Note: The nice thing about the ol' blogaroo is that, unlike a paper that's going to be graded, a given post can merely be a rant-and-rave if it pleases the Editor!
In the following column by Alvaro Vargas Llosa, you will see that the average income per person worldwide has grown from an inflation-adjusted $2 a day to $17 a day over the past 200 years, thanks to free market capitalism.
As long as we're talking about averages, I'll just say that your average liberal, schlepping around Cambridge or Berkeley in his gray ponytail and comfortable shoes before hopping into the Prius to pick up the kid from a soccer practice where they don't keep score (because he's probably a stay-at-home dad anyway), might start blasting free market capitalism and America (the greatest creator of wealth and prosperity the world has ever known) upon hearing this.
His argument might be a mess of bad generalizations about income inequality, white privilege, greedy old-boy-network, Dick Cheney-and-pals backroom profit manipulation and creation at the expense of the Little Guy, sprinkled with references to Big Oil and melting icebergs.
When confronted with a slew of easy-to-understand things called facts that demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that today's average welfare recipient lives a lot higher on the hog, longer, and healthier than your average king or queen of England did back in the day (read Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth or rent Braveheart and then tell me if life would be easier as king back then or as a bum today), the liberal in question might start bringing up stories of his friend, a single, hardworking mother struggling to raise her kids in the face of a cold and heartless insurance company or a mean boss down at the minimum wage Burger King where she works.
OK, fine. We could spend all day recounting the stories of those who slip through the cracks (that's what Hollywood is there for). The last time I checked, we live in a place called the real world, and in the real world choices have to be made among imperfect alternatives.
It's like the shocked and outraged folks on TV who learn of an instance of a war crime committed by a U.S. soldier and talk about it like it's an argument for getting rid of the military or something. Has this person ever heard of an area of study called statistics, or maybe probability? Take 100,000 young soldiers in their teens and twenties and put them in a foreign country, scared out of their wits much of the time. Is the expectation that 0% of these guys will do something bad? If the expectation is 1/10 of 1%, then that'll give you 100 war crimes. If 12% of those get exposed in the media, that's one war crime per month to write about. Is that a reason to shut down the armed forces?
Likewise, there will always be losers in a free market economy, some of them penalized unjustly and unfairly. But to stand there like John Edwards and argue that things are pretty darn bad for the average American is stupid. Each and every morning I walk into Dunkin' Donuts. Each and every morning there is the same group of retired guys there, sitting around in their Red Sox windbreakers with their massive guts hanging all over the place, complaining about George Bush or some other topic they've carefully studied. Sure, maybe one or two of these guys really gave it his all throughout life and was met by adversity and calamity at every turn. There will always be people like this, just as there will always be people who get lung cancer never having puffed on a single cigarette. But I guarantee you that the vast majority of these guys graduated from high school, took union jobs, and punched the clock for thirty years, moaning the whole time.
Who thinks that a guy like this SHOULD have anything approaching income equality with the other guy who has worked hard and made short term sacrifices for the sake of some long term goals? Keep in mind that when politicians refer to "My Fellow Americans" or "The Working Guy" what they mean, whether they know it or not, is "My Fellow, Fairly Lazy Americans" or "The Barely-Working Guy Who Reluctantly Does as Little Work as Possible."
By the same token, there will always be individuals born into privilege who are funneled through the best schools, to the best firms, and everything comes up roses, and they DON'T work hard. That's also obvious if you look at it from a probability standpoint. So what? Deal with it.
Well, that's quite a rant, I realize. Here's the article:
Wealth and Nations
By Alvaro Vargas Llosa
MONTERREY, Mexico -- Is global capitalism making the poor even poorer, or is it in fact rescuing millions of people out of their misery?
I recently had the chance to participate in a series of debates here about this issue organized by Foreign Policy magazine and Letras Libres, a Mexican cultural publication Nothing I heard at that meeting changed my conviction that the glass is half-full despite the doomsayers who predict horrific calamities.
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, poverty has been significantly reduced throughout the world. Two hundred years ago, the average income per person worldwide was the equivalent of less than $2 a day; the figure is $17 today. This fact is relevant to the current discussion on globalization because, even though the information technology revolution, biotechnology, the emergence of new world players and outsourcing may give us the impression that we are in the midst of something entirely new, we are simply witnessing a new phase in the process of innovation that is the market economy -- and this began a few hundred years ago.
The fact that 20 percent of the world's population is extremely poor should not make us forget that millions of lives have improved dramatically in the last three decades. Illiteracy has dropped from 44 percent to 18 percent, and only three countries out of a total of 102 included in the U.N.'s Human Development Index have seen their socioeconomic conditions deteriorate. China's economy used to represent one-26th of the average economy of the countries that comprise the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; today it represents one-sixth.
These are not arcane facts. They are widely available and easy to understand. Publications such as Indur Goklany's "The Improving State of the World," David Dollar and Aart Kraay's report on the global economy, and Francois Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson's "Inequality Among World Citizens" -- to mention but three among many recent studies -- provide overwhelming evidence that the world is better off thanks to the increased flow of capital, goods, services and ideas.
All of which falls on the face of those who predict that in the next few years we will see a massive concentration of wealth among a few winners who will leave millions of losers behind. While it is probably true that the gap between low-skilled workers and those who are better educated will mean that different people will be impacted in very different ways by the continuing evolution of the global economy, the reality is that even those on the bottom rungs stand to benefit from the worldwide embrace of globalization.
Poverty was the natural condition of all of humanity until the market economy opened up the possibility of ever-increasing productivity. By 2030, it is estimated that the average wealth of developing countries will be equivalent to that of the Czech Republic today ($22,000 per person). The World Bank's recent "Global Economic Prospects" report goes as far as to say that Mexico, Turkey and China will equal Spain's current state of development, which is high.
At the recent meeting in Monterrey, those who were trying to justify their phobia against globalization pointed to Cuba and Venezuela as paradigms of development, and to Mexico's poor in claiming that increased trade -- through the North American Free Trade Agreement -- shortchanges the masses.
In 1953, Cuba's wealth was comparable to that of the state of Mississippi; today, the island's exports total one-third of the sales of Bacardi rum products, the economic icon of the Cuban exile community. Venezuela's economic system is a classic case of state capitalism based on oil -- exactly what made that nation's per-capita income go from representing the equivalent of two-thirds of that of the United States in the 1950s to representing barely 15 percent today. And Mexico's slums are not a factor of that country's increased trade with its North American neighbors, which has quadrupled in the last 15 years, but of the slow pace of reform.
The world was not rich and suddenly turned poor. The progress of the market economy that began to free the world of its shackles continues at an even faster pace today despite the many restrictions still faced by the people who create wealth and exchange it, and despite the fears that these momentous times understandably inspire in those who have difficulty adapting. What a heartening thought.