Sunday, November 1, 2015

Young Macroeconomists: Spread the Word

Usually, conservatives writing in conservative publications are trashing Obama and the Democrats. Not this time.

Do note that this is from an opinion piece, so your mileage may vary.

Anyway, macroeconomists don’t push the idea hard enough about how good life on planet Earth actually is, thanks to economic growth. Here’s Kevin D. Williamson writing in Reason:

… Polio has been eradicated everywhere on Earth except for two places where those who would eradicate it are forbidden to operate: Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s the Taliban’s gift to the Islamic world: paralytic polio.

That’s really good news, right? How come you probably didn’t know about it? That’s weird, right? I suppose it’s bad that you didn’t know about it, but really, it isn’t your area. It’s the sort of thing that someone who cares about making life better should have told you about. What’s weird is that you have to hear it from a macroeconomist, in a class targeted at upper-level majors.

… Economist Angus Deaton, recently awarded the Nobel prize, has spent much of his career working on how we measure consumption, poverty, real standards of living, etc. It is thanks in part to his work that we can say that the global rate of “extreme poverty,” currently defined as subsistence on less than the equivalent of $1.90 a day, is now the condition of less than 10 percent of the human race. In the 1980s, that number was 50 percent — half the species — and as late as the dawn of the 21st century, one-third of the human race lived in extreme poverty. The progress made against poverty in the past 30 years is arguably the most dramatic economic event since the Industrial Revolution. It did not happen by accident. [emphasis added]

The one thing we can be sure of is that it didn’t happen because of government programs. I’m not being anti-government here at all, and neither is Williamson. But let’s be clear: the biggest reason for that is because China moved away from government control of stuff.

Williamson uses a metaphor that I often use in class.

What I sometimes refer to as the black-hats/white-hats school of political analysis.

Too many people start out by deciding who gets to wear the white hats and who has to wear the black hats, and then designing their worldview, or worse their policy prescriptions, around that choice. Some clarity may help you understand why that’s a big problem.

… We have achieved a remarkable thing in that unless we mess things up really badly, in 50 years we’ll be having to explain to our grandchildren what a famine was, how it came to be that millions of people died every year for want of clean water — and they will look at us incredulously, wondering what it must have been like to live in the caveman times of the early 21st century.

Read the whole thing, entitled “From Polio to Poverty, We Are Winning”.

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