Friedman and Sowell Dialogue on Bauer
By Bryan Caplan
Sowell: One of the things that [Bauer] mentioned in one of his later books was that people were saying things like: “We took all the rubber from Malaysia”; “We took all the tea from India.” And he pointed out that this was the direct opposite of the truth. The British brought the rubber tree to Malaysia; they brought the tea to India—and the Indians and Malaysians benefited.
Friedman: Many of these approaches [to economic development in the Third World] took on the characteristics of religion, which is believed without investigation. But yet, they must have been plausible. Large numbers of able people believed them. Those views were very deeply entrenched. So, it sounds simple to come along and say, “Look, obviously, if the vicious cycle of poverty were true, no country could have ever developed.” But, it wasn’t obvious at all and it took a good deal of courage and stubbornness to resist that trend.
Sowell: Because Peter Bauer wrote in such a very plain way, and because the things that he said now seem obvious, I fear that at some point in the future people will be looking back and say, “What was the big deal? All of this is just stuff anybody should have known.” But, it’s almost like saying, “So, the man traveled 10 miles in a day—what is that?” Until you say, “Well no, he traveled 10 miles hacking his way through a jungle,” and that’s essentially what Peter Bauer did. He had a whole jungle of preconceptions and dogmas out there.
Peter Bauer lived long enough to see cutting-edge development economists like Jeffrey Sachs endorse his main views. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to criticize Sachs and company for their statist relapse.