Adam Smith put his finger on the problem back in 1776. In The Wealth of Nations, he wrote: “A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessity of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt …”
At last, a sensible way to measure poverty, Tim Hartford, Financial Times
What struck him, even in the mid 1970s, was the effort that mothers, in particular, made to try to protect their children from feeling shame – to the extent that they would skip meals to buy clothes and toys for them. “Children as young as seven and eight soon learn strategies to persuade parents to buy them what they think they need,” says Walker.
What are the links between shame and poverty? Chris Arnot, The Guardian
More recently, this relational understanding of poverty has been championed by Amartya Sen who has argued that ‘the ability to go about without shame’ should be considered a basic capacity that should be incorporated into general conceptions of poverty.