Tag Archives: ending poverty

The Poor Benefit Most

Deirdre McCloskey’s Great Fact is the leaps and bounds that human well-being has made over the last 200 years. The improvement is a factor of at least 16 in monetary terms, and as much as 100-fold when accounting for the improved quality of goods. Think of the difference between a CD and an iPod. Not 16 or 100 percent; 16 or 100-fold. That’s huge.

The improvement is so huge that she believes the Great Fact is the most important event in human history since the Agricultural Revolution asserted itself around 10,000 years ago. And the best news about the Great Fact should bring cheer to anyone who holds a place in their heart for the poor:

In statistics and in substance the very poorest have benefitted the most. Robert Fogel, a careful student of such matters, notes that “the average real income of the bottom fifth of the [American] population has multiplied by some twentyfold since 1890, several times more than the gain realized by the rest of the population.” The bottom 10 percent have moved from undernutrition to overnutrition, and from crowded slum housing to uncrowded slum housing, and from broken-down buses to broken-down automobiles.

Deirdre McCloskey, Bourgeouis Dignity, p. 72.

There’s still a ways to go, obviously. So let’s keep it going. But anyone who denies the significance of the massive gains already made contributes nothing towards the noble cause of eradicating global poverty, and in fact poisons the project.

Legislating the Way to Prosperity

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. has a novel idea for ending poverty: make it illegal. He explains in this short video of a speech he gave on the House floor:

The Constitution should be amended to guarantee everyone the right to a decent home. That way, everyone will get one. In a speech he gave on the House floor, he asks, “What would that do for home construction in this nation? What would that do for millions of unemployed people?”

The Constitution should also be amended to guarantee the right to decent health care. Jackson implores, “How many doctors would such a right create?”

Education needs an amendment, too. “How many schools would such a right build, from Maine to California?” Jackson goes on to wonder how many jobs would be created by giving every student and iPod and a laptop.

If ending poverty really is as simple as passing a few laws, then Jackson isn’t going nearly far enough. If we want a truly prosperous nation, then the Constitution should guarantee everyone not just a decent home, but a mansion filled with servants to take care of every need.

Everyone should have the right to not just a doctor’s visit every 6 months, but a cadre of specialists with access to the latest technologies and tests. This would be a boon for life expectancy.

And why only an iPod and a laptop for children? They deserve supercomputers! They should have the right  to a Ph.D from Harvard in the field of their choice. Such a law would guarantee that America’s population  will be the most educated in the world. And it won’t even be close.

If legislation really is the only thing keeping every American from enjoying Bill Gates’ lifestyle, then Jackson is being far too moderate. Don’t just legislate a decent lifestyle. That doesn’t go nearly far enough. Congress should pass a law that guarantees an above-average lifestyle for all Americans.

Political Pessimism, Human Optimism

Despite my pessimism (realism?) about politics, ever since reading Julian Simon, I have been an optimist when it comes to progress and the human condition. Since the industrial revolution, each generation has lived longer and better than the last. By that measure, the last decade was the best in human history.

This despite the last decade being an unmitigated political disaster, at least in America. President Bush grew government faster than any president since Lyndon Johnson. Between new health care entitlements, massive energy and farm bills, two wars, and more than 30,000 new regulations, the Bush administration was no friend of limited government.

President Obama has so far been no better. If anything, his policies are George W. Bush’s on steroids.

Fortunately, the institutional foundations of the market economy are stronger than any bumbling politician. Wherever there is peace, stability, tolerably low corruption, and secure property rights, people will make their lives better over time, despite meddlesome regulators getting in the way. The pattern is global.

Via Ronald Bailey, a brilliant article in Foreign Policy reinforces that point. Things really are getting better. The last decade was the best in human history. Read the whole thing. If you’re despairing over the state of the world, the data are a wonderful cure for pessimism. Here’s a taste:

Consider that in 1990, roughly half the global population lived on less than $1 a day; by 2007, the proportion had shrunk to 28 percent — and it will be lower still by the close of 2010. That’s because, though the financial crisis briefly stalled progress on income growth, it was just a hiccup in the decade’s relentless GDP climb.