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When Did Life For the Poor Get Better?

Here's my (late) answer to Bryan Caplan's challenge can you write an economically sound answer to the question "When Did Life For the Poor Get Better?" that a five-year-old could understand? 150 words or less!

At no point in time did life "start" to get better for the poor. At most any point in space and time, those who were "poor" were much better off than the poor of two centuries before -- the earlier society could not have fed them all, and would have treated survivors more harshly. Since the dawn of man, tremendous progress has come from inventions, be them technical or social. Techniques that seem primitive today, like heavily salting food so it doesn't rot, once transformed the life of generations. So did trading routes across regions with different resources: salt, game, wood, metal. Or money as a universal intermediate for barter between remote strangers. Or techniques and social mores that ensured increased hygiene. Countless innovations have always served to improve life for everyone. Even slavery was once progress for the poor victims -- over anthropophagy. Obstacles to progress are political oppression and superstition.

Comments

Even Slavery was once progress for the victims - over anthropophagy.

What the fuck. Wake up from your ignorant stereotypes. Goodnight. Goodbye.
So you'd *prefer* to be eaten by your conquerers than to be enslaved by them? Just checking.
Whoosh.

You may wish to try again, keeping in mind that kino_kid clearly doesn't believe that there is a clear "progression" in most human cultures from cannibalism to slavery.

I was wrong.

I'm sorry, fare, I misunderstood what you wrote. My own sensitivities got the better of me, as well as the late hour. I have heard more than once in my life that slavery was a good thing, because those darn savages would have done something worse to each other if they hadn't been put in line by someone else, said by people I trusted who I thought should know better. I took your comment entirely in the wrong context, because of this experience.

Unfortunately, our exchange in msn made me realize some other things that really bother me about how we relate to each other, so I guess we'll see each in the next lifetime when we have another chance to get it right.

It's been a slice.

Re: I was wrong.

Hey, we all have our bad days. I tried to improve the phrasing slightly. I realized that indeed the choice of words (or example) was poor. But I wanted to pack the most cognitive dissonance within the word count limit, and the result is then bound to be rough. I admit I enjoy being rough, though I consider it a failure when the wrong message gets through.

To make it clear, those who raised from cannibalism to slavery are the slavers - and they raised since to tax collectors. I do not approve any of these practices, I merely reckon the progress for both victors and victims. My ancestors, like anyone's ancestors, probably include both culprits and victims of slavery. They definitely include both benefactors and victims of taxes and other political oppression. Looking back in time, they probably include perpetrators of anthropophagy, but none of the victims (who couldn't reproduce after being eaten though maybe before). There is no pride to be had here, in either the cruelty of victors or the weakness of victims. I can but be glad of the distance that may separates me from either, and sad at the progress that remains to be done.

I know the kind who justify any crime by either "the victim deserved it" or "others would have done worse otherwise", and any backwards wretched customs by "it was a progress in its time" (as if it mattered, assuming it were). I would get just as upset at such a remark as you were - probably more so - if I heard one or thought I had.

I'm sad I've failed to communicate with you. I'm looking forward to that next lifetime when we can get things right. But in the meantime, please don't forget to enjoy this lifetime and be happy each and every day of it. Because you deserve it.

I admire you, your heart, your adamantness at confronting evil, and your courage in knowing to admit you were wrong (on the rare few times when you are). You're wonderful - yay for you!

(Anonymous)

a lot of humans live better and can have many more experiences than kings and rulers of previous centuries...

However, its stupid to think that the trend for an indefinite progress in our societies will last forever, and has been one-way....

for sure, poor germans or poor japanese in 1939 got poorer by 1945...
whereever there is a war, people suffer, especially the poor...
our world is much more fragile than we think. in 1910 despite the rise few people would have thought we were on the eve of a conflict making millions of deads, same in 1930....
we have all the reasons to think that the next big conflict will be even worse, if only because the means of destruction are much bigger, thanks to our inventions. its also foolish to dismiss all the cassandra about the climate change story, on the grounds that mankind has always successfully overcome difficulties in the recent and short human history, which is not even true, as there have been some historical counterexamples.

but the one thing which might be true is : if something really THAT bad ever happens, nobody will ever read about it, and the prophets of an ever prosperous future will have had the last word...

progress should not be only measured in $$$$ or material terms but also social and spiritual. but unfortunately, we need a big accident to prove this point.

"The future is already here. It's just not very evenly distributed"

Progress is not uniform. There are obstacles to it, sources of regress. But in a 150 word summary, I'd rather only mention them briefly at the end: before one may understand the perturbations to a phenomenon, you must understand the main phenomenon. Progress there is, progress there has been, and if you refuse to see progress from man-eating cavemen to modern western civilization, you are a deluded lunatic.

Sure, there are wars. There are surges of superstition. There are barbarians. And there are cheeze-eating surrender monkeys who refuse to defend progress as long as they are not on top of the victim-list of the barbarians (and even then, beg for the barbarians' mercy). And because of the barbarians and those who abet them, some countries have receded back to barbarianism in front of our eyes, like Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, etc.

And despite all that, it is hard to not see overall progress on the scale of centuries, especially for the poor. Would you be a poor slave in Cuba two centuries ago, or just a poor victim of communism today? Would you be poor in the worst country in the world today (North Korea), or poor in the worst country in the world two centuries before? (whatever it was, it involved slavery and/or anthropophagy)

The means of destruction are bigger, but those who can afford them are also those who have most to lose by using them. The main problem is to prevent the crazies from getting them - because they won't listen to rational self-interest. Only unearned wealth, as caused by governments can possibly put these means in the hands of crazies -- and the biggest such unearthed wealth is the "nationalization" of "natural" resources, i.e. the confiscation of the work of the producers into the hands of politicians.

As for the great climate scare, it's precisely a bogus attempt at such confiscation on a grand scale, based on "eyes in the swiss cheeze" correlations. Warming is immensely good, human contribution to this change is ridiculously small, and the last thing we need is to empower world dictators on this pretense (or any other).

Yes, progress requires a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy -- if you don't think you can do it, you won't be motivated, and it won't happen. Whereas prophets of doom are self-defeating.

And finally, your opposition between material and social/spiritual is completely, utterly bogus. It is social sanity that brings material wealth, and material wealth that frees the mind for spiritual endeavours. The point is already proven.

(Anonymous)

poverty

The life of the poor get better, when they start feeling better;). Most dangerous kind of poverty is mental one. ...
In America, the "poor" have automobiles, houses, enough food that obesity is a problem.

Half the world's middle class would love to be American poor.

For socialists, that's still not enough! American poor have a BAD DIET. It's high in carbs and unsatisfying commercially packaged products from which a capitalist DERIVED PROFIT. They should have a better diet, and without capitalists making a profit, because, you know, food isn't good for you if someone else benefits.

My last residence (rented), while meeting the definition of "poor" for US standards, was at the edge of a nice neighborhood turning into a bad neighborhood.

Every day, I'd see the same cars. $8000 in spinner rims and tires, $2000 in stereo, booming away, while the transmissions howled, the valves ticked and the bodies rusted. They'd park outside the liquor store and buy $20 in lottery tickets, smokes and cheap beer, frequently using tax money I paid and had to (attempt) to recoup at the end of the year. (Since their food was subsidized, they were able to waste money on non-essentials. Of course, they'd probably just starve if they weren't subsidized. Pardon me for not seeing a problem.)

A great many poor are poor because they make daily decisions to perpetuate the poverty. This is even with the benefit of public schools to offer a minimum level of literacy and numeracy.

After they broke into my house and stole everything I owned and hocked it for 10c on the dollar at best (I bought two of my guitars back for that price), I ceased to care. The sooner they die the better.

We resolved the problem by saving enough to move to a better place, in a nicer town, with better schools.
eyes black and white

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