Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

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




Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: