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First Inquiry Into Poverty

In the transcript and video available on this site, Francis Wilson, a South African labor economist, talks about the first Carnegie Corporation study on poverty commissioned in 1929. The title of that initiative was the Commission on the Poor White Problem in South Africa. The study focused on the plight of Afrikaner farmers whose farms were failing. The Corporation funded an investigation by social scientists who drove through southern South Africa in a Model T Ford to determine the extent of white poverty. The five-volume report was published in 1932.

The good that came out of this was that the South African government allocated more funds to address the problems of poverty. The negative impact of the study was that the recommendations for solving poverty were used to improve the conditions of whites at the expense of black South Africans. Indeed, some years later, the Corporation's study fell into the hands of South African leaders who, in the words of Francis Wilson, used it to create a "blueprint" for apartheid. The Carnegie report included recommendations for the segregation of black and white labor and the creation of areas where whites would be given land from which blacks first had to be removed. In fact, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, prime minister of South Africa from 1958 until his assassination in 1966, and widely known as the architect of apartheid, used Carnegie Corporation inquiry to formulate his basic recommendations to segregate South African society as a whole. In this instance, knowledge gained through the white-poverty inquiry was used for terrible purposes in South Africa.