising. Harrah’s Cherokee was and still is a massive luxury casino owned and operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and its opening marked the end of a ten-year-long political tug of war. One tribal leader had even predicted that “gambling would be the Cherokee’s damnation,” and North Carolina’s governor had tried to block the project at every turn.

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