By Bryan Caplan
The latest Freakonomics Radio is on “Earth 2.0: Is Income Inequality Inevitable?” I’m pleased to be prominently featured alongside Jeff Sachs and Alice Rivlin. A few highlights:
And we’ll remember to keep our eye on the economic ball:
CAPLAN: Any time you’re trying to analyze a complex
problem, just forget all the other stuff at first, and just say, “Well,
what does this do to the productivity of mankind?”
But not everyone shares Kanter’s views on inequality.
CAPLAN: It’s definitely the kind of problem that we should worry a lot less about.
Bryan Caplan is an economist at George Mason University.
CAPLAN: The main predictor of living standards of not just most people but the poorest people in the country is productivity in that country.
Countries that produce a lot of stuff aren’t just good places to be
rich or middle class; they’re good places to be poor. So when people
complain about people being left behind … China’s got 1.3 billion people. Sure, someone’s going to be left behind in there. But is it better to be poor now in China
than it was 20 or 30 or 50 years ago, when people were starving to
death? There is no question. It is only by going and forgetting history,
forgetting comparisons, and then searching through a vast number of
people to find a sad story that we can forget the big picture. What is
the big picture? Not that we can find something that happened
that is bad in the world so vast we can’t even imagine it, but seeing
what is happening overall. What is the general trend, and how can we
keep the general trend good?
I even get to make the case for not just open borders, but desert itself:
CAPLAN: I am old-fashioned enough to like the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. Right now, we have a lot of very expensive government programs that give money to everybody eventually. Old-age programs. Social Security writes checks to Bill Gates
like anybody else. Again, to me, this is insane! Why tax everybody to
pay for them in a situation that everybody knows they’ll eventually
reach, as long as they don’t die young? Thinking about kids and the
elderly in the same breath is crazy. You’re born an orphan and there’s
nothing you could have done about that. That’s totally not your fault.
But if you are starving when you’re elderly, then there’s a question:
why didn’t you plan for this, which was totally foreseeable in every