Posts Tagged ‘Poverty’

The Triumph of Capitalism

December 23, 2013

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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Was Jesus a Liberal?

December 14, 2013

A theme that I have noticed lately over the Internet and Facebook, etc is the idea that Jesus was a liberal, that is to say that the compassion for the poor that Jesus taught is best fulfilled by some sort of big government system of wealth distribution. I is more than a little inappropriate to try to classify the teachings of a first century  Jew in terms of contemporary politics and still less so to claim the mantle of the Son of God for any political program.  It is also more than a little interesting that people who formerly had little use for any religion, particularly Christianity, are suddenly teaching us the precepts of our own religion.

This passage in Matthew explains what to do to help others.

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[e] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. (Matt 19:16-30)

Now please note what Jesus did not ask the young man to do. Jesus did not tell the young men to go to Pilate or Herod and demand that they take money from the rich to give to the poor. Jesus told the young man to sell his own possessions.

Here are some more passages.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)

I wish many present day tax collectors felt as Zacchaeus did.

Here,Paul gives instruction to the Christians of Corinth.

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me. (1Co 16:1-4)

There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. (2 Co 9:1-5)

Again, Zacchaeus and the Corinthians are asked to give their own money to the poor,not money taken by force from someone else. The apostles and many in the early Church seem to have lived a communal life.

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. (Acts 4:32-5:11)

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not in holding back some of the money they received for their property but in lying to the apostles and trying to get more credit than they deserved. Peter acknowledged that they could do whatever they like with their own money. The communal life of the apostles was entirely voluntary. They did not demand that the Roman government force people to live in communes.

The problem seems to be that our progressives blur the distinction between private acts of charity and government policies. Helping the poor and unfortunate is a praiseworthy act. Charity with other peoples’ money at little cost to oneself is less praiseworthy. Robbing the rich to give to the poor is still stealing. A political platform based on arousing feelings of envy is covetousness. Remember,”Thou shalt not steal”, and “Thou shalt not covet”.

If you want to help the poor, then go out and help the poor. Don’t use the excuse of wanting to be compassionate to justify taking the property and freedoms of others.

Soul Crushing Dependency

December 10, 2012

Hallelujah! A liberal gets it! At least Nicholas D Kristoff has come to understand that while government programs to aid the poor may indeed do much good, they may also create perverse incentives that encourage generation after generation of poverty. He writes about this in his column, observing that parents, (or parent, single parenthood is a big part of the problem) will actually take children out of literacy classes to ensure that they do not learn to read. If the child learns to read well, they may not qualify for disability checks for their learning disabilities.

THIS is what poverty sometimes looks like in America: parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.

Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way — and those checks continue until the child turns 18.

“The kids get taken out of the program because the parents are going to lose the check,” said Billie Oaks, who runs a literacy program here in Breathitt County, a poor part of Kentucky. “It’s heartbreaking.”

This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.

Some young people here don’t join the military (a traditional escape route for poor, rural Americans) because it’s easier to rely on food stamps and disability payments.

Antipoverty programs also discourage marriage: In a means-tested program like S.S.I., a woman raising a child may receive a bigger check if she refrains from marrying that hard-working guy she likes. Yet marriage is one of the best forces to blunt poverty. In married couple households only one child in 10 grows up in poverty, while almost half do in single-mother households.

Most wrenching of all are the parents who think it’s best if a child stays illiterate, because then the family may be able to claim a disability check each month.

“One of the ways you get on this program is having problems in school,” notes Richard V. Burkhauser, a Cornell University economist who co-wrote a book last year about these disability programs. “If you do better in school, you threaten the income of the parents. It’s a terrible incentive.”

There is a lot more to read there. It may be easy to look down on such people as being ignorant fools who are short changing their children, but consider the conditions there. There is not much economic opportunity in Breathitt County. Keeping their children illiterate, while short sighted, makes perfect sense to them.

Here we have the actual problem. People do respond to incentives. If you reward dependency, illiteracy, and irresponsibility, than you will get more of it. Why should someone work, if they can get enough to get by, while not working. If you punish hard work and initiative, and excelling in education,  which all too many of these programs seem to be doing, than you will get less of it. This isn’t really too difficult to understand.

What is the answer for places like Breathitt County? I really do not know. I think that liberals and conservatives both ought to be able to agree that if we want to help these people, the best way to go about doing it would be to help them be able to help themselves. Ultimately, the goal ought to be to get as many of these people as possible to the point where they do not need the government to help them. This would be good for the country and for them. It wouldn’t necessarily be good for the government, or for the people who administer such programs, who profit by a child’s illiteracy as well, so I am not expecting any change soon.

Poverty in America

August 20, 2011

According to the Census Bureau, approximately 14.3% of the people in the United States were living in  poverty in 2009. This amounts to 43.6 million people. This does not sound good, and it isn’t, and yet the truth is than poverty isn’t what it used to be.

When I think of poverty, I imagine people who go without food on a regular basis. People who wear rags and go about barefoot. It would seem that there is very little of that sort of poverty in America, The trick is, how to define “poverty”. According to the Wikipedia article linked above, poverty in the United States is measured in more than one way.

The most common measure of poverty in the United States is the “poverty threshold” set by the U.S. government. This measure recognizes poverty as a lack of those goods and services commonly taken for granted by members of mainstream society.[5] The official threshold is adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index.

Relative poverty describes how income relates to the median income, and does not imply that the person is lacking anything. In general the United States has some of the highest relative poverty rates among industrialized countries, reflecting both the high median income and high degree of inequality

Note that either way, poverty is a relative measurement. Someone considered poor in America could easily be considered fabulously wealthy by the standards of Africa. Poverty in the United States then is not a matter of living on the edge of starvation, but of not having as much stuff as many others.

Which brings me to this article by John C Goodman at Townhall.com, in which he asks “are the poor really poor?” Consider these facts:

• The average household defined as poor lived in a house or apartment equipped with air conditioning and cable TV.• The family had a car (a third of the poor have two or more cars).

• For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, a DVD player and a VCR.

• If there were children in the home (especially boys), the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.

• In the kitchen, the household had a microwave, refrigerator, and an oven and stove.

• Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone and a coffeemaker.

The home of the average poor family was in good repair and not overcrowded. In fact, the typical poor American had more living space than the average (non-poor) European, the Heritage scholars note. The poor family was able to obtain medical care when needed. When asked, most poor families stated they had had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs.


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