The Triumph of Capitalism

Cracked.com is a humor website that besides being funny is also surprisingly informative. You can learn all sorts of interesting facts from the writers while laughing. One recent article listed five amazing pieces of good news that nobody is reporting. News reporting usually focuses on dramatic events and these stories are happening in the background without anybody really doing anything, so they tend not to be noticed. I remain a little skeptical about number 5, we are closing in on world peace.

This one seems laughable — mankind has gone from fighting with swords, to muskets, to machine guns — right up to the modern era of poison gas and nukes that can murder every human on the planet in minutes. Mankind’s technological growth has been marked mainly by increasingly efficient ways to slaughter each other.

Sure enough, the 20th century had to have been the most violent in human history. Two world wars, conflict in Southeast Asia, constant war in the Middle East — and those were just the ones that America was directly involved in. At the beginning of the 21st century, with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and rumblings of war with Syria, it seems like the world is a pack of rabid dogs about to pounce on a Snausage pinata.

The Good News:

Even with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the first decade of the 21st century saw the number of annual battle deaths at its lowest ever in history.

Professor Joshua Goldstein put it best: “If the world feels like a more violent place than it actually is, that’s because there’s more information about wars — not more wars themselves.” Overall, we’re in the midst of an unheard of “long peace,” as no major powers have clashed since World War II, replacing them with smaller wars that historically would count as skirmishes — the U.S. lost 3,400 soldiers in Afghanistan, which is terrible, but during the American Civil War, 4,700 troops were killed on one side of one single battle. Here it is in graph form:

Via Wsj.com
Sans screaming.

OK, so maybe this is just a temporary breather after the bloodbath that was the previous century? Nope — it’s part of a long-term trend. As crazy as it seems to suggest it, the past couple of hundred years have been the most peaceful in world history. That’s including the world wars.

Yes, in absolute numbers, more people died violently in the 20th century than in any other century — but that’s because there are so many more people now. The chances that a person living in the 20th century would die violently were about 3 percent. That’s a historically low number — it was five times higher in prehistoric societies. In tribal societies, war was a daily occurrence — just the process of everyone settling down into large-scale governments, even violent ones, was an improvement. If our hunter-gatherer ancestors could see us now, they’d be confounded by the complete lack of annual head smashing and face stabbing (if you ever unfreeze a caveman, show him our violent video games — he’ll go nuts for that shit).

And it’s not just war, it’s all violent deaths — in 14th century England, some cities had a homicide rate as high as 110 per 100,000 citizens. London’s homicide rate in 2012 was just under 1 per 100,000. And we’ve previously talked about how violent crime is dropping to historic lows, even in the gun-crazy USA. No matter how you break it down, violence is slowly going out of style.
Maybe, but they were making similar statements back in 1913 and the international situation today is frighteningly similar to the situation just before World War I.
But I am more interested in the last piece of good news they present, number one, world-wide, poverty is dropping at a shocking rate. Please excuse the language.
For decades now, we’ve watched commercials that feature some retired actor stumbling through some impoverished village in some undisclosed location to make viewers feel bad enough to donate money. Considering that we’re mired in a worldwide recession, it’s a sensible question: “Does any of this shit even make a difference?”

Yes! Even though lately it seems like the whole world is in a race to the bottom, the poorest of the poor are actually climbing out of the financial shithole. From 1990 to 2012, the number of the world’s extreme poor was cut in fucking half. In case you were wondering, that would be the first significant global decline in extreme poverty.

Ever.

Not bad, right?

And these aren’t just statistical tricks here — when they calculate this, they’re not just counting income, they account for total living conditions — infrastructure, schools, access to clean water, everything. A billion people have that stuff for the first time. And what’s really encouraging is that this all happened three years ahead of the official estimates, which pegged 2015 as the soonest such a lofty goal could be achieved.

So how did this happen? International aid helped, but the big jump has been in the increased participation of previously isolated countries in international trade. You know how people are always complaining about how “they’re shipping our jobs overseas!” Well, this is where they went — to people who previously had no jobs at all. And that boom that swept across China and India is expected to continue in places like Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and Rwanda — all of the places you previously only heard about in the context of heart-breaking ads begging for donations. If things continue at this pace, countries like Nepal and Bangladesh would likely see extreme poverty shrink to near-nonexistent levels.

What is the cause of this amazing reduction of poverty all over the world? The expansion of international trade and also the expansion of free market economics or capitalism. No system of economics or politics made by human beings is perfect and capitalism does have its flaws. Nevertheless, the expansion of free market reforms has been responsible not just for a reduction in absolute poverty but also for the rise of a middle class throughout the developing world. Countries like India and China, where the great mass of people have known nothing but poverty and near starvation now, at least, have a chance to live with some small degree of prosperity. For the first time in human history, the obese outnumber the starving.

Yet capitalism continues to be maligned as a system that enriches the few and impoverishes the many. Why is this? Are the critics of capitalism simply ignorant of these facts? Perhaps. Or, it may be that many of the fiercest critics of capitalism prefer to see the poor stay poor. Capitalism has a way of disrupting hierarchies. In a free market; the ambitious, the inventive or the hard-working can rise. The lazy or foolish can sink, even if they belong to an old family or a special caste. It is perhaps no coincidence that the defenders of the idea that the markets must be controlled and regulated tend to be those already on top. Think of how many grandchildren of successful industrialist embrace various forms of Socialism, or how successful European firms didn’t have a problem with Fascism or Nazism, or even Democratic Socialism. The biggest supporters of Big Government tend to be Big Businesses. As long as they have a hand in setting the rules,they can set them to their advantage. And, if you advocate the redistribution of wealth, you have many opportunities of redistributing wealth and power to yourself and your cronies.

I am a defender of capitalism because I am a defender of freedom, and because I would prefer that the poor not starve. As a system defined by the free exchange of goods and services, capitalism is the only economic system that promote freedom. Other economic systems such as Socialism or Feudalism are based on the forcible taking of goods and services from those that produced them to those deemed deserving by some elite. That way lies slavery and poverty.

 

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