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A letter to Steven Pinker about global poverty (jasonhickel.org)
250 points by winterismute 39 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 245 comments



One of the most amazing things I learned reading the excellent "Factfullness" by Hans Rosling [1] is that the poorest countries in the world are currently improving faster than any country ever did, at any point in history.

That's correct - countries like Lesotho and Central African Republic are improving faster than his home country of Sweden ever did, at any time. In only his lifetime Sweden went from having an infant mortality rate similar to that of the poorest countries today, to being one of the world leaders. Those poor countries are improving faster than Sweden ever did... so in just one more lifetime they'll be where the world leaders are today.

The book makes it plainly clear that the world is improving much, much, much faster - even for the poorest - than the mainstream media would have anyone believe.

[1] https://amzn.to/2Ihb6jM - full title is great "Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think"


Rosling, Gates etc are right that things are overall getting better.

The rich are getting richer and the very poor are also doing better, but this is coming at the cost of the middle class in Western Europe and the US, where the average couple of working adults can no longer afford to buy a home and have to live with the fact that their jobs are significantly less stable compared to the past. Many are forced to work part time or take on gigs to make ends meet.

I could go on, but something's clearly rotten in the west.


“Doctor Pinker, you’re killing the patient!”

“Well that’s a fairly narrow and bigoted way of looking at it. Look at how many people are benefiting from her blood and organs.”


Agreed. Let’s not forget another externality - the environment. Whether it’s climate change due to massive pollution or the destruction of the insect base or plastic in everything, there needs to be a more holistic context.


Why is "affording to be able to buy a home" should be our definition of living standard.

It seemed to me that we have chosen to increase the cost of living by spreading ourselves out and requiring cars and making homes investments.


Home and land ownership has been one of the main ways that the working class can accumulate wealth.

It's the average man's tried and true method of investing.


It is an unfortunate conflict that homes cannot be both stay affordable and be a good investment. Houses accumulated wealth in the 20:th century because they increased in value quickly, but that means they are no longer affordable to many people. We should allow building more homes so people can buy them. But then they won't go up as much in value as when the supply is restricted.


Homes can be a good iinvestment even if prices aren’t rising (or at least aren't rising faster than inflation). You have to have shelter, so you have to purchase that some how. If you choose to rent theoretically you need to pay for the raw cost of the real estate you are living, the cost of maintaining and managing that property, and a small profit for the owner. If you own the property you can choose to do much of the maintenance and management yourself, and can keep the profit portion. Sweat equity is a real thing, and there is no other asset type I can think of that allows average people to casually invest thier labor like that.


Absolutely. Housing can be an ok investment compared to renting without becoming unaffordable. Buying vs. renting comes down to a trade-off of how long you will stay, how much work you are willing to put in, etc.

For you last point, the gig economy is partially filling that role for non-homeowners. You can drive around or deliver things almost as casually as doing home improvements. Not quite as easily, but the payoff more direct.


Is that actually true? I mean, it was true in the US in the middle of the 20th century but it seems at odds with what I know of conditions elsewhere, though I'm not an expert.


Yes it's actually true.

It's more that the counter-position broadly applied over the long run is untenable.

If you don't own the home you live in and/or the land it stands on then you are by definition renting that property. A portion of your labour is going straight to someone who owns at least one home and some land thus depending on how long this goes on for drives inequality.

It's not called “Rentier Capitalism” for nothing you know: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rentier_capitalism

If people have a decent chance to own their own home and land it gives them an avenue to a better life, if they don't it doesn't.


Sorry, I meant to ask if you had any evidence that it was true, rather than if you just had some reasoning that it was true. As far as I can tell social mobility in Europe is about as good as it is in the US despite the much higher home ownership rate in the US.

Yes, home ownership provides a way for people to accumulate wealth that is tax advantaged by US government policy. But does it provide the same benefit in countries without that tax advantage? And is that advantage enough to offset the reduced labor mobility that home ownership brings[1].

[1]https://www.citylab.com/life/2013/05/link-betweeen-high-leve...


I see what you're saying.

That's too counter-intuitive for me. I'd need a lot more than one article to change my mind on this.

All other things being equal, if you're paying down a mortgage rather than lining someone else's pocket that has to be a good thing for you. Because when you have the mortgage paid off you own a property.

Just because in some places (like parts of Europe) there are tenant councils and strong tenant rights which makes being a tenant less bad doesn't then make the reverse situation (working towards owning your own home) less good.

And just because there are negative externalities to homeownership in a certain job market says just as much about that particular job market as it does about homeownership.


Tom Waits joked between songs on one of his live records, how in his travels he realized there is no over-population, just that everyone wants to live by each other.

Which got me to thinking, there is a lot of space, but it's privately owned. Heck, the first police groups north of the Mason-Dixon line were established explicitly to collect taxes for landowners. One of Trump's first big scary acts was to sell off thousands of acres of public lands to wealthy business partners. Yet in all the current talk of wealth redistribution, nobody includes land ownership, even though it has been the main measurement of wealth for as long as we've entertained civilization.


Rosling was such a strong communicator that few people are left unimpressed by him. But his message was never one of complacency. His concern was that if people didn't realize that things were getting better they wouldn't think they could be.

I can see his point. I agree with you about housing. But if we conclude that things are getting worse it is hard to gather hope. There has never been more affordable quality housing as today. Everything of concern is better from financing and construction to communication.

So why is affordability down in these regions? Because the powerful has convinced us that there can be no other way. And we are, just as Rosling didn't want us to be, ignorant enough to believe them.


"is that the poorest countries in the world are currently improving faster than any country ever did, at any point in history. "

This isn't surprising and the reasoning isn't that hard.

Economic advancement is very hard if you have to 'figure out how to do it' i.e. intensive R&D.

But if you are 'far behind' and there are examples to copy, you can just copy.

Developing nations not only have many examples, but they have access to capital, credit etc.. Many of them have natural resources to get things gong. As long as there is conscientious leadership - they can grow quickly.

There are examples of countries growing 'even more quickly' than such developing nations - and those are post-war nations. Nations that already have functioning institutions, when faced with a cataclysmic shock of war - don't need to build from scratch, rather, they are 'repairing' their economy.

Europe, S. Korea, Japan in the post-war years really boomed.

China, one might argue is not just 'developing' but it's 'snapping back' after a long period of oppression.

But once development reaches a certain level, it tends to slow, and come in line with the development of other advanced nations.

You can see this glowingly with Japan and S. Korea as they rockted forward, but are now in the slog with the rest of us.

When you have 'no roads' - investment decisions are easy.

But when everyone has 'stuff' ... well ... it's a lot harder.


This phenomenon is known as convergence.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convergence_(economics)


The post war countries you mention had access to massive investment from the US, e.g. the Marshall plan. It's no surprise they're doing well. In contrast, the post-colonial developing countries today were hit with extremely predatory debt by the IMF - as a form of "international aid" - so it's no surprise they are not as wealthy. Some of these places were also very developed prior to colonialism and could have "snapped back" given the chance.

Unless the exploitative nature of the relationships between wealthier and poorer countries changes, they will have a hard time reaching our economic standards.


You've contradicted yourself in your own statement.

You can't have 'not enough investment' and then 'debt trap' (i.e. taking on too much debt) at the same time.

Which is it?

They can't access debt?

Or they're taking on too much, so much they can't service it?

Countries usually wantonly and willingly approach the IMF/WB for loans - not the other way around. The reason is because they can get better terms than anyone else will provide. The IMF/WB are sources of capital wherein none else would even exist.

The IMF/WB are not really profit centers for anyone. If it were highly lucrative, then lenders would be lining up to put money into these amazingly profitable funds! But of course this is not the case.

The reason these countries end up with problems, is the same reason they are not able to 'catch up' to rich countries: they are dysfunctional, corrupt, lacking many of the institutions and systems necessary to make use of the money.

Corrupt leaders often take a hefty chunk off the top of the loan, hand out sub contracts to their idiot friends etc., and things fail or fall apart. And then the lender is blamed?

There's a lot of money floating out there and made available for rational infrastructure investment - on very good terms - it's just that the money often can't be turned around into some kind of productive gain. This should give a hint as to why the countries are poor in the first place.


IMF debt trap for developing countries during the is well documented. Till the 90s, there were very high interest rates. So yes, they could access debt, but it was impossible to repay. The nature of the lending has become less exploitative in recent years but not necessarily long enough for these places to recover.

Sure, there are cases where corrupt leaders have embezzled the funds. However, it was also a practice that governments be given funds only on condition of structuring their economies in ways that benefit western investors over the local population. So their "dysfunctionality" was not always a choice - not democratically anyway. There are also cases where corrupt leadership was put into power in developing countries by Western forces, after compromising democratically elected regimes, e.g. by the CIA in Panama, Chile, or Iran.

If former colonies had been offered the kinds of reparations and assistance that say the people founding the state of Israel got, then it seems reasonable to think that these places could be doing very well like Israel is doing now. But places like say Haiti were completely ruined with debt from damages they were forced to repay after their independence struggle, to make an example of them and discourage other liberation efforts. And they have never been given the chance to negotiate on equal terms since.

I think there is plenty of evidence for a story where there was an abuse of Western geopolitical influence in these places. There is lots of productive gain to be made in these places. It just happens to largely go to the West, rather than to the people living there. In Africa, on average, more money leaves the continent in the form of repatriation of profits by multinationals than was invested/lent that year [1]. So the modern version of colonialism is still an effective form of wealth extraction. This is not to mention the nasty tactics that such companies have been found to use in order to maintain this kind of profiteering, such as by funding rebel militias in civil wars to keep control of valuable resource extraction sites [2].

It's terrible how we are led to blame the people in these countries and resign them to what could be pretty horrible fates, when there are far more powerful and sinister actors that are on "our side" who are usually holding more of the blame.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/may/24/w...

[2] https://projects.icij.org/fatalextraction/


FWIW, after almost three years on the ground in Africa through 32 countries, I agree with you 100%.

The debt trap the IMF is holding these countries in is shocking and horrid.

Part of me wishes "Africa" would band together, give the IMF the middle finger and do their own thing / team up even more with the Chinese. At least then they'd have a fair start, rather than the IMF putting a foot on their heads.


>In only his lifetime Sweden went from having an infant mortality rate similar to that of the poorest countries today, to being one of the world leaders.

This simply isn't true. Between 1900 and 1905, Sweden's infant mortality rate was merely 2.3 per 1,000 live births [1] which is basically the same as they currently report (2.6 per 1,000 [2]) according to the CIA world factbook. Compare that with Lesotho's rate of 46.1 per 1,000 [2] and it's plain to aee that comparison is completely unfounded. Today's poorest countries have rates in the 60-80 range despite the best efforts of the Western world to share the basic knowledge which caused such a precipitous decline in infant mortality post-1850 with those nations.

[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448444/

[2]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_infant_...


> This simply isn't true. Between 1900 and 1905, Sweden's infant mortality rate was merely 2.3 per 1,000 live births [1] which is basically the same as they currently report (2.6 per 1,000 [2])

You're mixing up maternal mortality (the mother dies) with infant mortality (the child dies).

It would be quite remarkable indeed if somehow medicine in Sweden today achieved a slightly worse infant mortality than at the beginning of the previous century.


Well I'm stupid, I'll delete the comment until I can find a good source.


A repost of an old comment of mine with some good sources of the late Dr. Rosling's:

Factfulness is available, for free, here: http://www.factfulness.science/

The late Dr. Rosling's website is fantastic and a good example of easy to use GUIs for data science. Play around with the data yourself here: https://www.gapminder.org/tools/#$state$time$value=2018;;&ch...

Try taking the quiz here to see if you are smarter than a chimp: http://factfulnessquiz.com/

I'd encourage everyone to read Factfulness. It's fairly quick to churn through and very enlightening. The world really is getting better.


Thanks for the good read. Very insightful book. I am not from a developed country but still had the same misconceptions that the author wanted to highlight. I think most people from developing countries also think the developed countries are way ahead of them and their home country is only getting worst.


> so in just one more lifetime they'll be where the world leaders are today.

This is where you are probably wrong and which so often is used in the narrative of "things are getting better". You make an implicit assumption that this development will go on. It probably won't. The reason is climate change.


> It probably won't. The reason is climate change.

But as is the case with automation predictions and massive net job destruction, it hasn't happened yet. So it's possible we're wrong about such predictions. We've been wrong in the past about environmental doom and job loss.

Or maybe not this time, but we should keep that in mind and be a little bit skeptical about our current state of knowledge when predicting the future. It would be one thing if the trend was clearly toward things getting worse because of climate change. But it's not so far.


> It would be one thing if the trend was clearly toward things getting worse because of climate change. But it's not so far.

Someone tell Fiji, I'm sure they will be happy to hear that:

https://unfccc.int/news/how-fiji-is-impacted-by-climate-chan...

https://www.salon.com/2012/09/19/first_village_relocated_due...


We also have been wrong in the past about the end of poverty and the gap between countries. These predictions usually focus just in technology improvements, ignoring politics, both internal as international.


So it's possible we're wrong about such predictions.

Not all predictions are equal. We're a lot better at modelling things now than we ever have been in the past. That's not to say we're definitely right this time, but the probability that we actually are right is much higher than at any point in history.


It has happened. The world has warmed by a degree. Insects are dying off. Coral reefs are dying off. Phytoplankton is at risk of dying off, the antarctic ice sheets are collapsing, the arctic thaws out completely almost in the summer time, permafrost is thawing I’m Siberia and Canada what more do you want?


Climate change is not necessarily a doomsday for humanity. Just as great agriculture projects required a civilizational innovation, and just as Netherlands' constant work with the water led to a strong tradition of cooperation and responsibility sharing, climate change mitigation might motivate similar social and institutional changes elsewhere.

Or not. After all populism and demagoguery is extremely powerful (see religions).


Anecdotally, I’ve seen more climate related disasters in the past year than in the previous 5 before that.


"The reason is climate change."

The reason isn't climate change.

The Central African Republic has just come out of a civil war. Of course things are going to improve rapidly, because that farmer that was in a refugee camp can now go home and grow enough to barely feed his family.

You can't extrapolate that out to the CAR overtaking first world countries in a generation simply because that farmer hasn't been educated to do the jobs that the economy would require, neither probably will his children.

That's before getting into things like infrastructure, rule of law, etc, etc, etc.

Edit: To clarify, I don't disagree that climate change will probably hurt the poorest countries disproportionately though.


You misunderstood - the user wrote that the improvement probably won't continue due to climate change (which is expected to negatively impact developing countries more than developed).


I reread and don't think I have.

The parents contention is that climate change will prevent these countries becoming first world/that it will interrupt their growth. I'm saying even without climate change they won't become first world. Certainly not on the timescale suggested. Now I agree, climate change won't help. But the reason CAR isn't (now or in 50 years) a first world country is not down to climate change, its because they don't have any of the myriad things needed to support that type of economy.


this is the difference between ecologist thinking and economist thinking.

economists think in curves - starting from a low base it's very easy to improve fast, but the rate of improvement drops off as it nears the global average.

ecologists think in straight lines - the rate of improvement is x/year, so in 50 years the improvement will be 50x and they'll be richer than Sweden, who are only improving at (x/10)/year.


Why would ecologists think in straight lines? Don't they start with the Lotka-Volterra differential equations to model prey-predator population fluctuations? (Even if they learn just the concept, and not the underlying math.) Also, haven't they learn a bit about exponential bloom and decay of algae?


> It probably won't. The reason is climate change.

Climate change is going to cause hardship, and aren't people going to respond? People respond to changing conditions all the time. In responding to change won't that cause economic activity? Where I live there are many flood relief schemes that have an overall budget in the 100s of millions. Multiply that by all the schemes needed the world over and you have a lot of economic activity.

I know this is very close to the broken window fallacy but assuming that climate is a gradual process and not a cataclysmic one (and there's no evidence that it is) then mere capital will be deployed or destroyed and deployed. Humans can rebuild their capital. Sure, if it wasn't for climate change that capital would have been invested elsewhere but we're not talking about all capital everywhere. I think it extremely unlikely that the effects of climate change will put the breaks on human progress. However I do think it very possible that climate alarmists might cause policies to be put into place that would put the breaks on human progress.

It'd be nice if we could come back here in a generation, in 2050 say, and see what the near-term outcomes were.


That argument is both true and deceiving at the same time. The poorest countries are improving the most because they are so far behind everyone else that any improvement is spectacular when viewed as a percentage.

Take a homeless person who has a penny to his name. You give him $100 and his wealth skyrockets by 1000000% in a day. Compare that to bill gates whose wealth probably increases by a "measly" 10% per year. But if you look at the wealth increase by absolute numbers rather than percentages, the picture is quite different. Bill Gates' 10% probably gets him $10 billion while the homeless man's 1000000% gets him $100.

$10 billion vs $100.

10% vs 1000000%.

Whereas the mainstream media may be too pessimistic, rosling is even more optimistic. The idea that the poorest countries ( like CAR ) is going to lead the world is unrealistic barring some apocalyptic event in the US, Europe, East Asia, Middle East.


> The idea that the poorest countries ( like CAR ) is going to lead the world is unrealistic barring some apocalyptic event in the US, Europe, East Asia, Middle East.

I don't think that OP was arguing that will happen. He was just arguing that growth is happening and they are catching up.


> The idea that the poorest countries ( like CAR ) is going to lead the world is unrealistic barring some apocalyptic event in the US, Europe, East Asia, Middle East.

That's not at all what I said.

What I meant was that Sweden (and every developed country) improved in one generation from where CAR is today to where Sweden is today.

CAR is currently improving faster than Sweden ever did, so it's probably that in one generation CAR will be where Sweden is today.

Of course, Sweden will probably improve in that same generation.


> CAR is currently improving faster than Sweden ever did, so it's probably that in one generation CAR will be where Sweden is today.

Yeah... that's not how it works.

Yesterday you had zero wifes. Today, on your wedding you have 1. Thus, just plotting the trend, tomorrow you have 2. You'll soon have dozens.

https://xkcd.com/605


> Yeah... that's not how it works.

But Sweden, and every other developed country on the planet did it, so why do you assume that other countries can't or won't.

They're currently doing a faster job of improving than any other country ever did... yes, even the one YOU live in.


Enlightenment Now was easily Pinker's worst book. It took the counter-intuitive theme ("hey, things are not so bad when you look at the data") of Better Angels of Our Nature – which is a great book – and ran with it. Enlightenment Now is really two books: the first part deals with (chapter by chapter) a successive list of indicators of human progress. It's second part deals with the philosophical reasons behind human progress, what collectively are called enlightenment ideals.

Let's put to one side the second part of the book which is some of the worst material Pinker has put down on paper – not in terms of style of course, he writes like an angel, but in terms of philosophical content.

What struck me about the first part was where he deals with inequality. It is demonstrably true using Pinker's own metrics and datasets that economic progress is not distributed evenly. To put it very simply the data shows that the middle class is becoming hollowed out in the developed world. Where is that wealth flowing to? The rich in the developed world and the poor in the developing world. The argument goes like this: because the number of very poor and poor that are being lifted out of poverty in the developing world outnumbers the middle class that are losing their wealth in the developed world, then the current system is great because smaller overall numbers are better. QED.

You can attack this position from two angles. First, as Jason Hickel does by saying that the way poverty has been and is being measured is broken in some way. Second, in a way that is more compelling which is this: that the global and regional and national growth in wealth ought to be more evenly distributed. The current distribution is fundamentally and deliberately skewed. That would be the tack I would take. I would say, why do there have to be losers?

And isn't this what Brexit in the UK, the Yellow Vests in France, and the election of Trump in the US demonstrate? It shows that many feel squeezed and left behind. This was the first time I felt like saying to Pinker, "Well, look at you, a successful author in a developed country – do you not care about how your average countryman is doing?" Extreme and rising inequality is bad in and of itself. We know this because historically and in the present day when societies are more equal the knock on effects are felt in every sector of society. There's a reason people point to the Nordic model, they're not pulling this stuff out of their butts you know.

To Hickel's argument I would say this. Pinker is correct that where one draws the line of absolute poverty is irrelevant because the data shows that no matter where one draws the line (at that level of things) the numbers show poverty (at the global level, for the poorest of the poor) is decreasing. I think Hickel is correct in pointing out that all rich countries have protected their economies and continue to protect their domestic economies, Hickel lists a number of authors who pointed this out to which I would add How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor by Erik S Reinert. But that doesn't refute the data, it just refutes Pinker's ideology.

People like Hickel are basically anti-capitalist which for me is a non-starter. I'm opened to being proved otherwise. Don't get me wrong: crony capitalism can be critiqued, as can the excesses of capitalism – but I think people like Hickel would criticise capitalism itself which as I say for me doesn't fly. On the other hand people like Pinker either don't see or choose to downplay the ills of neoliberal globalist unfettered capitalism.

What bugs me about Hickel's take is that it feels like he's suggesting we can either have capitalism or public education, that we can have capitalism or public health programs. And so on. I don't think Pinker would be against such systems. All the most successful nations show that capitalism and some socialist policy can work hand-in-hand very well indeed. This is the debate we need to have I think, and urgently before skyrocketing inequality leads to violent social unrest and God knows who'll get into power then and God knows what cuckoo ideology they'll have. The wealthy have rigged the system in their favour. By the wealthy I mean, wealthy individual humans and wealthy corporations. We've allowed it to happen and now it must be addressed.

People like Hickel are awful. They rail against everything, scream that we're destroying the Earth (hint: we're not), and their proposed solutions are either socialist programs mostly _everybody_ agrees with and are implemented in _most_ nations or anti-growth solutions which are in a word 'bonkers'. Be very suspicious of people who say we're doing nothing right and who have a fundamentally pessimist view about humanity's growth.


It would be more appropriate for you to point out why you think Jason Hickel is anti-capitalist. Especially because the first half of your comment discussing the hallowing of the middle class seemed pertinent to me and I would have guessed you would agree with the author.


What do you make of this?

“Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem?” https://www.fastcompany.com/40439316/are-you-ready-to-consid...

“Don’t Be Scared About The End Of Capitalism—Be Excited To Build What Comes Next” https://www.fastcompany.com/40454254/dont-be-scared-about-th...

---

I have no time for ideologues (from whichever side of the aisle they come) who present capitalism and socialism as mutually exclusive alternatives to all sorts of problems real and imagined.


I only read the first article, since I can't invest so much time in articles today :)

I think the man has correctly identified the flaws of capitalism and is rightfully asking why we can't fix some of those by changing capitalism.

Any political system can become harmful to individuals and society when pushed to its extremes, as it's happening now in western societies, but especially in the US.

PS: maybe whoever is downvoting all these comments can take a break and get some fresh air.


> PS: maybe whoever is downvoting all these comments can take a break and get some fresh air.

Thanks for saying that. I wish people would tell me what they take issue with so I could debate them.

Hickel has not correctly identified the flaws of capitalism. He has identified the flaws in human nature. Particularly greed and lack of empathy for others not in your situation. But we all know those anyway. What he's doing is blaming capitalism because that's an easy cheap shot that everyone agrees with. Distributing some of the profit of a company to the shareholders and bosses is not morally wrong. Doing so to the detriment of the workers is. If, as in the example in the article, JP Morgan and the general stock market dump on you for worker-friendly moves then double-down and let JP Morgan and general stock market dump on you. Ordinary people will respect you and choose to use your company. Change the culture.

And blaming the Grenfell Tower disaster in London on capitalism?! That's just naked greed, that's all that is – saving a few thousand for your pocket. May that decision forever weigh on their consciences. It's an insult to everyone who died in that fire to blame what happened on capitalism.

> Any political system can become harmful to individuals and society when pushed to its extremes, as it's happening now in western societies, but especially in the US.

Capitalism is an economic system, not a political system. Look, don't be hoodwinked by these people. They are ideologues. Why can't Hickel say that he's for curbing the excesses of capitalism? Because it doesn't tap into your lizard brain, it's not emotive enough. Read it again and see that Hickel never says that he's against the extremes of capitalism, he's against capitalism itself – ask yourself why that is … he's either an ideologue, a bad faith actor, or economically not at the races or a combo of all three. Even Piketty, who has written the most cogent critique of capitalism in many a year, doesn't push an essentially anti-capitalist position.

Why I really dislike people like Hickel is because we're never allowed to give ourselves some praise or credit for doing the right thing. Lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty? Sorry, gotta exclude China from my graph. Why? Because it looks too good and invalidates my argument. That's why Hickel pushes against Pinker, because Pinker had the audacity to point out that maybe we're doing something right. You didn't hear a peep from Hickel when Pinker was talking about rates of violence (though he got it in the neck from people like John Gray for other reasons) but when Pinker starts saying that some of our policies against poverty are working Hickel's right there waiting to rain on his parade.

Like I say, there are a couple of serious problems with Pinker's book but Hickel has not identified one of them.


Your essay is written as though more than one person wrote it because its so self contradictory. Capitalism and Public programs are in conflict because underlying public efforts is progressive taxation (aka Redistribution). Labour protections (which again is anti capitalist) are pretty key for the creation of the middle class in western countries. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkPQbJ4jRhE


It only appears self-contradictory because we're told day in and day out that labour protections are anti-capitalist. They're not. If you think about it, labour protections are pro-capitalist because they agree the current model works and just want to make the wealth flow fairly to everybody rather than to those who initially control the capital. Labour protections would be about dismantling capitalism if they were anti-capitalist.

> Capitalism and Public programs are in conflict because underlying public efforts is progressive taxation (aka Redistribution)

With respect, that sentence makes no sense. Progressive taxation (aka Redistribution, aka something I completely agree with) does not underlie public efforts. Taxation alone underlies all public efforts. Taxation comes in many stripes: regressive, flat, progressive. Progressive taxation makes sure the rich shoulder a fair portion of the tax burden rather then the less well off. Who tries to roll back progressive tax policies? The rich. Not all the rich are capitalists, many are but many by the same token are not. Many of the rich have wealth going back centuries to times which preceded capitalism. The wealthy, many of whom are capitalists, oppose progressive taxation. This does not imply that capitalism and progressive taxation are in conflict. Many people point to the post-war years in the US when progressive taxation was very, um, progressive and the economy was booming. As taxation has become less progressive over the years inequality has skyrocketed and investment in infrastructure has tanked which actually works against the interests of the capitalists. So, properly speaking capitalism and progressive taxation make great bedfellows, but the rich don't like it because they like all of us are self-interested and greedy.


Okay I understand the issue. You think that Capitalism is the economic order of the 1940s-80s.

Capitalism is a system of private ownership, voluntary transactions, and contract law. A Union violates the ability of the capitalist to engage in voluntary transactions. (Restricts who and at what price can be employed) Taxation violates the tenet of private ownership. ("taxation is theft" etc)

Why are all Public Efforts a form of redistribution? Cause if they were not then they would simply be a corporate effort. If you are just trading value for value there is no need for government. (Game theory aside) This is why in highly capitalist countries like the USA the medical system remains private.

"As taxation has become less progressive over the years inequality has skyrocketed and investment in infrastructure has tanked which actually works against the interests of the capitalists. So, properly speaking capitalism and progressive taxation make great bedfellows"

I dont mind arguments where one states that capitalism can be so self destructive that constraining its natural tendencies leads to higher economic output. BUT dont then confused this new tamed object with the original savage beast. It is a category error when you give someone a wolf for a pet when they asked for a dog. If you hear "dog" when someone else actually says and means "wolf" you will aid in a great deal of suffering.

I would also recommend reading something like "Capital" - by Thomas Piketty


> I would also recommend reading something like "Capital" - by Thomas Piketty

I have a copy of it, understand the central thesis (r>g), agree with conclusion of the central thesis (inequality increases), and agree with the proposed counter-measures (progressive tax regimes, Tobin tax, …)

I don't believe that Capitalism creates r>g. I believe human greed creates r>g. So r>g leads to capitalism's excesses: I agree that capitalism in and of itself is merely the system of private ownership, voluntary transactions, and contract law …

I strongly strongly disagree that unions violate the ability of the capitalist to engage in voluntary transactions. I'd go further, anyone who makes a claim like that is either an apologist for the rich, or has no empathy for the working class, or is a doctrinaire "free-marketeer" (in short, an ideologue).

I strongly strongly disagree that taxation violates the tenet of private ownership. Again, I'd go further, anyone who makes a claim like that is either an apologist for the rich, or has no empathy for the working class, or is a doctrinaire "free-marketeer" (in short, an ideologue).

> Why are all Public Efforts a form of redistribution? Cause if they were not then they would simply be a corporate effort.

Ever wondered why city and county councils are sometimes called corporations or are said to be incorporated? I may be going out on a limb here but I doubt you did. There's no God-given rule that every single part of society must be privately run. No sane person actually believes that. Police? Emergency services? Army? (To name the obvious ones). What, wars outsourced to unaccountable mercenaries? Policing crime outsourced to the lowest bidder? Guess what, we used to have voluntary and competing fire services and they used to start fires to create work for themselves! Eventually people copped on and decided that they should be publicly funded.

> If you are just trading value for value there is no need for government. (Game theory aside)

Vacuous. Literally devoid of sense.

> This is why in highly capitalist countries like the USA the medical system remains private.

With how many uninsured. Roughly 30 million, isn't it? And how many needless deaths a year. I think the number is around 40,000? You're basically saying that you're okay with the status quo, a status quo which results in needless death. Luckily people with the extreme views that you have are outliers. Over 70% over people in the USA want Medicare for All. It's coming. It's happening and there's nothing people with the views you have can do about it. Here is Life Expectancy measured against Health Expenditure compared in the developed world: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Life_exp... That's the reality you're living in and want to continue to live in.


First Im Canadian and I like Canada. My personal views are reflected best by someone like Noam Chomsky. So obviously im non of these apply "apologist for the rich, or has no empathy for the working class, or is a doctrinaire "free-marketeer" "

However this is almost wrong by definition "I strongly strongly disagree that unions violate the ability of the capitalist to engage in voluntary transactions" Perhaps your thinking of unions that dont have scab laws backing them?

I think worse still is this concept "I don't believe that Capitalism creates r>g. I believe human greed creates r>g. "

Greed is an individual choice and it has very little to do with the structure of capitalism. I think Marx even points to the lack of choice that the capitalist has in their pursuit of profit and the inevitable resulting exploitation. Charity in capitalism is like vegetarianism in Lions.

related is a doc on negative liberty: https://thoughtmaybe.com/the-trap/


I'm Irish and I like Canada.

> First Im Canadian and I like Canada.

You can't extol the virtues of the US healthcare system and then say you like Canada. That's contradictory. You can't say that you "like" Canada (a social democracy) but also say you admire the US healthcare system (non socialised healthcare). Make up your mind.

> However this is almost wrong by definition "I strongly strongly disagree that unions violate […]

No. That's not defining something, that's stating a belief. Your have opposing beliefs. Neither of us is wrong by definition. When you think about it, that's not how belief and ideology works. My point is though that the overwhelming majority of Canadians and Americans agree with my position even if that position is not reflected 100% of the time in the social policy of the day. We could be all wrong, but hey, you got to either convince us all (and you're not doing a good job of it) or hope that the powers that be prevail. And history tells us they won't

I know about negative and positive liberty, I studied philosophy.

I've also read Chomsky. He's a frickin' anarcho-syndicalist, he's on record as being an anarcho-syndicalist. A syndicalist is someone who believes in unions! How can you say your views are reflected best by someone like Chomsky and in the next breath decry unions.

Everyone is self-interested. That's as close to a law of human nature as any that you can get. Randian capitalism relies on the fact that people ought to only look out for themselves, and invariably do. Capitalism is a _system_, humans _animate it.

It's been great debating you, but please read over what I've written a couple of times before you reply to me. That might sound really condescending, but I don't mean it to be, I swear. I think we actually see eye-to-eye on a lot of things …


Im totally a fan of unions and Canadian health care. Never once did I say the USA health care system was what I favor. Nor did I decry unions. For a phd student your reading comprehension is quite poor.

I am simply describing what the Capitalism means because you say Capitalism but really you mean like a super mixed economy.

Its sorta like the Communism. If a communist country decides to have markets and private property to create incentives then it really cant be said to be communist anymore. Private property is antithetical to Communism just as redistribution is antithetical to Capitalism.


> Im totally a fan of unions and Canadian health care. Never once did I say the USA health care system was what I favor. Nor did I decry unions. For a phd student your reading comprehension is quite poor.

Sorry, I misread you, I was projecting onto you. I stand by my other claims.

> I am simply describing what the Capitalism means because you say Capitalism but really you mean like a super mixed economy.

You're not describing what Capitalism means, you're describing what you _think_ it means. When I say Capitalism I mean Capitalism, if I wanted to say Mixed Market economy I'd say Mixed Market economy.

> Its sorta like the Communism.

Vacuous.

> If a communist country decides to have markets and private property to create incentives then it really cant be said to be communist anymore.

Never disagreed with this. Not that Communism was mentioned.

> Private property is antithetical to Communism

True claim, the hint is in the name.

> just as redistribution is antithetical to Capitalism.

False claim.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2017/04/13/its-free...

And to reiterate, neither are unions antithetical to Capitalism.

[1] https://www.vox.com/2014/9/1/6094051/three-sentences-no-one-...

[2] https://www.commdiginews.com/business-2/labor-day-are-unions...

---

If your entire argument hinges around the assertion that once an entirely 100% pure Capitalist system (market economy w/ attendant private property rights and share-holding and dividends and profit taking, the whole nine yards) has any tweaking whatsoever it stops being a Capitalist system … giving you what Forbes says “[a] social democratic version of a market economy” … then I don't know what to say …

It's entirely correct to still classify a version of a market economy as a market economy. So long as the fundamentals and essentials are unchanged a thing remains itself, not to be trite but a blue house is still a house. To argue otherwise is unhelpful at best.


> but a blue house is still a house.

This was a bad analogy – a better one would be 'a houseboat is still a house (and a boat)' (two things coming together and still being identified with each rather than something modifying another thing) – in coding terms: multiple inheritance versus single inheritance plus an interface?


Multiple inheritance is evil :)

Anyway I do think there is more going on here than a mere semantic disagreement about a word. However I dont think it can really be covered in a casual HN post.

I would say I did find that one article quite amusing. "And Smith is right in that pretty much nowhere has ever managed to limb up out of peasant destitution without the use of a market economy and the associated price system. "

The USSR used central planning (Gosplan) to manage their economy. They were the first space fairing nation on earth. What kind of author is this author to make these claims in direct contradiction to the historical record.


Why does criticizing capitalism not fly for you, assuming that is Hickel's position?


Capitalism is not the problem. The excesses of capitalism are.

For example: we've known this since biblical times. Money is not the root of all evil, the love of money is.

Money is not evil in and of itself. Money is a tool. Like a hammer, money can be wielded in bad ways or good. You can build a house or bash someone's skull in. Because you can bash someone's head in with a hammer does that make hammers bad?

Private property and private property rights protect what people have worked for but if someone or some entity accumulates too much wealth and assets and capital at the expense of others then that's a very real problem.

Making a profit is not evil in and of itself; lowering your worker's wages or keeping them low (as inflation inflates away their earning power) to increase your bottom line is evil.

Now, some could argue that this is essential to capitalism, that it'll always be abused. But, one could say that of any system. I think people are coming to realise that capitalism must be strictly regulated in order for it to function well and that is not the same as criticizing capitalism itself. For these reasons those who rail against capitalism itself I have no time for.


But that doesn't cross with free market types, to them the government should have little to no role in capitalism. Those that seized private property with their accumulated wealth don't choose to part with it, (because how much is enough to them? sometimes never) then that requires either the government to seize private property or have incredibly high tax brackets (if they aren't exploiting intentional loopholes) that will put a few hundred million or few billion back into public funding.

But even with millions at their disposal there doesn't appear to be any moral fiber on parting with their money, trusting the government or not, private individuals deeming who is worthy of their charity is not the type of society to strive for. If man can't be trusted with greed then how can we trust the philanthropy of a few high profile individuals to distribute wealth.


Fun fact: a free market means a fair market, correct? No barriers to trade and all that. What is one barrier to trade? Monopolies and cartels. Who is going to break up monopolies if not the government? If company X is going to make its widget cheaper than company Y by driving down its workers wages to starvation levels then who will stop them if not some strong outside entity? Bad actors will distort free markets, the government therefore has an essential role in keeping those markets free.

Free market types who are anti government intervention and regulation are ideologues and I have no time for ideologues. I have no time for the rabid pro-capitalists, but neither do I have any time for the rabid anti-capitalist. Both are blinded by ideology. They are the enemy.

Enlightened philanthropy is a great thing. But I totally agree with you, I sure as hell wouldn't want to run all public services using that model.


> so in just one more lifetime they'll be where the world leaders are today.

You are extrapolating the current rate, but doing that is dangerous:

https://xkcd.com/605/


No. Not true. Nobody does that. Economists are well aware that as countries develop the rate at which they progress slows.


Yet you fail to mention the thousands of deaths every month from Al Shabab and the genocides and famines that have happened repeatedly throught the continent. Putting lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig.

China and India can pour all the money they want into various countries' infrastructure, it can all come tumbling down with the next disputed election or sectarian genocide.


People who say stuff like this forget that Europe nearly destroyed itself through war twice in just the last hundred years— and followed it up with an arms race that put the entire planet at risk of extinction. It was only the threat of nuclear annihilation that stopped Europeans from murdering each other on an industrial scale.


You are badly mixing up sides in nuclear race a bit, we europeans were bystanders compared to US-Russia race and never really caught up with neither of them.


France and the UK both built nuclear weapons. They didn’t have the resources to build more than they did or they would have. But that wasn’t really my point. I was merely pointing out that the so called civilized west is responsible for far more misery and death than any nation in the developing world could even aspire to at this point.

It’s not that the Europeans are uniquely horrible people, only that the current era of peace and cooperation in the west is a historical aberration.


How bad is Al Shabab compared to obesity and car accidenty? (Or other luxury deaths/ills)

> can all come tumbling down with the next disputed election or sectarian genocide.

Will it though? I mean sure it might look like that, but the US just had a Gov shutdown, whereas India and China had none in the previous decades. [Even if the US system is better IMHO.] (Of course there is an index for that: https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/India/wb_political_stabilit... and let's say vs Syria https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/Syria/wb_political_stabilit... )


> Those poor countries are improving faster than Sweden ever did... so in just one more lifetime they'll be where the world leaders are today.

This is a very simplistic extrapolation. There are significant factors, primarily social/cultural ones, that will halt the relative development of those countries, sooner or later.


> primarily social/cultural ones, that will halt the relative development of those countries, sooner or later.

Hans addresses this in the book, actually.

What you said has no basis in fact, and makes no sense. Do you think people said exactly the same thing about Sweden a generation ago? Why / why not?

We in the West have this completely-made-up assumption that "they" can't develop like "we" did, with absolutely no grounding in fact.


> We in the West have this completely-made-up assumption that "they" can't develop like "we" did, with absolutely no grounding in fact.

Some people do, that's true. It also seems to be true that some people have an assumption, not at all completely grounded in fact, that "all" people can and will develop "like we did". Two problems I see with this belief are that it is inherently speculative (a prediction of the future), and it assumes that other cultures Necessarily* _want_ to develop like we have. Personally, I believe there are significant imperfections in Western culture, the way we've developed and the way we operate today, I'd be extremely surprised if all cultures view our way as the best way to organize societies. You can see evidence of this all over the place, but Westerners have a habit of classifying dissenting opinions as "just wrong" and dismissing/ignoring them.


> ...but Westerners have a habit of classifying dissenting opinions as "just wrong" and dismissing/ignoring them.

Fully agreed. This is also extremely prevalent in any economic discussions here in HN where most of the first-world dwellers are cozying up their minds with the generic statement "it is all getting better on average" which I think is utter BS.

As a guy who has been to pretty poor parts of the world and lives in a country that touts any small bill that will benefit zero common folk -- but is always advertised as such for 30 years now -- I have to say, most first-world population is tragically misinformed on how are the average people around the world living.


You know what it is? I think that people flat out don't want to believe that the world can become measurably better in whole or in part. They've been told all their lives and they've believed that "things" are getting worse. When someone turns around and writes a whole book saying, "the data shows that country X is where Sweden was Y years ago; at the current rate country X will be where Sweden is now Z years from now." Their gut instinct is to not believe.


If you live in country X, you will believe that things are getting better. If you live in Sweden, you might think things are getting worse. If you live in the rust belt in the US, you would think that things were better in the past, and you'd be right.


> We in the West have this completely-made-up assumption that "they" can't develop like "we" did, with absolutely no grounding in fact.

They can. But "we" developed in a very turbulent and deadly ways. Just handful of decades ago, during WWI and WWII, "we" were killing millions of people, helping spread massive disease outbreaks that killed other millions in just a few years, created economy destroying monetary and isolationist policies, impoverished millions, destroyed advanced industrialized countries in the middle of Europe with communism, were colonizing, destabilizing and exploiting natural resources of other countries, etc.

We're still humans, and all this is still possible to repeat. And developing "like we did", is not necessarily something great or positive. It can mean pretty much anything, unless you cherry-pick baselessly.


This is absolutely right. The wealth in the West was largely gained through colonialist/imperialist means. Developing countries don't have this option.


There was a recent report on a long-term study of people’s attitudes regarding certain civilisational values, such as equality and acceptance of homosexuality.

The takeaway was that the Middle East today is about where the west was in the 60s.

That would seem to go quite well with OPs point that they are about “one lifetime” behind the west, specifically on the social/cultural values you mention.


Why? What are those? Could you please explain this argument?


How is anything you said related to the points defended -- and others debunked by -- by the article?

It was mostly talking about the amount per day needed to have proper nutrition. Why do you shift the goalposts to abstract terms like "it's improving faster"? Sure, if you are on the rock bottom, it's only up from there on, and obviously you want to go faster when distancing yourself from the bottom.

Zero relevance to the article.


I read the Factfullness book, and I thought it's really poorly argued. I remember my BP was through the roof on the plane when I was reading that. HR is not believable imo. (I work in data, I'm a physicist.)


Rosner, Pinker and Co fell into the same trap they critiqued others - belief in destiny. They try to counter pessimistic destiny narratives with positive destiny narratives and selecting data that fits the narrative.

You can't extrapolation the future from current trends. There are discontinuities and challenges that can change the dynamics.


Aren't they simply trying to explain and persuade people current institutions are responsible for the positive changes, and that therefore they are good, and thus we should be supporting them? Also, they seem to counter misconceptions, not advocate for blind faith in a never ending progression.

Pinker actually addressed this, but unfortunately I can't remember in which book/lecture/talk/article. Largely paraphrasing he said that we have to work for the gains, but that doesn't mean we can't have a positive attitude about these processes. (Such as comparative advantage resulting in trade resulting in cooperation and some degree of altruism - or we can just call it "counterparty risk management", or simply looking out for your buyers and suppliers.)


> people current institutions are responsible for the positive changes, and that therefore they are good, and thus we should be supporting them?

Current institutions as a vague continuity or the same?

Because if Pinker and other try to argue that current institutions have been historically enough, we just continue growth, they are very much wrong.

Benefits from innovations and growth have been accompanied with massive institutional changes in every 30 years or so. The current era is becoming an exception where institutions are becoming stale after 40-50 years of the same. That threatens continuity because institutions have to change in response to the change in the environment or they collapse.


I'm of course no Pinker himself, nor a tenured prof at Hardvard, or even friends with him, but based on what I read from him and about him, he is very much in support of change toward new, more inclusive, more fair, more egalitarian and more rational institutions. And argues that trade and good old classic liberal ideas are slowly but surely bringing forth these changes (through the work of many hundreds of millions of slightly altruistic people), despite the efforts of our demons (innate or cultural/contextual xenophobia, ignorance, extreme greed/selfishness, etc).


"You can't extrapolation the future from current trends. "

Yes, you can.

We are learning and adapting our civilizations, and by most measures, it looks like we are 'getting better'.

If we continue along this path, things will likely improve.

Nobody is suggesting that there cannot be alternate dynamics. We all face the risk of war, famine, climate change etc.


> I thought it's really poorly argued

That's interesting, because the book does not contain any arguments.

It contains facts. Hard numbers gathered over generations.

It's not a discussion or an argument, it's simply facts about the state of the world.


The facts that you choose to include in a book and which to not include is implicitly an argument. I doubt the book goes over how the sky is blue, grass is green, and water is wet. What facts it considers relevant to mention is the entire argument itself.


would you care to expand on why? If you're wanting to inform others that the book isn't accurate, stating that it's wrong and it made you angry that it was wrong is not a very convincing argument.


Care to elaborate on actual data?


BP ? HR ?


Probably “Blood Pressure” and “Hans Rosling”.


Hickels rebuttal in the letter is that GDP cannot be used to gauge poverty which he claims has only been measured directly by the UN since 1981. But if you look around the world today, GDP/head is a remarkaby strong indicator of the level of poverty in a country. Nevermind that all the other quality of life stats: life expectency, child morality, average working hours, literacy, education levels, food affordability support Pinker's argument.

Actually here is a fairly convincing (in my opinion) response which covers this and more: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2019/01/31/is-the-w...

Slightly off-topic: as I get older I get more and more suspisious of promoters of apocalyse narratives. Both hard left and hard right both require people to believe the "world getting worse and worse" in order to promote their opposition to the liberal democratic multilateral global world order. Apocalypse stories are one of the oldest "hacks" against human judgment and have been exploited by the religious, cults and political extremists for millennia.


To be fair, that's only a very small part of his rebuttal, dealing specifically with the period prior to 1970, as well as the fact that GDP estimates for this period "take little if any account of the goods and resources that people may have acquired from their land, from trees, from forests, from rivers and the sea, and in the form of gifts from relatives."

From 1981 onward, I would summarize his argument as being that:

- While some measures have improved, the picture is no where near as good as it is represented.

- Using $1.90 as the baseline to beat is too low for what we would consider as being out of poverty.

- Most economic successes have not been due to neoliberal markets but rather state-led industrial policy, protectionism and regulation.

- Most quality of life improvements have not been due to neoliberal globalization but simple public interventions including free healthcare and education.

- Progress is slowing relative to the resources available to tackle the problem.


This shows it's not an apocalypse story, but a story debating the details, with a positive upside that humanity has more capacity than in the past to relieve this poverty too.


Absolutely. I think his main issue is with Pinker and Gates way overselling any successes and attributing them to neoliberal globalization.

I'd posit that anyone characterizing this as an apocalypse story hasn't actually read the article.


Do any of these debates (by Pinker, Gates, etc) about neoliberal globalization address the elephant in the room that is the history of CIA interventions, and IMF and the World Bank and structural adjustments?


> - While some measures have improved, the picture is no where near as good as it is represented.

Name a measure of human suffering that has not improved. Healthy lifespan, deaths in childbirth, infant mortality, they’ve all gotten better.

> - Using $1.90 as the baseline to beat is too low for what we would consider as being out of poverty.

The trend is the same regardless of which poverty line you pick. Poverty is decreasing, education, literacy and health are rising.

> - Most economic successes have not been due to neoliberal markets but rather state-led industrial policy, protectionism and regulation.

Indeed, in every state where they’ve followed an industrial policy of “Let’s do capitalism.” poverty has decreased, whether with heavy handed government economic intervention like Japan or Korea or just leaving business alone like Hong Kong. If protectionism worked Argentina would have a car industry. They tried for 30 years. It doesn’t.

> - Most quality of life improvements have not been due to neoliberal globalization but simple public interventions including free healthcare and education.

The UN’s human development index is 70% explained by GDP per capita. Poor countries can’t afford good policy and capitalism is the proven way to escape poverty.

> - Progress is slowing relative to the resources available to tackle the problem.

As far as absolute poverty goes, maybe, kind of. The countries that have shown no real improvement are the ones with no real government or state capacity. Everywhere else is in the process of escaping absolute poverty or has done so. These are the countries that do not work, mostly in Africa. We just have to work towards integrating them into the global economy so they can grow. One hopes the nearby example of Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa or Nigeria will help, as they grow their way out of poverty.


>The trend is the same regardless of which poverty line you pick. Poverty is decreasing, education, literacy and health are rising.

The story changes quite a bit - and you know it. If we use $7.40 per day, we see a decline in the proportion of people living in poverty, but it’s not nearly as dramatic as your rosy narrative would have it. In 1981 a staggering 71% lived in poverty. Today it hovers at 58% (for 2013, the most recent data). Suddenly your grand story of progress seems tepid, mediocre, and – in a world that’s as fabulously rich as ours – completely obscene.


You say that African poverty is obscene, and it is. But that obscenity is not for a lack of effort to help. Aid has been a constant in Africa and in other formerly more dreadfully poor places since WWII when the Soviet Union and the US sought to buy influence and it’s never stopped. Development aid hasn’t helped Africa much though it has far, far surpassed aid to Europe after WWII. Absent colonialism you need a functioning state if you’re going to help. Aid doesn’t work unless the government does. Ghana was richer than South Jorea in 1951. Now Ghana looks promising, like maybe it will develop over he next thirty years but South Korea is developed.

https://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/29/opinion/the-politics-of-a...

> By comparison, Africa is already relatively flooded with aid. The continent as a whole receives development assistance worth almost 8 percent of its gross domestic product. Exclude South Africa and Nigeria, and aid jumps to more than 13 percent of GDP — or more than four times the Marshall Plan at its height — for the other 46 African countries.


The quote you replied to is referring to global poverty, not Africa specifically. And maybe you missed that it’s a quote from Hickel straight out of the article.


A global decline from 71% to 58% over 30 years would be tepid and mediocre? In the scheme of the history of the human race? This is subjective, of course, but if $7.40/day is the standard, this looks like significant progress relative to our history.


"in a world that’s as fabulously rich as ours, obscene"

???

Wealth is mostly a function of intelligent social organization.

Why are we so much more vastly wealthy than we were 100 years go? Just because we pump more gas? No - we're smarter.

Wealth is what a country generates, not what it has.

It's not like a 'pile of gold' that we have that magically turns into iPhones.

Most places that have extreme poverty are rife with systematic problems. Total lack of social organization on most levels, corruption, missing or 'never existed' institutions (education, justice, civic etc.). Lack of literacy, education. An absent, stupid or corrupt elite. Etc. etc.

Swedes don't have any real natural resources, not particularly fertile land. They are 'rich' because they are organized.

It's a very hard thing to 'pass on' to other places.


Swedes have lots of real natural resources. Check your facts.


My facts are correct.

Natural Resources comprise of less than 1% of Sweden's GDP.

Here is a map [1] where you can see the % GDP comprising of Natural Resources by nation.

Notice that the wealthiest nations tend to derive almost no value from the export of natural resources. They are creating value added products and services, which is what intelligently organized people do.

[1] https://www.indexmundi.com/facts/indicators/NY.GDP.TOTL.RT.Z...


Protectionism does work, every rich country protected its domestic production until it was able to compete on a global level.

Doing otherwise would just result in the internal industry being bought out for pennies or being obliterated by advanced competitors.

Protectionism doesn't guarantee that a country will be successful at building cars, but they should at least bloody try to before giving up.

And yes, capitalism can improve a country's fortunes if applied judiciously. Merely opening the markets to a free for all wil just result in the vultures swooping in, getting rich and leaving some rests for the locals.


Not Hong Kong. It started from a good port, good government and lots of poor people and now it’s rich. Free trade all the way.


Hong Kong is not even a country, not to mention its very unusual circumstances and benefits for businesses that are located there.


>- Using $1.90 as the baseline to beat is too low for what we would consider as being out of poverty.

It's called absolute poverty for a reason. Just because you're above the absolute poverty threshold doesn't mean you're not poor anymore. It just means that you can minimally survive. Whether you're poor or not depends on the society around you, because poverty determines how well you can participate in society.

He even cites this data:

>Using the $1.90 line shows that only 700 million people live in poverty. But note that the UN’s FAO says that 815 million people do not have enough calories to sustain even “minimal” human activity.

I went to check the numbers and I'm not quite sure where he took the numbers from. They're not really wrong, but I didn't find either number in the reports. The numbers I found in the report are closer together.

According to the FAO 2018 report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition [1] the number of undernourished people is projected to be 820.8 million in 2017. In 2016 it was estimated to be 804.2 million. In 2015 it was estimated to be 784.4 million.

The World Bank's Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2018 report [2] gives a figure for the number of people living in extreme poverty at 736 million, but the latest figure is from 2015.

The 784.4 million and 736 million figures are remarkably close for such fuzzy data.

>- Most economic successes have not been due to neoliberal markets but rather state-led industrial policy, protectionism and regulation.

Yeah, it was just a coincidence that when China stated opening up their markets that their quality of life improved immensely and hundreds of millions are lifted out of extreme poverty. When you're talking about economic success in general then you can't forget the ex-Soviet states either. The ones that embraced free markets the most recovered the most.

>- Most quality of life improvements have not been due to neoliberal globalization but simple public interventions including free healthcare and education.

All of which requires enough economic success to support such policies and societies.

>- Progress is slowing relative to the resources available to tackle the problem.

Because the percentage of the population in extreme poverty is shrinking.

[1] http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/en/

[2] http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/poverty-and-shared-p...


> Yeah, it was just a coincidence that when China stated opening up their markets that their quality of life improved immensely and hundreds of millions are lifted out of extreme poverty. When you're talking about economic success in general then you can't forget the ex-Soviet states either. The ones that embraced free markets the most recovered the most.

China is interesting because you can really use it both ways: Free market enthusiasts will argue that China took off after it embraced free market reforms. State intervention enthusiasts will argue that China has been so successful because it is still very far away from the "free market policies" which e.g. the IMF is pushing on poor countries. In particular it has totally not opened up its capital markets or many of its import markets.

And the same holds for the ex-Soviet economies, too: The ex-Soviet economies that have done best are those that have joined the European Union, which most people especially on the American right would not exactly call a free market paradise.

For me, the answer to this apparent contradiction is actually quite simple: as so often, the answer lies in the middle. Total deregulation and extremely opening up your markets probably is not a good strategy to quickly pull your country out of poverty. But too much state intervention is at least as big a recipe for disaster.

Also, I would add that the optimal level of state intervention probably also depends a lot on how corruption-free your government is: with a very well functioning, corrution-free bureaucracy, you can operate effectively at a higher level of state interventionism (e.g. Scandinavia, Singapore) than if you hand that power to corrupt and/or inept officials.


>And the same holds for the ex-Soviet economies, too: The ex-Soviet economies that have done best are those that have joined the European Union, which most people especially on the American right would not exactly call a free market paradise.

But they did well even before they joined the EU. Arguably they did even better in terms of growth before joining, but it's difficult to fault the EU on this, because the financial crisis will definitely take (some of) the blame.

On the topic of China you could also argue that IP theft is what helped China succeed. We'll never know, but that IP issue and them not opening up their markets will probably bite them soon. There's only so much the EU and US are going to take once China becomes even richer.

>Also, I would add that the optimal level of state intervention probably also depends a lot on how corruption-free your government is:

I definitely agree with this, but I would like to add that I think it's not just strict corruption that's the problem. Heavy lobbying by certain small groups of people (corporations) to the detriment of the general population also plays a role in this. The government officials don't have to be corrupt for this to have a negative impact on regulations.


> The ex-Soviet economies that have done best are those that have joined the European Union, which most people especially on the American right would not exactly call a free market paradise.

Compared to the Soviet days, I think that most, even on the American right, would consider the EU to be quite free market.

It's not an absolute thing. The difference from "almost totally state planned" to "not as free as we think it should be" matters. It changes outcomes quite a bit. Some think that outcomes would be even better with more freedom, but I think most people - even on the American right - understand that the EU is vastly different from the Soviet economy.


Literally the whole point of the European Union is to promote free trade (they've just announced that they are going to have free trade with Japan in addition to among themselves). It may look "socialist" to the US right, but to everybody else, it is as capitalistic as it gets. That's actually why the British Left like Jeremy Corbyn has always been rather unenthusiastic about the EU as they see it as more a win for business than for people. Which is kind of why Brexit happened -- pretty much the main "remain" bloc was squashed between the anti-immigrant right and anti-business left.


> promoters of apocalyse narratives ... [b]oth hard left and hard right both require people to believe the "world getting worse and worse"

There are still veterans of WWII alive today, and that was pretty much an apocalypse for the people involved. Just because the last 50 years have been peaceful doesn't mean good times are guaranteed, we should remain cautious of threats. Change is extremely rapid. Many of the issues raised by both sides are concerns worth taking seriously, even if the people raising them are wholly unqualified by temperament to do anything about it.


And there are even more people (myself included) who lived through part of the Cold War and realise that we just got through that period by sheer luck and the good judgement of a handful of people on both sides.


> There are still veterans of WWII alive today

There are still veterans of WWII alive today that were born at a point in time where the idea of fighting a new world war was unthinkable.

FTFY


> Actually here is a fairly convincing (in my opinion) response which covers this and more: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2019/01/31/is-the-w...

This is exactly the post that the posted article is responding to, which they link to literally in the opening sentence.


Things are always getting worse in some way or another, at the same time they get better in other ways. Lowering poverty doesn't change that we're doing irreversible damage to major ecosystems.


> we're doing irreversible damage to major ecosystems.

A potential rebuttal is to think of ecosystems as dynamics systems made up of species always adapting to changes, instead of something pristinely in balance that we've wrecked.

Then the question becomes whether current changes to ecosystems can continue supporting us as their balance shifts, instead of thinking solely in apocalyptic terms. Life as a whole is more resilient than we give it credit for.


You're right, nothings static and nothings forever. However we do have a lot of control, as a species. I think the safest thing to do would be to adapt ourselves willfully to new knowledge.


When is an apocalypse not an apocalypse? "...in India, where 30 million died..." "...in the Congo, which so upended local economies that 10 million people died – half the population."

We look at those with wealth, shrug and assume they earned it and continue to let them freely wield the wealth of our entire species; all the while the other eye is trained on those who have been ground into the dust and applaud that things are getting better, faster. Clutching our pearls we hope we don't become them.


Well that's half his argument on the stats: the other half suggests that even assuming modern figures are accurate it's tendentious to claim that people are no longer in poverty simply because their estimated incomes have reached the heady heights of ~$2 in US purchasing power per day, and implies the low level of poverty line has been deliberately selected to paint a rosy picture. There's little doubt that many other indicators are moving in positive directions but it's rather less clear that education and healthcare improvements are the product of the benefits of increased local market competition and global capital mobility (the author attributes them to state spending and [slow] adoption of technological advances the developed world saw a long time ago). That becomes important when one notes that the proportion of the world earning less than $10 per day is actually rising (due in part to population growth being boosted by increased survival rates) despite developing and middle income countries being better educated and more productive than ever before. Again, there are tenable arguments that due to the weaknesses of PPP calculations, many living on $10 per day live lifestyles that certainly don't resemble poverty, but others do and the unavoidable shortcoming of methods comparing people with vastly different living conditions, expectations and means of earning them is part of the problem with pure Pinker optimism.

I'm also suspicious of apocalypse narratives and suspect I'd disagree with the blog author on many things, but I'm also suspicious of unqualified feelgood narratives in order to promote support for a particular world order


It's a bit frustrating to read his follow-up letter because it largely ignores the root counterpoints Pinker made in favour of pushing the data integrity angle.

Hans spends an awful lot of time poking holes in the historical accuracy of income data. But Pinker states in very basic, understandable terms that the benchmark isn't the point — setting the benchmark at $7 or 100k doesn't stop the fact that wealthy has trended positively. Starting from 1981 or 1810 doesn't matter because it's relative: Do people have access to more wealth (things they desire) than before? The answer is yes. The other benchmarks of education and literacy round out the picture — wealth and money isn't the only thing being measured.

As much as Hans paints a utopia of open fields and shared communal livestock we know people historically chose to pillage each other's resources. Without incentive to look beyond differences we went to war and took from each other's cultures to accumulate wealth.


I somewhat disagree, Hans does spend some time in this article refuting the claim that benchmark doesn't matter. In particular, he shows charts demonstrating how raising the benchmark changes the result.


Who is Hans? Isn't this article by Jason Hickel?


Apologies, yes, I was referring to Hickel. I can't seem to be able to edit the comment anymore.


[flagged]


Please don't take HN threads in flamey directions, and especially not by getting personal about it.

Your comment would be fine with just the last paragraph.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


> I suppose people living in their economically-alright bubbles will never be able to look objectively at how awful things are in so many places in the world. You just prefer the cozy illusion that it's all getting better.

These two statements do not contradict each other, at all.

It is possible for two things to simultaneously be true: things are awful for many people, AND things overall are better than they used to be.

People seem to hate Pinker because they interpret his words as saying their suffering doesn't matter. There is absolutely nothing about his argument that suggests this. It is exactly because suffering is so terrible that it is a good thing that there is less suffering now than in the past.

Bill Gates gets lumped in with Pinker here, and Gates is literally putting his money where his mouth is on this. He wouldn't invest his massive fortune into improving the world if his position was "things are great now, stop complaining."


[flagged]


> What I am saying is that the global average getting better is a skewed and rather meaningless metric. The fact that 100_000 EU/USA citizes are slighly better off at the cost 1_000_000 asians -- random numbers to demonstrate how an imbalance can be evened out -- does not mean that humanity's economy is getting better. Not at all.

I'm pretty sure Pinker doesn't use average income as a metric. I'm not really sure where you're getting that from. The relevant metric is number of people living below the poverty line, which is a metric which doesn't have the same issue.


> You lost all credibility right here. I suppose people living in their economically-alright bubbles will never be able to look objectively at how awful things are in so many places in the world.

The point isn't that things aren't awful, but that used to be more awful and continue to be less awful, despite popular perception to the contrary.

> You just prefer the cozy illusion that it's all getting better.

It is getting better.

> Statistical averages mean nothing to the millions of family barely making ends meet and not being able to pay for the kids' gyms and proper nutrition.

Again, that's not the point.

> But sure, "on average things are better" -- and even this outlandish claim is proven wrong by this article, with hard data.

No it isn't. The article actually cites data showing that poverty is going down, just not as fast as "extreme poverty". On average, things are getting better. It's not an outlandish claim. By almost any measure of human welfare, things are getting better, on the average.

Hickel's issue isn't so even so much arguing that poverty isn't going down, but that "neoliberalism" had nothing to do with it. Make of that what you want, but that's Hickel's pet peeve, not Pinker's.


> > Statistical averages mean nothing to the millions of family barely making ends meet and not being able to pay for the kids' gyms and proper nutrition.

> Again, that's not the point.

If that's not the point then any other discussion is tragically irrelevant.

The "global average is better" is a meaningless assertion. Everybody in the world has roughly one testicle. How useful is that piece of info?

And how useful is the "global average is getting better" to people who want to raise kids well-fed but currently cannot?


We're looking into the question of whether poverty is going up or down. We're not figuring out the solution to poverty.

Let's say I point to improved cancer mortality (on average, of course) as a result of human progress, are you going to argue that it's all irrelevant since some people still die from cancer? You're simply straying from the topic.

> And how useful is the "global average is getting better" to people who want to raise kids well-fed but currently cannot?

Not useful at all, obviously. Kids can't eat statistics. They also can't eat your HN comments, for that matter.


>And how useful is the "global average is getting better" to people who want to raise kids well-fed but currently cannot?

Very much so. Those same people in the past, instead of worrying about feeding their kids well, would be worrying about feeding their kids anything at all, they'd be worrying if the kids even have a chance at survival.


So I went and read the Pinker's "rebuttal." He just casually avoided the claim about the entire base of their infographic being bogus, then went on to calling mild centre-left socialdemocrats "far leftists". Why is _anyone_ treating that guy seriously?


To be fair Pinker wrote that in a private mail. When you criticize this, then also let's not forget what on the other hand Hinkel wrote in his article published in the Guardian newspaper:

> It is madness – and no amount of mansplaining from billionaires will be adequate to justify it.

We can certainly discuss about the data and how to interpret it, but using such phrases in a newspaper-article isn't really helpful either.


> wrote in his article published in the Guardian newspaper:

[mansplaining]

...I mean, Hinkel's a dude too and should perhaps avoid the term, but these are men spouting nonsense and telling off more expertised people, so it's not too far off.


Hinkel shouldn't have used this term, simply because Pinker was NOT mansplaining. And AFAIK Pinker isn't a billionaire either.

Calling them mansplaining billionairs is IMHO a cheap shot. Pinker and Hinkel have different opinions - which is perfectly fine, experts disagree a lot after all. But accusing someone of mansplaining just because of having a different opinion is not correct. An expert in this area should argue differently.


It's drawing unnecessary attention to the sex of the human over the content of the argument. The way people casually (and self deprecatingly) throw it into conversation seems like a cheap way to win points with those who share a certain ideology, not a logical argument.


Because Pinker's rebuttal was initially supposed to be an email to somebody else. He recognized that Hickel was likely pushing an ideology and left it at that. Even in the email Pinker is saying that he's citing experts in the field.

>then went on to calling mild centre-left socialdemocrats

A central point in the criticism Hickel wrote was that markets don't work, but regulation, protectionism and state intervention does. I'm not sure that would qualify him as a "mild centre-left social democrat".


I'm pretty sure regulation, protectionism and state intervention in a market economy is the definition of social-democracy.


No, not really.

Social democracy is about solidarity. It does not conflict with a free market which needs regulation to stay free, it does not encourage protectionism, rather it seeks solidarity with others.

I should know I live in one :)


I too live in a Social democracy.

And I'd say that the GP is pretty much spot on.

Social democracy, from Wikipedia, an excerpt: "The protocols and norms used to accomplish this involve a commitment to representative and participatory democracy; measures for income redistribution and regulation of the economy in the general interest; and welfare state provisions."

So, there you have regulation and and state-intervention.

If you then consider that every Social Democracy in Europe has some sort of protectionist policy with regards to it's agricultural sector, I'd say that GP is spot on.

For the European Union, the agricultural subsidies still make up about 38% of the budget. What's that, besides protectionist?

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Agricultural_Policy)

So, there you have all three; regulation and state-intervention by definition, protectionism by fact.


> Because Pinker's rebuttal was initially supposed to be an email to somebody else.

...you can't really be serious? It's published. With his knowledge. He could have edited it, or at least quickly tweeted "omg this was terrible I'm sorry I had a heated gaming moment."

> A central point in the criticism Hickel wrote was that markets don't work, but regulation, protectionism and state intervention does. I'm not sure that would qualify him as a "mild centre-left social democrat".

That's literally the definition of a mild centre-left social democrat.


A social democrat, at least when looking at Europe, is somebody who thinks markets work. They simply want a better safety net for people and maybe some additional regulation to keep the market more fair.


> If people had willingly opted into the capitalist labour system, while retaining rights to their commons and while gaining a fair share of the yields they produced, we would have a very different story on our hands.

That's straight out of Marx/Engels. I don't think far left is an unfair statement.


It sounds to me like both sides are picking metrics that make their point the strongest. And the reality is, both can be right. The proportion of the world in extreme poverty (<$.190/day) can be going down while overall number of people in poverty (<$7.50/day) can be increasing. These aren't contradictory.

And reducing both metrics are good goals!

The problem, as I see it, is that both of these sides seem to be exploiting the problem of poverty to support political agendas that are perhaps unrelated to poverty. Pinker perhaps moreso than Hickel (but that may be because we literally just read Hickel's very well-written thoughts on it).

The correct way forward, in my view, is to have both sides agree to a combined, single metric or a set of metrics that best capture the essence of the problem. When we agree on how to measure success, we can best see what works to improve it. I mean, presuming both sides actually care about reducing poverty and not just promoting their favorite political system, then coming together to come up with a better overall goal should be something everyone wants to do.


Needs more consistency:

"There is nothing worth celebrating about a world where inequality is so extreme that 58% of people are in poverty, while a few dozen billionaires have more than all of their wealth combined."

Followed later by:

"Yes, life expectancy, mortality and education have improved – this is fantastic news that we should celebrate!"


Can anyone summarize what is going on here? It seems like a flamewar with graphs, and not interesting enough to invest the time in reading.


I followed this a little bit when it popped up on Twitter last week.

The fight appears to be about whether rising global prosperity is helping poor people or mostly just poor people in China; and around the edges, about whether your definition of poor is simply GDP, or includes other harder to quantify things like commons, or if you want to measure it against the US poverty line at purchasing power parity dollars.

It's a kind of oblique attack on neoliberal globalist capitalism's potential to increase living standards for people at the bottom of the global income distribution. Hickel reckons Pinker and Gates and friends have been too self-congratulatory on the merits of neoliberalism.

IMO globalist capitalism has increased living standards for the poorest people in countries that were well-run enough to take advantage of it, China in particular. But there's still lots of improvement possible and we shouldn't feel too smug about the current situation.


Thanks for summaries.

Inside China there are many years of experience of helping poor areas get out of poverty. After years of failure it has been widely known knowledge among developed area people that many historically poverty areas became poor largely because of the local people and subculture of the areas. Policies that very close to charity donation don't work

I'm not talking about ethnic minority areas. It might be a big surprise to outsider that there exist such big differences among Han Chinese. Yes China is a big country with a big variety. There are less competitive and lazy Chinese Han people. Because all are Han Chinese there is no political correctness as taboo to talk about it. That's why the hard lesson is well known that a strong socialist policy like give a way free money will encourage the poor people stay in poverty. That can explain the Chinese aid to African usually in the form of loan. Interest can be low but it's very important that the money need to pay back so the borrowers will force to take responsibility and be accountable to get out of poverty. Free money doesn't work. Now the loan is distorted as "loan trap" in MSM which a lot of Chinese who know the lesson see as "blatant lie".

Today with enough tax money the government can afford implement many socialist/liberal policy but still focus on build infrastructure , reduce tax, even provide free house, usually not free money. Maybe there are some exceptions mainly. Total capitalist policy also have problem. There are always less competitive people that can not catch up any way so they need charity like support. So mixed policy should have some balance.


> IMO globalist capitalism has increased living standards for the poorest people in countries that were well-run enough to take advantage of it, China in particular.

But China is not a market economy and as such can't be described simply as an outpost of global capitalism. It has an aggressive, state-led industrial policy, it regulates the shit out of what it does, and it exercises enormous amounts of trade protections. It is a state that admits and fosters economic liberalism in areas, but is in no way a market economy otherwise.

Pinker and Gates are here to tell us that neoliberal markets are what eradicate poverty when a) historically the reverse is true -- poverty has been exacerbated by colonialism wrought by neoliberals b) the example they keep harping on -- China -- isn't even an example of a market economy.

IMO this world is in fact getting worse for most persons living here, and there is no doubt that mouthpieces for the status quo are invested to deny this in the language Pinker et. al, use. These denials are ahistorical horseshit and will be viewed on par with trepanation and eugenics, all the more with every inch of sea level rise.


Modern China is definitely a "market economy" in every meaningful sense of the term. Unlike in Maoist times, there is no central planning committee deciding what should be manufactured and sold and private businesses make their own decision based on what they think will sell. Is there government intervention in the Chinese market? Of course, but that's true of every country -- even the US. The completely free market is just a theoretical concept never practiced anywhere at any time.


They build cities...using their army. Your description of the country's general economic characteristics is off-the-charts wrong, and is especially wrong concerning the area where Pinker pretends that liberalized markets are why poverty in China has been in sharp decline.


There's no question that China is still an authoritarian country with a powerful military, but that's beside the point. You have to look at what has changed to stop making them poor. It's the new policy of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" (their euphasism for capitalism)


It is you that is missing the point. Their army is not worth noticing because it's "powerful", it must not be overlooked because of what role it serves in the economy. It builds cities itself. Armies don't build (dozens of) cities in market economies. China is in a literal sense a command, not a market, economy in whole swathes of its body, starting with the beating heart of its double digit growth: its construction sector.


GDP per capita has increased everywhere but Africa and that appears to be improving now in Africa. Living standards as measured by deaths in childbirth, infant mortality, lifespan, healthy lifespan, education and literacy have improved almost everywhere, even in places with no economy of more dependent on aid like Afghanistan, Niger or Chad. The absolute number of people in poverty may not be declining much outside China but that’s a function of massive population growth, not a failure of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism has brought more people out of poverty than anything else, and it’s not a close race.


"Neoliberalism has brought more people out of poverty"

How about just Economic Liberalism, and good governance, and not 'Neoliberalism'?

Because the neoliberals want government out of almost everything, so they can sell all those Africans Nike shoes for 50x the cost to be made.

In between the two arguments there's a fair point: China's growth can't be characterized as 'neoliberal' or else they would be a total open market! But there are strong capital controls, a politicized currency etc. etc. so it can't be called 'neoliberal'.

I think 'basic economic freedom' with 'intelligent governance' and possibly 'national strategies' in key areas like natural resources where it makes sense (i.e. Statoil in Norway) or education and healthcare where there is a dramatic need. And yes - even economic protectionism in certain areas.


Gates and Pinker are promoting the idea that the world is getting better overall, economically, and that poverty reduction is a real thing. They point to advances in economic development as a major driver of this.

The 'rebuttal' is a little tricky. Hickel argues that the data is bad (at least before 1980's). Moreover, he argues that it's really only in China that people have dramatically 'come out of poverty' and that the data without China shows an increase in poverty.

Hickel accuses Gates/Pinker et. al. of promoting 'hard neoliberal' (i.e. strong free market) ideals. I don't believe this characterization is fair.

Hickel argues that neoliberal policies pursued by IMF etc. have led to setbacks and that China i.e. the 'winner' in this area is not capitalist, rather more or less 'statist/nationalist' etc..

Pinker is publicly lamenting this Hinker guy as 'far left' etc. which is an odd twist due to the ad hominem.


> Hickel accuses Gates/Pinker et. al. of promoting 'hard neoliberal' (i.e. strong free market) ideals. I don't believe this characterization is fair.

Gates/Pinker are selling exactly the antidote to potential guilt for "kicking away the ladder". History makes clear that "free market" ideals never apply to ourselves, only to those colonies and developing nations the IMF and World Bank can coerce into line. Argentina had 2~3x Korea's GDP per capita in 1970, and now the relation has almost exactly flipped. You should know which country had stronger protectionist policies and which was sold out to the World Bank.

Pinker is marketing these harmful policies as "enlightenment", and lying with statistics to ease affluent intellectual guilt.


I am from Argentina, and the "sold out to the World Bank" narrative is really harmful to my country. Stop spreading it, you're totally clueless about it.

What really made us poorer is chronic budget deficit supported by debt and inflation, and systemic corruption that weak institutions can't fight.

As an example, we have two ex-presidents-now-senators that are condemned by Justice System but protected by special legal status for senators and congress men.


During the same period, we have put presidents in jail immediately after the end of their term, others have fled, another has committed suicide, and it's open knowledge that corruption is rampant. We had dictator presidents for decades. Park Chung Hee, widely credited with the miracle on the Han, was a dictatorial strongman with little grand plan except that knew protectionist policies would allow Korea to trade favorably, and trade up the industrial ladder from textiles to shipbuilding.


There was effectively a uprising, a revolutionary coup and a dictatorship in Argentina during that time, causing enormous political turmoil.

And your blaming this in the 'World Bank' and 'Capitalists'?

No. Neoliberals had little to do with it.

My comment stands: Pinker is not a neoliberal, and he's not even supporting neoliberalism. Frankly neither is Bill Gates.

A 'neoliberal' would not support things like socialized medicine, or major investments in aid - which is exactly what Gates is trying to get the US to do.

Is Gates calling for lower taxes? Austerity? No?

Is Pinker calling for an end to socialized medicine? For 'Statoil' to be privatized? No.


During the same period, we have put presidents in jail immediately after the end of their term, others have fled with billions, another has committed suicide, and it's open knowledge that corruption is rampant and a handful of conglomerates own the country. Our very last president was impeached and thrown directly in jail due to a popular uprising. We had dictator presidents for decades. Park Chung Hee, widely credited with the Miracle on the Han, was a dictatorial strongman with little grand plan except that knew protectionist policies would allow Korea to trade favorably, and trade up the industrial ladder from textiles to shipbuilding.

Gates and Pinker are giving ground on marginal issues like healthcare, but pushing the core agenda of "free markets make everyone's lives better".


"Thrown to jail", that's a big difference with Argentina. But more important, budget deficit was most of the time less than 2%.


for many people neoliberal is a tag for anything they don't like


This is Jason Hickel's rebuttal to Steven Pinker's response [0] to Hickel's letter in the Guardian [1]. Pinker advocates that the quality of life for people is, on average, getting better worldwide. Hickel's responses are a little subtle but here's my interpretation:

    1. Hickel argues that Pinker's $1.7/day poverty
       line is too low to be used effectively as a
       standard of poverty and proposed a $7.4/day rate

    2. Excluding China from the period of 1981 to 2000 and
       using $7.4/day as a measure of the poverty line,
       the global poverty rate actually increased (from 62%
       to 68%) presumably because of exclusionary policies
       from the IMF

    3. Hickel argues that Pinker is a a capitalist and neo-liberal
       "apologist" and that Pinker is providing a more optimistic picture
       of reality than is warranted (and presumably things could be
       getting better faster with more realistic appraisals of the
       world state)

    4. The measure of success for poverty reduction should be our
       global ability to reduce poverty from our wealth rather than 
       absolute or relative numbers of poverty reduction
The point about the poverty increase from excluding China from 1981 to 2000 (point 2 above) is that this interpretation of data shows that poverty is not monotonically decreasing and that policy has drastic impacts on the rate of poverty reduction. I believe Hickel is arguing that pro capitalist or pro neo-liberal sentiment hides bad policy decisions, also presumably made with a pro capitalist or pretending to be done with a pro neo-liberal sentiment (IMF).

I think Pinker provides compelling evidence but I appreciate counter arguments like Hickel's as it provides a fuller picture of some finer points that might get lost. The IMF excluding the global south is information I hadn't known before and I imagine has drastic implications for the rate of poverty reduction worldwide. I think Hickel falls into the trap of reducing Pinker to a neo-liberal cheerleader when Pinker is trying to convey some very basic information but I also haven't read any of Pinker's books so the critique might be valid.

[0] https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2019/01/31/is-the-w...

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/29/bill-g...


This is a story of competing narratives.

Pinker says the world is improving by most measures, and this is a credit to our global system (though of course there is always room for improvement).

Many people, including Jason Hickel, strongly object to Pinker's characterization. They think the global system is fundamentally broken and flawed and we should be ashamed for letting it happen.

Ultimately it's a capitalism vs. socialism fight.


I wonder why no one includes other metrics like being happy with life and having a dignified job.

Metrics that are important and overlooked. Well, I have a job, but I have to slaughter animals for it, is something I would consider here too.


The cynic answer is that "happiness with life" and a "dignified job" don't make the bosses any money. Numbers on a spreadsheet on the other hand...


Probably because those things are much harder to quantify or are depending on cultural factors that make difficult to establish a comparison.


There's more to that in the post. Hickel also raises that e.g. the recent improvements are actually due primarily to China and East Asian tiger economies, which have had protectionist policies; the rest of the South, by contrast, have seen a degradation of their poors' situation on a backdrop of neoliberal policies.


TL;DR: anything that looks good is an oversimplification. We're all going to die miserable.


I'm a bit confused about the global poverty amount. What is that $7.50 exactly?

I've recently lived in Cambodia, and I'm now in Australia. $7.50 in Cambodia is enough to get three good meals and a couple of beers (for a local). $7.50 in Australia is not enough to get a single meal.

How do they calculate it so they take into account disparate purchasing power?


The dollars quoted are in terms of purchasing power in the United States as of 2011.


I think I see - so if $7.50 in the USA in 2011 can buy 5Kg of rice, then the equivalent income in Cambodia is about $2.50 and in Australia is about $25... is that right?


Just to note - Branko Milanovic (cited by Roser) backed up Hickel on many of the main poinst:

https://glineq.blogspot.com/2019/02/global-poverty-over-long...


I strongly recommend Branko Milanovic's book The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality as an overview of poverty across millennia.


> Real data on poverty has only been collected since 1981, by the World Bank. It is widely accepted among those who research global poverty that any data prior to 1981 is simply too sketchy to be useful, and going back to as early as 1820 is more or less meaningless.

Just like for global warming you expect reasonable proxies.


To say that going back to 1820 is meaningless is already deceptive. At that stage the only parts of the world that weren’t in extreme poverty are those that are now first world and that’s marginal.

In 1750 in 1990 dollars GDP per capita in the first world was 804 dollars according to Paul Bairoch. In 1830, in 1960 dollars the richest country in the world, the highly monestised Netherlands which we have excellent records for had a GDP per capita of 347.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_by_past_GDP_(P...


Most people here seem to be missing the point: it’s not that poverty hasn’t been moderately improved over the past 30 years, but rather that Pinker’s work has had an incredibly outsized impact on policy and influence on media narratives.

Simply put, Pinker and Gates have tricked much of the world into thinking neoliberalism is the best thing ever, even though the data actually shows that the majority of the improvement comes from other brands of economic policy and that most of the wins overall are going to a small number of extremely wealthy people. It’s not abjectly terrible but also not great, and when our capacity to improve poverty has improved so much, isn’t there a moral imperative to do better?

Here’s an episode of one of my favorite podcasts that features Hickel as a guest:

https://soundcloud.com/citationsneeded/episode-58-the-neolib...

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/citations-needed/id12585...


"even though the data actually shows that the majority of the improvement comes from other brands of economic policy"

Can you expand on this? Genuinely interested.


The statistics Hinkel cites are fairly clear: the bulk of the reduction in poverty (which he disputes in overall effect but agrees has happened at some scale) has been from economies like China that operate with very different economic strategies than the neoliberalism Pinker and Gates advocate.

Read the article or listen to he podcast, they’re both good! :)

And: apologies if I’m not being clear about something, unlike the below commenter seems to think I’m happy to expand on what I’m saying.


They are referring to Chinese and other Southeast Asian policies, as Hickels said in his post.

What they won't say is that those policies are fundamentally capitalist in nature. China's economy is capitalist at its core, with a super powerful state (that happens to be remarkably repressive to its citizens, an inconvenient fact Hickels simply ignores) that engages in protectionism for specific national industries.

Hickels is trying to get us to implicitly assume that Chinese policies are socialist and that non-capitalist policy is responsible for their gains, but he won't say it directly because he knows that would be an outright lie.


I didn’t say markets are a bad way to value goods, man, I said china’s state planned and financed approach to the market has produced the gains Pinker is saying neoliberalism should get credit for. What we’re talking about here is the false idea that America’s approach to capitalism is responsible for very much of the global reduction in poverty, and whether we should consider other modes instead.


I just happened to listen to that episode yesterday, it's a good one. I didn't know Hickel before, but he's one of the best guests they've had.


A fantastic overview of poverty across the history of humanity comes in a short book: The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality Paperback by economist Branko Milanovic, in which he compares wealth and poverty across millennia.

And for a serious philosophical treatment about poverty, informed by numerous statistics comes in a long treatise World Poverty and Human Rights by philosopher Thomas W. Pogge who among other things points out the fudging of numbers by the international community. For example creating seeming amelioration of extreme world poverty by redefining malnutrition (how long it needs to persist for it to count), caloric deficit (for sedentary lifestyle rather than a hardworking farmer), redefining success (proportion of humanity rather than absolute numbers), etc. Link to relevant time in a talk by Dr. Pogge about this subject: https://youtu.be/Dsl9cyaIn-g?t=382


>Real data on poverty has only been collected since 1981, by the World Bank.

Perhaps we didn't collect data on poverty globally before that, but we most certainly collected data on poverty before that regionally.


This is the oddest argument in the article, I think. No one claims the data are perfect or identical before 1981, but it’s what we have and it’s used. I think it’s acceptable to provide an alternate proxy. Or to critique the methods rigorously. But it is frustrating when a rhetorical trick is used to point out how the pre-1981 data are different than 1981, that is known by anyone reading Pinker, and then throw out all pre-1981 data and claim it is meaningless. And even more strangely, that poverty during this period is just unknowable.

I would think that the best way to critique this is to develop some other method of proxying poverty rate that doesn’t show drops. Later in the article, the author shows this with the $7.90 poverty rate, but only from 1981.


I stopped reading after he began with that GDP point and spent so much time on it. Felt like a manipulative attack to dismiss an entire argument (“your argument is so laughably wrong, you can’t even get basic facts right.”)


I think the focus on money is misplaced, forget about GDP and start measuring GNH (Gross National Happiness); it is about time the rest of the world looked to Bhutan and realized there is much more to a pleasurable human existence than simply quantifying in terms of income/money/wealth. It is an over-simplification that degrades humanity and our potential.


Bhutan?

Great, unless you're LGBT, in which case they lock you up. Or you're a journalist and write something critical of the government, in which case they lock you up. Or you practice a religion other than Buddhism or Hinduism, in which case they lock you up. Or you want to wear Nepalese clothing, in which case they skip right past locking you up and simply revoke your citizenship and kick you out of the country.


They were talking about happiness, you are talking about personal freedom. Two different things.

It's possible that people are most happy when minorities are done away with. Not exactly what I would prefer, but it's still possible.


I doubt that the minorities are most happy...


Sam Hyde’s 2070 Paradigm Shift [1] to solve world hunger. Link in references.

[1] https://youtu.be/KTJn_DBTnrY


This is illuminating, even if humorous.


TLDR; When the numbers don't fit the narrative, you need to pick out different numbers.

"Here are a few points to keep in mind. Using the $1.90 line shows that only 700 million people live in poverty."

It shows that "only" 700 million people live in extreme poverty as defined by the World Bank.

"If $1.90 is inadequate to achieve basic nutrition and sustain normal human activity, then it’s too low – period."

Yeah, no shit. Extreme Poverty is extremely bad.

"Remember: $1.90 is the equivalent of what that amount of money could buy in the US in 2011."

Yes, it's bad. Really really bad. Let's drive that point home some more.

"If we use $7.40 per day, we see a decline in the proportion of people living in poverty, but it’s not nearly as dramatic as your rosy narrative would have it. In 1981 a staggering 71% lived in poverty. Today it hovers at 58% (for 2013, the most recent data). Suddenly your grand story of progress seems tepid, mediocre, and – in a world that’s as fabulously rich as ours – completely obscene."

No it doesn't! The fact that the number of people that used to live in extreme poverty has gone down means that these people don't live in extreme poverty anymore. That's actually much more significant than the number of generally poor people that are now slightly less poor.


Wait a minute, how does that go one way but not the other? Why is using $7.4 "doctoring the data" to fit your narrative but $1.9 not?

The author uses arguments such as

>The USDA states that about $6.7/day is necessary for achieving basic nutrition. Peter Edwards argues that people need about $7.40 if they are to achieve normal human life expectancy. The New Economics Foundation concludes that around $8 is necessary to reduce infant mortality by a meaningful margin.

to support his view that 1.9$ is a ridiculous measure promoted only to make the graphs look good and the narrative of "neoliberal progress" work. While on the other hand, the ~7$ figure, which he argues based on those references is the bare minimum, makes it all look rather drab (71%->58% in 40 years...)


I didn't say anyone is doctoring data. The data may well be true, but it may not fit your narrative. If your narrative is "people are getting poorer" you need to set the bar high, if your narrative is "people are getting richer", you need to set the bar low. In that sense it goes both ways.

However, the difference between outright starving to death, being extremely poor and simply "being poor" is staggering. You wouldn't argue that a million people saved from starvation looks "rather drab when considering that the average poor person still can't afford to drive a car".

You may say "1.90$ is ridiculous", but hundreds of millions of people actually do have to live on that. It's not like it's a fantasy number that nobody actually lives off.


To be fair, Hickel is discussing the different poverty lines because he is refuting an explicit argument from Pinker in his letter:

> "2. The level at which one sets an arbitrary cutoff like “the poverty line” is irrelevant — the entire distribution has shifted, so the trend is the same wherever you set it."

Hickel argues (using data) that this statement is at least not qualitatively true, as the trend is quite different if you set the poverty line at higher level.


Even the data that Hickel picked (excluding China) shows is that the trend is down. I'm not sure Pinker is right in that the it's true for every single social stratum everywhere across the world, I would think that certain middle-class earners are poorer today in relative terms.

However, for anyone considered poor by any reasonable standard, my guess is that the global trend is down, otherwise Hickel could've come up with that data. So in that sense the cutoff is irrelevant.

Note that Pinker in his letter talks exclusively about extreme poverty. In a free market, of course it's easier to lift people out of extreme poverty than ordinary poverty, so it should come as no surprise that the trend is even steeper there.


> Even the data that Hickel picked (excluding China) shows is that the trend is down.

In the infographic Gates tweeted, it claims to show a 75% reduction in global poverty between 1980 and today. In Hickels chart, it goes up 5% from 1980-2000 and down maybe 7% from 2000 to today. You’re claiming they both show a downward trend today so therefore they’re basically the same? That’s not just misleading, but also misses Hickels point. What I got out of his main point isn’t whether the trend is up or down so much as that poverty is not a solved problem. Gates’ infographic makes it look like a solved problem, like we don’t have to do anything because it’s going away on it’s own.


This is Bill Gates' infographic:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DxSZ58_XQAAoxM8.jpg:large

It does show a 75% in extreme poverty. That happens to be a straight down trend. Nobody even disputes this. It also shows a number of other things, such that "democracy" is actually stagnating. Bill Gates' actual remark on it is that people underestimate how much things have improved over the last two hundred years.

Hickel picks that one graph and turns it into the "Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing, he couldn't be more wrong" headline:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/29/bill-g...

That's dishonest. First of all, extreme poverty is decreasing. That's the actual claim and it is true. Secondly, poverty even by Hickel's standards is also decreasing. It may not have been decreasing consistently over every single past decade, but indeed is decreasing today and for the past decade. Hickel then goes on to say that "the number of people living in poverty" has increased. Indeed it has, as has the number of people living. The actual percentage of people living in poverty has gone down.

So what exactly is the problem with what Bill Gates actually said? He never claimed that poverty is solved, nor did he endorse "neoliberalism" as the solution.


I don't care to litigate Hickel's argument, and I don't even necessarily agree with him. It just seems like you're ignoring the actual points Hickel made. The questions you're asking here are all answered in article, so maybe read it again?

The main argument is one of degree. Hickel isn't contradicting whether the trend is down or up, and indeed it's somewhat irrelevant whether the trend is down. What he's pointing out is that the infographic is quite misleading in the impression that it gives to the lay person. Extreme poverty has a specific definition that isn't very useful when trying to understand the big picture, because "extreme poverty" is below the line where you get enough food to live, and it's very far below the line where you can expect a reasonable life. The high level message that the infographic conveys is that poverty in general is nearly gone, where the reality of global poverty is quite different, and not going away as fast as "extreme poverty". Saying that Gates & Pinker never claimed poverty is solved is hiding behind a technicality. The social media they're sharing has a very clear implication, and most people aren't digging into the details and minutiae of this argument.

It would settle this whole thing to put all the trend lines for extreme poverty vs regular poverty vs lower class vs middle class vs upper class all on one graph. No matter what your opinion is here, it's true that using only extreme poverty on a single graph is cherry-picking and likely to not convey an accurate impression of the overall situation.


> The questions you're asking here are all answered in article, so maybe read it again?

I've only asked a single question: What is wrong with what Bill Gates actually said? Hickel doesn't deal with what Bill Gates actually said, he talks a great deal about things that he didn't say. Indeed I am ignoring a lot of these points because they are irrelevant to whether "poverty" or "extreme poverty" is actually going down.

> Hickel isn't contradicting whether the trend is down or up, and indeed it's somewhat irrelevant whether the trend is down.

It isn't irrelevant at all! The title of Hickel's article is "Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn’t be more wrong."

There really are only three possibilities here: Poverty is decreasing, increasing, or stagnating. The data says poverty is decreasing. So how can Bill Gates possibly be wrong? Answer: He isn't wrong, Hickel just wants to talk about how neoliberalism and globalization is bad, i.e. not actually anything that either Gates nor Pinker claimed.


I don't know that Hickel's title was a great choice of words, and I do expect he's being intentionally inflammatory, but it seems like you're getting completely hung up on very literal, possibly pedantic, interpretation of only a few of the exact words written, and ignoring the primary broad implications being made.

> The data says poverty is decreasing.

The data show "extreme poverty" decreasing. It's a lot less clear that poverty in general is decreasing... stagnating would be more appropriate to describe overall global poverty. If you can ignore the specific claims and accept the argument as a whole, Hickel's thrust is simply that global poverty is not declining like the graph of extreme poverty would have you believe, so it's not doing justice to the issue of poverty to tweet around charts of extreme poverty in rapid decline, it gives the wrong impression.

> So how can Bill Gates possibly be wrong?

Again, Hickel's article covers this in quite some depth, with many reasons. If you don't like it, that's fine. If you disagree with it, that's understandable. But your incredulity here is misplaced.

> Hickel just wants to talk about how neoliberalism and globalization is bad, i.e. not actually anything that either Gates nor Pinker claimed.

You're probably right that Hickel wants to talk about how neoliberalism is bad. Tweeting to the masses a picture of extreme poverty in rapid decline, however, is a claim and is part of what Gates and Pinker "said".


It seems to me that the whole debate would benefit from some Quantum Thinking.

The world can get better and worse at the same time. Poverty can go away in some parts and increase (in absolute or relative terms) in others.

People can be more happy because they don't starve, don't die from trivial diseases and don't get murdered anymore on the street - while at the same time starting to be depressed about lack of meaning or sense of belonging, senseless (but well-paid) jobs, worries about allergies, eating animals, stress, climate change or whatever thing they worry about basic needs are met.

There is just no point to attempt to come to a conclusion from a binary set of options ("things getting better" vs "things getting worse").

In my eyes, this question is too complex, too philosophical and too subjective for anyone to actually come to an absolute, definite and unassailable conclusion which everyone else could stand behind.


Must reads about what was done to South America:

- Various works by Smedley Butler, c. 20th c.

- A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (Español: Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias), c. 1542

- The well-researched videos of TheHistoryGuy on YT. Bunga! Bunga!


I'm 40 years old. I remember the last 30 years in my home country (Turkey) very well. What happened in this period? Awesome things. Access to food, shelter, healthcare, cars, many many amenities and luxuries of life have expanded wildly.

The marxist dude is likely cherry picking data to make a bogus point. E.g. the charts in his letter aren't normalized by world population. Pinsker is presenting distributions, not absolute numbers, as world population has a tendency to grow.

He has one valid point. $1.90 might be too low to draw the poverty line. But as the whole distribution has shifted, that point seems moot.

He has another interesting point: People had access to land in the old age, although they didn't have cash. I think that makes sense. Land has some value... but but there's a big cost to utilizing it---it's a full time job :) Anyone can go back... become a farmer, hunter or a herder... live at subsistance-level. I think few people want that lifestyle, as is clear from occupancy stats. The benefits of having access to land and its cost (the specific lifestyle) may cancel each other.


The difference of opinion between those who've lived through something and the opinion of bourgeoisie academics who've studied the same thing from an Ivory tower is usually quite different.

Like how the advice and experience of a startup founder, regardless of success, is almost immeasurably more valuable than that of a consulting analyst.


So this report came out yesterday: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeti....

"The 2.5% rate of annual loss (of insect biomass) over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

So, in 100 years all insects will die. All of them. And therefore us, long beforehand.

So this "reduction of poverty" through capitalist economic expansion has been achieved by the use of pesticides for cheap food, plastic, global warming etc. How can anyone claim that reduction of poverty is a good thing when it comes at the cost of the survival of the entire world ecosystem?


Needlessly apocalyptic thinking.

No one knows what will happen as a result of this reduction in insect biomass, that is literally the definition of unprecedented...

Every time some alarmist starts preaching apocalyptic nonsense because of a story like this, nature inevitably plugs the hole. Do you remember the climate alarmists telling us Florida would be underwater up to the panhandle by 2010? Yeah, we are still using those same models, just tweaked around the edges.

Academics are not as smart as they would have you believe.


Having no more insects is needlessly alarmist? What would be worrying to you if not that? Yikes.


The argument about the poverty line is a bit weird.

It's completely reasonable that $1.90/day is still very low, and that we might want to take a higher point as a poverty line.

But if the numbers below that line have decreased, that is still a huge win. Going from $1.80/day to $3.60/day, say, is a big improvement. That is true precisely because $1.90 is so low.

Jason Hickel's argument seems to show that there is still a lot to do. But it does not show that we have not got much better.


The vast majority of gains against poverty have happened in one region: East Asia. As it happens, the economic success of China and the East Asian tigers – as scholars like Ha-Joon Chang and Robert Wade have long pointed out – is due not to the neoliberal markets that you espouse but rather state-led industrial policy, protectionism and regulation (the same measures that Western nations used to such great effect during their own period of industrial consolidation). They liberalized, to be sure – but they did so gradually and on their own terms.

China's trade policy is consistent with neo liberalism. China's economy began its huge expansion in the 70's and 80's after opening up trade with the rest of the world, and especially the U.S. So that example fails. Trump is the one who began the tariff war, not china.


We urgently need to jettison naive and simplistic models of the world that ignores centuries of history to deflect accountability, provide a comfort zone for some and perpetuate another fraud on the world. Look at the word fraud of 'aid' when it's loans and 'leverage' that are used to further the creditors interests in the region.

Africa has suffered at the hands of global agendas for centuries now, some of these countries are barely 50-60 years of colonialism and were divided arbitrarily for reasons suited to colonialists. Yet we have narratives that seriously suggest all these invasive actions do not have consequences and these 'made up' countries after centuries of systemic exploitation and plunder will magically emerge developed in mere decades and if they don't its their own fault. That may suit a certain blame shifting worldview but has nothing to do with reality.

Narratives that ignore the kind of effort, century scale timelines, political and religious conflicts, colonialism and context in which we grew and how the current world operates and ignores all that to point to statistics have to go because they are completely lacking depth and connection with reality.

Look at the 'extraction' in pre-colonialism and post colonialism, the methods change but the objective is the same, corrupt the top leadership to benefit yourself and your companies, while 99% of the local country suffers. And if they don't fall in line organize coups, destabilize countries to get new despots who benefit you. This model is replicated efficiently in South America and across Africa and is happening right now. How can you 'develop' and improve the conditions of people across the world when your policies are actively and intentionally sabotaging them?

You don't because that's just cover, conversations about statistics by pinker and his ilk then fall right into place to deflect, deceive and affect fake concern. South Korea and Taiwan have great stats but what those stats don't tell you is South Korea grew under a dictatorship with extreme western political and economic support that grew oligarchic chaebols for political reasons to counter the North and China. Can that context be replicated?


Medium grey text on a white background makes this almost unreadable. I don't know what point he was trying to make, because tow paragraphs gave me a headache.


The part where he writes off East Asia as not really counting, somehow, while acknowledging its success, is rather strange:

"As it happens, the economic success of China and the East Asian tigers – as scholars like Ha-Joon Chang and Robert Wade have long pointed out – is due not to the neoliberal markets that you espouse but rather state-led industrial policy, protectionism and regulation (the same measures that Western nations used to such great effect during their own period of industrial consolidation)."

It's true that many of the countries there are state-led. (Some also have lots of corruption and many have extreme inequality.) But they also had spectacular growth via export-led economies.

I don't know what "neoliberal" means other as a term of disparagement, but there's clearly a lot of capitalism and international trade going on. Participating in the global system has been a huge win there.


The process of forcibly integrating colonized peoples into the capitalist labour system caused widespread dislocation (a history I cover in The Divide). Remember, this is the period of the Belgian labour system in the Congo, which so upended local economies that 10 million people died – half the population. This is the period of the Natives Land Act in South Africa, which dispossessed the country’s black population of 90% of the country. This is the period of the famines in India, where 30 million died needlessly as a result of policies the British imposed on Indian agriculture. This is the period of the Opium Wars in China and the unequal treaties that immiserated the population. And don’t forget: all of this was conducted in the name of the “free market”.

This paragraph basically backs up all of Pinker's criticisms. No one advocating for neoliberal capitalism would suggest that any of the evils of colonialization are the policies that most quickly brought prosperity to developing nations. Pinker is advocating that as economies become more free, they become more prosperous. There's nothing free about forced labor or death marches.

The bit on "absolute povery numbers" is insane:

The poverty rate has worsened dramatically since 1981, from 3.2 billion to 4.2 billion, according to World Bank data.

This willfully ignores the fact that the world population has gone from 4.5 billion to 7.5 billion, because of plummeting mortality rates and access to healthcare and infrastructure. 3 billion extra people survived in 30 years. That's CRAZY! We should be having parades about that everyday.

And the main problem with his poverty metric is that he's changing the numbers to obfuscate the progress. It doesn't matter if you use $1.90/day, $3.20/day, $5.50/day or $7.40/day. What matters is that fewer people live on the wrong side of the line today than they did yesterday, and fewer people did yesterday than the day before, and that has happened every single day for the past 30 years.

Almost every example he uses of capitalism being bad are really colonialism enforced by state power. He rightly points out that some countries enjoyed increased prosperity when they freed themselves from their colonial powers, but that only enforces Pinker's arguments.

Hickel spends most of this piece turning Pinker's arguments into strawmen. It's a marxist rant with cherry-icked stats that don't actually support his position. He should rightfully be dismissed as a bad faith actor in the conversation.


Maybe you should put "that bit about absolute numbers" in the proper context instead of wilfully misrepresenting it:

>[After discussing 1.9$/day as a completely inhumane measure; the equivalent of 35 people living with a UK minimum wage, without any gifts, loans, donations, or help of any kind] the story changes quite a bit - and you know it. If we use $7.40 per day, we see a decline in the proportion of people living in poverty, but it’s not nearly as dramatic as your rosy narrative would have it. In 1981 a staggering 71% lived in poverty. Today it hovers at 58% (for 2013, the most recent data). Suddenly your grand story of progress seems tepid, mediocre, and – in a world that’s as fabulously rich as ours – completely obscene. There is nothing worth celebrating about a world where inequality is so extreme that 58% of people are in poverty, while a few dozen billionaires have more than all of their wealth combined.

>That’s proportions. Don’t get me wrong: proportions are an important indicator – and we should pay attention to it. But absolute numbers are equally important. In fact, that is the metric that the world’s governments first agreed to target in the Rome Declaration in 1996, the precursor to the Millennial Development Goals. The goalposts were shifted to proportions in the following years, which created the impression of faster progress. But really now it’s a moot point: if the goal is to end poverty, what matters is absolute numbers. Certainly that’s what matters from the perspective of poor people themselves.

>And if we look at absolute numbers, the trend changes completely. The poverty rate has worsened dramatically since 1981, from 3.2 billion to 4.2 billion, according to World Bank data. Six times higher than you would have people believe. That’s not progress in my book – that’s a disgrace. It is a crushing indictment of our global economic system, which is clearly failing the majority of humanity. Your claims about global poverty intentionally skate around this fact. Again, that is not responsible scholarship.

So yeah. Either you didn't read it or you wilfully ignored it, because comments such as "hat matters is that fewer people live on the wrong side of the line today than they did yesterday, and fewer people did yesterday than the day before" are incomprehensible otherwise.


> as economies become more free, they become more prosperous

This is a bald faced lie. Enacting protectionist policies for you own country, and kicking away the ladder from those poorer than you is the historically proven way to prosperity. Compare Argentina and South Korea.


This is the guy who claimed subsistence rural leaving shouldn't count as poverty, and that we really can't say anything about poverty pre-1981. Come on! How is he credible.


Yes, I think that Pinker's attitude 'don't mess with liberal capitalism model, it's working miracles' kind of shuts off any possibility of real critics of real problems that we are facing today.


Pinker is not arguing that economic neoliberalism is perfect.

Almost nobody is.


Sorry, but I don't see the word 'perfect' in my statement. I stated what I stated and I think I am fairly accurate when I say that Pinker's main premise is that modern global neoliberal capitalist model is fighting poverty much better than anything else.

(Which is probably not true if you agree with the Pinker opponent POV).


The author nit-picks some of the numbers, noting that the poverty numbers prior to some date are unreliable. But this is all meaningless as the numbers aren't Pinker's point. The point is that society is getting richer and both relative and absolute poverty is dropping across the world.

I think most reasonable people would believe this to be true. Those of us old enough remember a time where we didn't have the luxuries we have today. We had a choice of three channels on television, paid exorbitant long distance fees to call our family abroad and rarely traveled by plane. And that changed over the last 100 years or so. Surely on a larger time-scale we would notice even greater change (indoor plumbing, air conditioning, antibiotics, food safety).

But the author doesn't see that:

> As to my actual claims about the past, my argument was straightforward. I simply pointed out that we cannot ignore the fact that the period 1820 to circa 1950 was one of violent dispossession across much of the global South. If you have read any colonial history, you will know colonizers had immense difficulty getting people to work on their mines and plantations. As it turns out, people tended to prefer their subsistence lifestyles, and wages were not high enough to induce them to leave. Colonizers had to coerce people into the labour market: imposing taxes, enclosing commons and constraining access to food, or just outright forcing people off their land.

Yes, people joined the urbanization movement but only did so kicking and screaming. They were perfectly happy living subsistence lifestyles.

This strikes me as not only wrong but somewhat offensive. I don't know anything about the author but I don't think he lives or has lived a subsistence lifestyle, and neither have I. But from everything I read from less ideologically minded researchers, it was a brutal existence. It is a lot easier to live this subsistence lifestyle today. The world is still a large place. You can easily buy a cabin in the woods and avoid taxes. Ironically, the capitalist system the author likes to criticize promotes property rights that allows for living off the grid.

So I welcome the author the chance to grasp his full potential and go off the grid. He and his followers could buy 100 acres in Texas for 75k, and pay only $500 in annual tax [0].

[0] https://www.landwatch.com/Hudspeth-County-Texas-Land-for-sal...


> true. Those of us old enough remember a time where we didn't have the luxuries we have today. We had a choice of three channels on television, paid exorbitant long distance fees to call our family abroad and rarely traveled by plane.

The same people always seem to forget about this when they complain about not being able to afford proper housing or to sustain a family on a single income though.


Home ownership rates in America are historically very high. It dipped since the peak in the pre 2008 when they were nearly 70% and is now around 65%. Pre-WW2 it was around 45%.

The idea that home ownership is rare and out of reach for Americans is not true.

[0] https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/housing-market-persp...


> *We can end poverty right now simply by making the rules of our global economy fairer for the world’s majority (I describe how we can do this in The Divide, looking at everything from wages to debt to trade).

Well, that's a pretty bold claim. Anybody have a TL;DR that doesn't require forking out 5 days of UN poverty-line income to read?


All of the books on Hickel’s reading list are historians and none of them are economic historians because it’s impossible to make the case he wants to make if you use data gathered by economic historians. Hickel references Beckert’s Empire of Cotton, which, whatever its many virtues does not accord with economic history at all. The other books he referenced are similarly useless for answering what is a question of economic history. He criticises the extreme poverty measure as being beneath human dignity when that’s the point. This is the natural inheritance of man, wretched poverty for almost everyone and what we would regard as poverty for the tiny elite. Hickel also ignores the other indicators that show enormous progress, education, literacy, lifespan, healthy lifespan and the fact that with population growth as rapid as it the decline in absolute poverty ex-Africa is a substantial achievement.

Finally, neoliberalism delivered China from poverty. If it’s brought to the rest of the poor areas of the world it’ll do it there too.

To neoliberalism! To the end of extreme poverty!

https://pseudoerasmus.com/2016/06/16/eoc/

> Note: the following are NOT my thoughts. It’s my summary of Beckert’s book.

> {Summary begins}

> The West got rich by impoverishing the Rest.

> “War capitalism” was the violent exploitation of the non-West through piracy, enslavement, theft of natural resources, and the physical seizure of markets. It was not caused by superior technology or organisation. Nor did it rest on “offering superior goods at good prices”, such as you find in the la-la-land of economics textbooks, but on the “military subjugation of competitors and a coercive European mercantile presence in many regions of the world”.


Protectionism and controlled liberal policies brought China and the rest of the Asian Tigers to prosperity. Forced neoliberal policies is a curse on nascent economies.


>Remember, this is the period of the Belgian labour system in the Congo, which so upended local economies that 10 million people died – half the population. This is the period of the Natives Land Act in South Africa, which dispossessed the country’s black population of 90% of the country. This is the period of the famines in India, where 30 million died needlessly as a result of policies the British imposed on Indian agriculture. This is the period of the Opium Wars in China and the unequal treaties that immiserated the population. And don’t forget: all of this was conducted in the name of the “free market”.

Free market doesn't just mean low or no taxes. People will do all sort of evil things and hide behind some nice ideal.

The important thing is that none of those countries are doing it anymore and those who do, are quite the opposite of free market capitalist countries (ie, North Korea)

huffmsa 39 days ago [flagged]

England, what's with the clown show you've got going on at your unis? First the naked Brexit lady now this guy.

1) subsistence agrarian lifestyles were not better than our industrialized world. If Mr Hickel disagrees, he should lay down the pen and pick up the plow.

2) decreased child mortality and increased lifespans (thanks industrialized medicine!) means more people alive but not necessarily economically useful => lower GDP/head. Stop having babies you can't afford. This leads to a longer debate about the issues with food aid both raising subsistence levels and pricing out local farmers.

3) China, Singapore, Vietnam, etc saw huge improvement because they went balls to the walls with the forced industrialization this quack said was the problem.

4) Income inequality increasing doesn't matter because the the entry price for modern technology is decreasing faster than income inequality is increasing.

This guy's a keyboard warrior who's never been in the field and shouldn't have cost my 5 minutes to read.


What's England got to do with this, and who's the naked Brexit lady?

He isn't saying agrarian is better than industrialised. He's saying industrialisation was forced on them by colonialisation.

Read about the Congo free state for example [1].

Also. The early stages of industrialisation aren't particularly good for a nations poorest, Britain's industrial revolution was not a land of plenty for the poor, they just went from being poor farm hands, to poor factory workers.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congo_Free_State


> They had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor.

His argument is that you can't be poor if you don't have a concept of money, like in an agrarian society. You overlooked it because your brain knows it's not true.

Quality of life is not a dollar amount. It's all of those graphs Gates shared. Not just the first one.


If quality of life isn’t a dollar amount then why aren’t more people comfortable distributing dollars amongst the public?


I'll rephrase. It's not purely a dollar amount. It's what's available for you to do and buy with those dollars.

Eventually we will just give everyone dollars. I firmly believe Pixar's WALL-E is our Marxist ideal future. But we're not there yet. Need better robots.


$1 a day if you're a factory worker needs to pay your rent, and your food, and your fuel, then your support network has gone, so grandparents cant look after kids etc, etc.

$1 a day for a farmer means they don't have those costs. Social networks are still in place, etc, etc.

As you say, Quality of life is not a dollar amount.


So let's address that.

Do you believe that quality of life for a randomly chosen person has improved since 1820? My reading of Hinkel is that he does not believe it.


Of course life has improved since 1820.

My reading of Hinkel was that comparing a farmer to a factory worker is an apples and oranges comparison, because its doesn't take into account the non monetary benefits the farmer has.

I would rather be a farmer on $1 a day than a factory worker on $1 a day, because the factory workers $ has to buy so much more stuff.


It appears that his keyboard warrior friends have found this comment.

Down votes should really require an explanation.


Agreed, but maybe people were put off by your opening racist? Insult, and needless reference to Brexit.

I've responded to your first point, I don't agree with any of your other points either.


I'm used to a hot opener making people engage the rest of the points. Real life (debates in pubs) doesn't have an "I find this disagreeable" button.


This isn't a pub, and if you're "used to a hot opener" then surely you're used to people seeing you as a jerk for persistently making provocative and racist remarks.




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