The determining condition for poor people is uncertainty. Some societies perform better than others in mitigating this uncertainty. In such societies we observe welfare regimes which reduce the uncertainties of the market to provide for all citizens minimum conditions for reproduction. Such societies are in a minority. Elsewhere, destructive uncertainty is more pervasive. Under these conditions, the poor have less control over relationships and events around them. They are obliged to live more in the present and to discount the future. Risk management in the present involves loyalty to institutions and organizations that presently work and deliver livelihoods, whatever the longer term cost. Strategic preparation for the future, in terms of personal investment and securing rights backed up by correlative duties, is continuously postponed for survival and security in the present-the Faustian bargain. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.