Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Missing the point entirely.

A reader's letter to the NY Times complains:

To the Editor:

While David Brooks may be correct that globalization is a factor in reducing world poverty ("Good News About Poverty," column, Nov. 27), I think he goes overboard when he says, "But if you really want to reduce world poverty, you should be cheering on those guys in pinstripe suits at the free-trade negotiations and those investors jetting around the world."

For the most part those guys in pinstripe suits are pursuing globalization to maximize their profits, not reduce the poverty of others. So, while their pursuits may have some positive effects on world poverty, Mr. Brooks imputes egalitarian motives to them that are likely not much of a factor in their actions...
First, it's been a good 228 years now since Adam Smith wrote...

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner..."

... so isn't it about time to get such basic-level economics included in the high-school curriculum, and start fighting the scourge of economic illiteracy?

Second, Brooks never at all "imputes egalitarian motives" to the pinstripe-suit globalizers. That free trade, markets, and capitalism reduce poverty and increase human welfare without egalitarian motivations is the point.

The Industrial Revolution had no egalitarian motivation behind it. But it increased the life expectancy of all of us in the now-developed world from 25 to 75+, and is today increasing life expectancy correspondingly in every part of the lesser-developed world that it reaches, as it reaches it.

Perhaps the letter writer feels that the tripling of his own life expectancy is not to be cheered too highly, because there was no egalitarian motivation behind it?

Now, at this point I was going to head into a rant about the road-to-hell one risks taking when one judges others by their motives rather than by the real results of their actions. After all, nobody professed more egalitarian motivation than the Communists who killed 100 million of their own people and impoverished well more than another billion for generations to come.

But I'll save that for another day, and just ask again: If we teach biology, chemistry and physics in high school, isn't it about time we started teaching at least the ABCs of economics?

After all, on election day people don't vote on whether to defy the laws of chemistry and physics.