Are you idealist? Want to make a difference in the world? What is the key to ending poverty? Would it surprise you to learn that some development experts see this as a human rights and international legal issue, based in economic terms, or the notion of inequality?
In any case, the problem is poverty, not inequality as such — not how many yachts the L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt has, but whether the average Frenchwoman has enough to eat. At the time of “Les Misérables,” she didn’t.
In the last 40 years, the World Bank estimates, the proportion of the population living on an appalling $1 or $2 a day has halved. Paul Collier, an Oxford economist, urges us to help the “bottom billion” of the more than seven billion people on earth. Of course. It is our duty. But he notes that 50 years ago, four billion out of five billion people lived in such miserable conditions.
In 1800, it was 95 percent of one billion.We can improve the conditions of the working class. Raising low productivity by enabling human creativity is what has mainly worked.
By contrast, taking from the rich and giving to the poor helps only a little — and anyway expropriation is a one-time trick. Enrichment from market-tested betterment will go on and on and, over the next century or so, will bring comfort in essentials to virtually everyone on the planet, and more to an expanding middle class.