Skip to main content

Mathew Effect

“The poor are poor not because the rich are rich,” says Robert J. Samuelson in his Washington Post column reproduced in The Hindu

In 1968, the sociologist Robert K. Merton coined the phrase ‘the Mathew Effect’ for the phenomenon of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  The name Mathew came from the Bible.  Jesus said, according to Mathew’s gospel, “For to him who has more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” [Mathew 13:12]. 

Jesus did not live in a time which promoted capitalism and its wealth-creating ideology.  Jesus was far, far from being a capitalist.  In fact, he would have been the ideal communist, had he been allowed to have his way by the various leaders of his time (political as well as religious).  What he meant was that those who have the spirit of life in them will be given more of that, and those who are just bullshit will get lost.

But religious scriptures can be interpreted in myriad ways.  Even as I did above.  And Robert K. Merton interpreted it the way Robert J. Samuelson does it now, half a century later.  All interpretations are correct so long as the frameworks are prepared by a carpenter who knows his job.

So, the poor are poor not because the rich are rich.  Samuelson’s argument is that the rich got richer and the poor got poorer because of the situation prevailing in the world.  The rich flourished because of the access they have/had to wealth-creating avenues such as car dealership, real estate business, and computer software business.  More people wanted cars, houses and the digital technology.  So those who had access to such business ventures got richer. 

Who remain poor today?  Those who don’t know how to exploit the prevailing situation?  Or those who don’t have the resources?

The answer may be ‘both’.

Samuelson doesn’t say why such people have no right to live their life.  Isn’t this coming down to Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest? 

If only the fit can survive, what does human civilisation mean?
Who are the fit?  Those who have the resources to manipulate the given system? 
Was the savage the fit person in the olden days?
Was the witch-hunter and the heretic-burner the fit person in the medieval days?
Is the property-dealer the fit person today?

I’m attaching the link to a video which I had put up in my blog earlier too.  I’m putting it up again because it is more, far more articulate than I can ever be ...

It asks the same question: Who is fit?
Will I be more fit a writer if I can get some businessperson to sponsor my writing so that I can quit teaching?  [I intend to do it!]
Is the forest dweller less fit a person because he doesn’t know how to use the digital technology?

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers


  1. I agree to what you are saying - it might well be true that poor are getting poorer because they don't have the resource rich people can avail with resources.

    The failure of our society has been the ineptness in creating a social balance, utilize the potential.

    I have heard the song myself before - love it.

    1. All that talk about corporate responsibility, Abhra, I wonder what happened to it. The new CEO of Microsoft is to be paid Rs112 crore, according to the latest news. See the kind of inequality that the system creates. Its fallout is terrible: we create a group of people who will start stealing, cheating, plundering...

  2. And God forbid if you're poor in India, you're not even treated as a human being.

    1. Exactly, Purba. And they start asserting their humanity, start demanding dignity, in socially undesirable ways...

  3. Well Said.
    Who remain poor today? Those who don’t know how to exploit the prevailing situation? Or those who don’t have the resources? I agree with you on this. Poor are poor always and nobody cares to uplift them.

    Politicians say that minimum amount to survive in a city is Rs.32 or whatever. But we the common man knows how much we need to survive here and we are all fighting to survive. (Survival of the fittest)

    Ultimately those who knows how to exploit the system will win !!

    1. And quite a lot of the ordinary people don't know how to exploit the system...

      Perhaps, exploitation existed in one form or another throughout human history. In the present situation, with its rapid changes, people become quickly rich and quickly poor. There must be a way of protecting the interests of the vulnerable sections.

  4. I don't thnk society is entirely to be blamed here. Yes there is no balance but a poor man doesn't have to remain poor. Hard work, intelligence and opportunity does play a role.
    I am speaking of experience. My father has a huge constructions company today. And he had started from "zero".
    No I am not boasting. Just saying,the rich do get richer but poor not necessarily have to be poorer.

    1. thanks for the example from personal experience. But I'm sure it wasn't all that easy for your father. First of all, he must have had the necessary backing from a few sectors - finance, connections, and some expertise.

  5. I totally agree to your post!!

    1. Thanks, Aditya. You're most welcome to disagree too :)

  6. I was thinking just that yesterday. Are we a poor nation? No! Wealth is concentrated in few hands. Thanks for sharing 'Mathew Effect', I was not aware of it. About being fit, I think no one has an accurate answer for it. But inequality is a big misfit in our society and destroying the fabric of it.

    1. We are a rich nation of poor people, Saru. A little modification of the system will solve a lot of problems. A paradigm shift will revolutionise India. But... let me not be accuse of living in utopian dreams.

  7. I checked the video and felt really sorry when they said 'we' are drinking colas and bottled water and they are left with dirty water. :(

    1. If you actually walk into the villages, as I sometimes do, you'll see that the video is no exaggeration.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Ugly Duckling

Source: Acting Company A. A. Milne’s one-act play, The Ugly Duckling , acquired a classical status because of the hearty humour used to present a profound theme. The King and the Queen are worried because their daughter Camilla is too ugly to get a suitor. In spite of all the devious strategies employed by the King and his Chancellor, the princess remained unmarried. Camilla was blessed with a unique beauty by her two godmothers but no one could see any beauty in her physical appearance. She has an exquisitely beautiful character. What use is character? The King asks. The play is an answer to that question. Character plays the most crucial role in our moral science books and traditional rhetoric, religious scriptures and homilies. When it comes to practical life, we look for other things such as wealth, social rank, physical looks, and so on. As the King says in this play, “If a girl is beautiful, it is easy to assume that she has, tucked away inside her, an equally beauti

The Adventures of Toto as a comic strip

  'The Adventures of Toto' is an amusing story by Ruskin Bond. It is prescribed as a lesson in CBSE's English course for class 9. Maggie asked her students to do a project on some of the lessons and Femi George's work is what I would like to present here. Femi converted the story into a beautiful comic strip. Her work will speak for itself and let me present it below.  Femi George Student of Carmel Public School, Vazhakulam, Kerala Similar post: The Little Girl

Face of the Faceless

“When you choose to fight for truth and justice, you will have to face serious threats.” Sister Rani Maria, the protagonist of the movie, is counselled by her mother in a letter. Face of the Faceless is a movie that shows how serious those threats are. This movie is a biopic. It shows us the life of a Catholic nun who dedicated her life to serve some Adivasis of Madhya Pradesh [MP] and ended up as a martyr. If it were not a real story, this movie would have been an absolute flop. Since it is the real story of not only a nun but also the impoverished and terribly exploited Adivasis in a particular village of MP, it keeps you engrossed. It is a sad movie, right from the beginning to the end. It is a story of the good versus evil, the powerless versus the powerful, the heroic versus the villainous, the divine versus the diabolic. Having said that, I must hasten to add one conspicuous fact: the movie does not ever present Christianity or its religious practices as the only right way

The Little Girl

The Little Girl is a short story by Katherine Mansfield given in the class 9 English course of NCERT. Maggie gave an assignment to her students based on the story and one of her students, Athena Baby Sabu, presented a brilliant job. She converted the story into a delightful comic strip. Mansfield tells the story of Kezia who is the eponymous little girl. Kezia is scared of her father who wields a lot of control on the entire family. She is punished severely for an unwitting mistake which makes her even more scared of her father. Her grandmother is fond of her and is her emotional succour. The grandmother is away from home one day with Kezia's mother who is hospitalised. Kezia gets her usual nightmare and is terrified. There is no one at home to console her except her father from whom she does not expect any consolation. But the father rises to the occasion and lets the little girl sleep beside him that night. She rests her head on her father's chest and can feel his heart

All the light we cannot see

Book Review Title: All the light we cannot see Author: Anthony Doerr Publisher: Fourth Estate, London, 2014 Pages: 531 What we call light is just a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. Most part of the electromagnetic spectrum remains beyond ordinary human perception. Such is human life too: so many of its shades remain beyond our ordinary perception and understanding. Anthony Doerr’s novel, All the light we cannot see , unravels for us some of the mysterious shades of human life. Marie-Laure LeBlanc leaves Paris with her father Daniel who is entrusted with the task of carrying a rare diamond, Sea of Flames , to safe custody when the second world war breaks out. The National Museum of Natural History, Paris, has made three counterfeit diamonds of the Sea of Flames. Four men are assigned the task of carrying each of these diamonds to four different destinations. None of them knows whether they are carrying the original diamond or the counterfeit. Marie-Laure a