The Cognitive Deficit

Why do poor people do things that appear to the more affluent to be stupid or short-sighted? Their brains may be working too hard on just getting by:

“A quick question: What is the starting taxi fare in your city? If you are like most upper-middle-class people, you don’t know. If you are like many struggling people, you do know. Poorer people have to think hard about a million things that affluent people don’t. They have to make complicated trade-offs when buying a carton of milk: If I buy milk, I can’t afford orange juice. They have to decide which utility not to pay.


Princeton students don’t usually face extreme financial scarcity, but they do face time scarcity. In one game, they had to answer questions in a series of timed rounds, but they could borrow time from future rounds. When they were scrambling amid time scarcity, they were quick to borrow time, and they were nearly oblivious to the usurious interest rates the game organizers were charging. These brilliant Princeton kids were rushing to the equivalent of payday lenders, to their own long-term detriment.”

Leaving aside the truly exceptional cases where someone does manage to thrive in the face of these challenges, what would be the sort of solution that would allow the average lower-income person capacity to ask, “how can I start saving?” or “what must I do to upgrade my skills for the job market?”  as opposed to the basic questions of survival like “how can I get rent money right NOW?”.