It is just one statement
in an interesting new book titled "The Undercover Economist"
by Tim Harford. But it has huge implications.
I haven't checked
out the statistics but they sound reasonable. If so, this is something
worth everyone's attention.
People on the political
left make a lot of noise about poverty and advocate all sorts
of programs and policies to reduce it but they show incredibly
little interest in how poverty has actually been reduced, whether
in China or anywhere else.
You can bet the rent
money that the left will show little or no interest in how Chinese
by the millions are rising out of poverty every year. The left
showed far more interest in China back when it was run by Mao
in far left fashion -- and when millions of Chinese were starving.
Those of us who are
not on the left ought to take a closer look at today's Chinese
rising out of poverty.
First of all, what
does it even mean to say that "China is lifting a million
people a month out of poverty"? Where would the Chinese government
get the money to do that?
The only people the
Chinese government can tax are mainly the people in China. A country
can't lift itself up by its own bootstraps that way. Nor has there
ever been enough foreign aid to lift a million people a month
out of poverty.
If the Chinese government
hasn't done it, then who has? The Chinese people. They did not
rise out of poverty by receiving largess from anybody.
The only thing that
can cure poverty is wealth. The Chinese acquired wealth the old-fashioned
way: They created it.
After the death of
Mao, government controls over the market began to be relaxed --
first tentatively, in selected places and for selected industries.
Then, as those places and those industries began to prosper dramatically,
similar relaxations of government control took place elsewhere,
with similar results.
Even foreigners were
allowed to come in and invest in China and sell their goods in
China. But this was not just a transfer of wealth.
Foreigners did not
come in to help the Chinese but to help themselves. The only way
they could benefit, and the Chinese benefit at the same time,
was if more total wealth was created. That is what happened but
the political left has virtually no interest in the creation of
wealth, in China or anywhere else, despite all of their proclaimed
concern for "the poor."
Since wealth is the
only thing that can cure poverty, you might think that the left
would be as obsessed with the creation of wealth as they are with
the redistribution of wealth. But you would be wrong.
When it comes to
lifting people out of poverty, redistribution of income and wealth
has a much poorer and more spotty track record than the creation
of wealth. In some places, such as Zimbabwe today, attempts at
a redistribution of wealth have turned out to be a redistribution
While the creation
of wealth may be more effective for enabling millions of people
to rise out of poverty, it provides no special role for the political
left, no puffed up importance, no moral superiority, no power
for them to wield over others. Redistribution is clearly better
for the left.
on "the poor" proceeds as if the poor were some separate
group. But, in most Western countries, at least, millions of people
who are "poor" at one period of their lives are "rich"
at another period of their lives -- as these terms are conventionally
How can that be?
People tend to become more productive -- create more wealth --
over time, with more experience and an accumulation of skills
That is reflected
in incomes that are two or three times higher in later years than
at the beginning of a career. But that too is of little or no
interest to the political left.
Things that work
for millions of people offer little to the left, and ultimately
the left is about the left, not about the people they claim to
want to lift out of poverty.