Make Everybody Rich

Via Michael Strong's latest guest post on A Thousand Nations - Innovation in Government, Part II comes this excellent piece by Frederick Turner (not the Turner thesis Frederick Turner, but the poet/scholar Frederick Turner), which begins:

Any inventory of the world’s current problem areas probably includes several of the following: war, the environment, education, health, crime, women’s rights, unemployment, the oppression of the poor, racism, xenophobia, restrictions on political liberty, the decline of religious spirituality, various crises in the arts, lack of support for scientific research and the space program, and overpopulation. There is, in fact, a simple and effective solution to all these problems: make everybody in the world rich. Poverty is not just one more head on the hydra, but the hydra itself that grows all the heads. Put a stake in the hydra, and the heads disappear.

And then fills in the details. How ironic that wealth, that achievement which the left sees with ambivalence at best, and with confiscatory anger at worse, is the true solution to so many of the problems which they so counterproductively try so solve with government.

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poverty doesn't necessarily create problem areas

I agree and see the irony in the point you made with wealth and the liberal view. Other things struck me about that guest's comments though.

I think someone took their bag of pet peeves and called them heads of a hydra that can be fixed by addressing poverty. Some of the points are conflicting, some are the source of "problems" instead of being an indicator when "problems" exist, some just make you scratch your head.

The most blatant - lack of support for a space program, what the huh? as if some third world country is mainly suffering problems as a direct result of them not taxing their citizenry billions upon billions of dollars to go to outer space - hmmm.

Another issue, overpopulation. Overpopulation may contribute to poverty, I suppose that argument could be made. However, the poverty caused by overpopulation does not directly translate into being a "problem area". There are many relatively peaceful overpopulated areas of the world. India would be one. China would be another. The Philippines would be a third.

Comparison, which is less a "problem area", India or the US? India's crime rate vs US. "According to National Crime Research Bureau of India, rape rate in India is just about 1.5 per 100,000, while it is about 32 per 100,000 in USA." and "It is not just the women who are unsafe in USA. Chances of burglary in USA are more than double compared to Mumbai."

I am an American living in the Philippines and I can tell you first hand, it is far more safe here. I can walk up and down the most poverty stricken area late at night at 2am and I am completely safe (both in outer provinces as well as the larger cities - unless I'm specifically in a muslim town, but then it becomes a muslim-related problem and not a poverty-related problem). There are many areas in the US that it is unwise to do the same. The Philippines can definitely be classified as poverty stricken.

Regarding China, read here, "Major metropolitan areas in China are relatively safe, especially in comparison with similarly sized cities in other developing countries."

Now here comes my main point - making people rich does not prevent an area being a "problem area". Some of the richest countries of the world are Arab muslim oil-rich countries, and for all the money they have they seem to be the worst problem areas anyone could imagine.

Individual Arab muslims are not rich

Some of the richest countries of the world are Arab muslim oil-rich countries, and for all the money they have they seem to be the worst problem areas anyone could imagine.

Those countries have a lot of oil, but I understood the proposal to be that individuals become wealthy, and the oil money is in the hands of a tiny minority of the Arab muslims, so that there is a lot of poverty in even Arab muslim oil rich countires.

Rich countries vs. rich individuals

For what it's worth, Fred Turner’s "Make Everybody Rich" makes repeated reference to the growth in average wealth. So a nation in which a tiny minority owns everything, but that minority is getting richer faster than the population is growing, would presumably meet Turner's standards.

You know the old joke: Two guys are sitting at the bar when Bill Gates walks in. "Yippee!" shouts one guy, "The average wealth of everyone in this place just skyrocketed!"

His companion rolls his eyes. "Look, just because some rich guy walks through the door, that doesn't change your circumstances or mine -- "

But his friend cuts him off. "Oh, there you go with all your class warfare talk again!"

Resource curse

He probably didn't have in mind countries suffering from the resource curse. I searched his essay and the words "oil" and "diamond" do not occur in it anywhere, so it's possible, and I think likely, that he simply forgot about the resource curse.

on the idea of wealth solving problems

In my mind to answer this would come down to what we are talking about when we speak of wealth. If people were on an island filled with piles of money and caves of gold they might appear rich to those with a strong mental habit of confusing wealth with money, but if the island had no fish surrounding it, no arrable land, no food,no water, the people on it would have NOTHING! SO i think of the resources that provide the nessesities of life itself the most valuable intrinsically. And this value system goes for all life forms, it's a common value that is shared by all living organisms. So when we speak making everyone rich as a means to solves most or all of the worlds problems, i would only mostly agree if i could redefine the meaning of "rich" to a more specific meaning in that context by referring to rich with nessesities of life. If everyone had access to these nessesities without debt barter trade or servitude everyone would be rich and this would solve a lot of problems, but to me the problems still go furthe. I think the problems are rooted in the environments we create that do not harmonize with nature or pay respect to nature's processes and the symbiotic aspects of life. So fundementally i think it's a crisis in consciousness, a distortion of our values that create these problems. Money playes a large part in this distortion if you ask me. I think there needs to be not just a more humane way of providing for one another and respecting one another's needs, but also a new awakening in our consciouness that can see beyond the barriers put forth by money, and recognize those nessesities common to all so we can begin to break down and evolve beyond the established social and collective institutions that are perpetuated by this distortion.

Money is wealth

Yes, I know the distinction between money and wealth. However, if you are not isolated from the world economy, and if you have a lot of gold in your possession (say), then you are in fact wealthy. Your scenario requires isolation from the world economy, which is why you talk about people being on an island:

If people were on an island filled with piles of money and caves of gold they might appear rich to those with a strong mental habit of confusing wealth with money, but if the island had no fish surrounding it, no arrable land, no food,no water, the people on it would have NOTHING!

A market economy allows you to exchange things for other things, so as long as you have access to it, then as long as you have something with a high market value, even if it does not directly do you any good (e.g., you can't eat gold directly), nevertheless you can exchange that good in your possession for other goods. So people on that island - that barren island with a lot of gold but with no fish and no arable land, no food, no drinkable water - those people would be rich as long as that island was not too remote to be accessible to the world economy. And every island on this planet is accessible (with some expense of course, but you might be suprised how inexpensive it is to ship something from China to the US).

So in practice it is not all that wrong to measure wealth in money. This of course does not mean that you can make people rich with monetary inflation. The purchasing power of money of course needs to be among the "ceteris paribus".

nitpicking

restrictions on political liberty

There is no such thing as political liberty, no more than rape liberty. Politics is define as everyone's business, it's no one's business to meddle in anyone's business.

the decline of religious spirituality

And that's a problem because? If anything, material comfort probably diminishes the urge to pray.

overpopulation

The word itself implies it's a problem, it's weaselly.

there will always be a food chain

First, consider life on Capt. Kirk's starship. Every possible consumer good was generated generated by machines in the bulkheads, no money was necessary, but every person knew their place in the pecking order.

Second, consider Lake Washington. Who will live on Lake Washington waterfront when everyone is rich? You say it will be made into a public park? OK, who will live across the street from the Lake Washington Park?