The answer to the question might not be very welcome

Those readers who find themselves in Sydney at the start of September may consider the following opportunity to “analogue troll” for $45.

Of all the breakout sessions, this one piqued our interest particularly;

Where to start? In the words of Luke Skywalker, “Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong“.

Let’s answer the question asked in the session’s title last and pick off the sentences in the description first.

42 billionaires now own more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population.

Interesting use of language there; bottom half. I think they mean poorest half if we’re trying to not be judgemental or insulting. Anyway, the relevant question to ask about that statement might be, how does this situation compare against previous periods in human history? Is the trend improving or worsening?

Pick your data source and point in time for comparison but it has been estimated that for most of human history, the average daily income was the equivalent of $1.

At the time of Croesus, the world’s population was approximately 115 million.

Comparing averages is dangerous statistical activity, as is comparing net wealth with income, but let’s assume half of the people alive with Croesus had an income of $1 a day in modern terms. Let’s also assume that they had no real savings to speak of and were living hand to mouth. So, do we think Croesus’ net wealth was less than $57.5m, i.e. half of the population multiplied by a dollar a day?

Similar examples might be made with Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, several of the Emperors of China, the Pharaohs of Egypt, various Indian emperors, etc.

What about any number of other historical figures who concentrated massive wealth and land? Do we think their wealth was above or below about $57.5m in modern terms? If above, we’ve just dismissed the first statement of our Sydney Socialist friends as being irrelevant.

Let’s look at the next assertion;

In a world that’s never been richer, hundreds of millions remain trapped in poverty, facing starvation and disease, especially in the so-called “third world”.

Well, the world has indeed never been richer. This is an interesting chart from The Atlantic (a publication not known for blindly supporting free market capitalism) showing GDP per capita over the last few hundred years;

Gosh, I wonder what might have caused that huge improvement since 1800 in Western Europe and the USA? Sure, that’s about the time Marx and Engels wrote their envious little book but, in the real world, something was happening in England that was changing the level of wealth and finally breaking the Malthusian model.

The statement about hundreds of millions remaining trapped in poverty is less accurate and, in fact, increasingly wrong as time proceeds. Don’t believe us? Ask the UN. The target of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty was achieved 5 years early.

Again, why do we think that happened?

The last sentence is a question, which we’ve already shown to be asked from a false position;

What has led to this obscene situation, and who is to blame?

Bill’s Opinion

The answer to the question, “Why is the third world so poor?” could be as simple as “Collectivism, i.e. Socialism”.

Perhaps the better question to ask is, “Why is the third world being lifted out of poverty so rapidly?

To which we would offer the answer, “An embracing by the general population of free markets, international trade and the individual desire for self-improvement”.

Capitalism, in other words.

Before the industrial revolution, people were living in abject poverty in hand to mouth existences. Marx and Engels could have watched the starving farm workers being buried in the ground if they had visited rural England. Instead, they went to the concentrations of populations gathered around the new factories. The conditions they saw were also terrible but, and this is the elephant in the conference room at the Sydney Socialism event, it was better than the rural alternative. That’s why the farm workers voluntarily moved to the cities in the first place.

Let’s just leave this chart here and ask ourselves whether the Sydney Socialists really have the answer to the problem;

2 Replies to “The answer to the question might not be very welcome”

  1. Globalisation has shared some wealth around the place.

    Seems to be a bit of a movement going against it at the minute though.

    1. Indeed. It could be argued that the reduction in international tariffs is one of the greatest causes of human health and happiness since the discovery of the process to brew beer.

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