How Not to Understand “Poverty”

“3 Ways Humans Create Poverty” is an objectionably clumsy approach to a serious issue. Starts with sloppy definitions and goes downhill from there.

First, “You need X dollars a day” is not a definition of poverty but a measurement of one dimension of it. Poverty can only be understood in relation to wealth – not Scrooge McDuck wealth but wealth as a matrix of material and mental, skills, personal networks, etc. Then let’s face the fact that “capitalism” is a similarly bullsh*t when you use it as a signifyer for all forms of capital-related trade.

Put it this way: Would anyone object to the statement “It’s better when more people have more ability to more material and skills, so they can create and exchange more things”? No? Well that’s what Adam Smith and others were going for with what has been dogmatized as “Capitalism”.

Personally I think “Capitalism” can go f*ck itself, but unfortunately there’s not yet a better word to summarize all that Creation/Exchange stuff. And that increased access to creation/exchange *IS* what we’ve seen overall, as humanity evolves. Now this evolution isn’t the work of the World Bank or the Railroad Barons or the East India Company, but the work of humanity as a whole. The word “Capitalism” is a fart as we collectively digest this difficult concept. If you don’t like it, stop smelling it, and focus more on the other end of the equation.

As to the article’s three points, it starts with the notion that there was a communal landowning utopia prior to the Industrial Revolution – I imagine in the authors’ mind this takes place sometime after the peasant holocaust of the Middle Ages and the 30 Years War.

The second point gives us the “colonialism was a one way oppression by Whites against non-Whites”, basically the James Cameron’s Avatar school of “Human Nature doesn’t apply to the Noble Savage.” – whether one is talking about pre-British India or pre-European Americas, only a total ignoramus can say, “It’s certain that life would have been better for everyone if the Europeans had never come.”

Never mind that “colonialism” issue assumes too much agency. Civilizations collide, advantages are taken, and then a new balance is sought. One does not avenge the dead and enslaved of the past by misunderstanding what happened to them. Was it similarly colonialism when one pre-European group conquered/enslaved/dispossessed another in Asia, India, Africa, the Middle East or the Americas? No? Maybe we need a better word then, to differentiate the express intent to colonize with the inherent human instinct to migrate, expand and explore.

The third point the article makes is that “Free Trade” is really about the machinations of Big Government, Big Industry and the institutions that serve as their hands and mouths (e.g. the World Bank). Screw that. Free Trade in principle is as a sane human being would define it, exactly what it sounds like. The whole increasing and cascading creation/exchange phenomenon mentioned earlier.

Free trade is captured by the physics of wealth (wealth attracts wealth) and human nature (greed), yes, but it continually creates disruptions that weaken those captures. Every position of seemingly “totalitarian” rule is undermined. Nomadic warlords become sedentary feudal lords in pursuit of a stable source of food and payment for their armies, giving cities (the Kublai Khan effect). Monarchs cede authority to the knights who fill their armies and the merchants who pay for it all, yielding a form of democracy and a middle class (e.g. Magna Carta). Now we have governments and industries that are being undermined by phenomena exemplified by the internet, 3D printing, alternative energies (e.g. solar), aqua/hydroponics, etc.

In all this, however, there are always those on the margin getting screwed and those in the middle getting squeezed. Millions have died from war, starvation, disease, etc. as humanity slowly learns how to best manage its natural and human resources. But we are getting better at it.

And if we think it through carefully (i.e. not like the linked article), if we continue connecting with one another via new technologies, and if we continue putting that technology towards pursuits in line with our principles, we will come through on the other side.

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