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TRUMP EFFECT: Incomes Hit Record High and Poverty Reached Record Low in 2019

There is no one on G-d’s green earth better equipped to get us right back than the great man who delivered these momentous gains.

NEW: Incomes hit record high and poverty reached record low in 2019

American households saw their best economic gains in half a century last year under President Trump, according to a report this week from the Census Bureau.And with the President’s pro-growth, pro-worker policies in action, this standard can be achieved again as America safely reopens from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Median household income grew by a stunning $4,400 in 2019, resulting in an all-time record of $68,700. This 6.8 percent one-year increase is the largest gain on record for median income growth.

The poverty rate plunged to an all-time low of 10.5 percent, as well. Between 2018 and 2019 alone, over 4 million Americans were lifted out of poverty, and the child poverty

Minority groups including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans saw the largest gains in income, while poverty rates fell to a record low for every race and ethnic group in 2019.

Black Americans, for example, saw a 7.9 percent median income increase and a poverty rate that fell below 20 percent for the first time in history.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted this historic progress in 2020. Nevertheless, America today is witnessing the fastest recovery from any economic crisis in history. Thanks to the strong fundamentals of the Trump Economy, the monthly jobs report has met or exceeded economist expectations for four months in a row.

The new Census report confirms what we know to be true: With the right agenda for blue-collar and middle-class workers, there’s no limit to America’s economic greatness!


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EDITORS NOTE: This Geller Report column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

Overpopulation is an Environmental Red Herring

It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that 2020 has been an interesting year (in the sense of “May you live in interesting times”). Fires, plagues, floods, Presidential impeachment, global economic meltdown, lockdowns: this year has seen them all. And we’re only in September. Thank goodness there isn’t a major election coming up where some are predicting social breakdown in nearly every conceivable scenario or anything

It’s not quite dogs and cats living together in peace and harmony, but another sign that the end is nigh is that I find myself nodding along to an article of George Monbiot (greenie extraordinaire) in the Guardian. In it, Monbiot argues that blaming overpopulation for environmental concerns is a cop out, particularly for rich people in first world nations who get to lecture the third world on the need to have fewer children while they enjoy a lifestyle with a carbon footprint bigger than that of small central African nations.

As he states, the current population growth is overwhelmingly concentrated among the world’s poorest people. This means that a rising human population is only producing a tiny fraction of the extra resource use and greenhouse gas emissions due to consumption growth. Instead, we in the West should be turning our attention on our own behaviours (that latest iPhone, the plane trip to Davos to discuss climate change) rather than fretting about more Indian or African babies.

The example Monbiot gives of Dame Jane Goodall is a good one. She told the World Economic Forum in Davos that if only we had the same population as we did 500 years ago (500 million) then the current environmental issues would not be with us. The audience of course consisted of those with ecological footprints many thousand times greater than the global average. But the greater irony is that Goodall has previously appeared in British Airways advertising. If the world’s population was 500 million, and it was entirely composed of the average UK plane passenger, then our environmental impact would probably be greater than the 7.8 billion people alive today. When it comes to the environment, population size does not matter nearly as much as lifestyle.

Indeed, wishing that the world’s population was one-sixteenth its current size is the same as wishing for the moon and just as useless. Tut-tutting about more people being born over there saves us from having to worry about anything we are doing over here. It is environmental virtue-signalling.

Except when it leads to policy outcomes that are far worse than virtue-signalling. Population panic has led to barbaric, coercive population control measures in many countries throughout the world. And this is not an historical problem: UK foreign aid was helping to fund crude, dangerous and coercive sterilisation in India as recently as 2011, it was justified on the grounds that it was helping to “fight climate change”. (At the same time the UK aid was also pouring money into developing coal, gas and oil plants around the world…)

Of course, Monbiot could have been reading Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si in which the Holy Father said that:

“To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.”

And both Monbiot and Pope Francis had perhaps been reading this very blog, since nearly a decade ago I wrote of the thinly-veiled condescending bigotry underlying much of the West’s panic about overpopulation. Perhaps now that the more people are coming around to the view that the world’s population will stop growing in a few decades, we will see less insistence on the kinds of arguments Monbiot is railing against.

This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.

COLUMN BY

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and… .

RELATED ARTICLE: Grandma took her life yesterday. Her doctors helped her

EDITORS NOTE: This Mercator Net column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

Capitalism Is Good for the Poor by Steven Horwitz

Critics frequently accuse markets and capitalism of making life worse for the poor. This refrain is certainly common in the halls of left-leaning academia as well as in broader intellectual circles. But like so many other criticisms of capitalism, this one ignores the very real, and very available, facts of history.

Nothing has done more to lift humanity out of poverty than the market economy. This claim is true whether we are looking at a time span of decades or of centuries. The number of people worldwide living on less than about two dollars per day today is less than half of what it was in 1990. The biggest gains in the fight against poverty have occurred in countries that have opened up their markets, such as China and India.

If we look over the longer historical period, we can see that the trends today are just the continuation of capitalism’s victories in beating back poverty. For most of human history, we lived in a world of a few haves and lots of have-nots. That slowly began to change with the advent of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. As economic growth took off and spread throughout the population, it created our own world in the West in which there are a whole bunch of haves and a few have-more-and-betters.

For example, the percentage of American households below the poverty line who have basic appliances has grown steadily over the last few decades, with poor families in 2005 being more likely to own things like a clothes dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, or air conditioner than the average household was in 1971. And consumer items that didn’t even exist back then, such as cell phones, were owned by half of poor households in 2005 and are owned by a substantial majority of them today.

Capitalism has also made poor people’s lives far better by reducing infant and child mortality rates, not to mention maternal death rates during childbirth, and by extending life expectancies by decades.

Consider, too, the way capitalism’s engine of growth has enabled the planet to sustain almost 7 billion people, compared to 1 billion in 1800. As Deirdre McCloskey has noted, if you multiply the gains in consumption to the average human by the gain in life expectancy worldwide by 7 (for 7 billion as compared to 1 billion people), humanity as a whole is better off by a factor of around 120. That’s not 120 percent better off, but 120 times better off since 1800.

The competitive market process has also made education, art, and culture available to more and more people. Even the poorest of Americans, not to mention many of the global poor, have access through the Internet and TV to concerts, books, and works of art that were exclusively the province of the wealthy for centuries.

And in the wealthiest countries, the dynamics of capitalism have begun to change the very nature of work. Where once humans toiled for 14 hours per day at backbreaking outdoor labor, now an increasing number of us work inside in climate-controlled comfort. Our workday and workweek have shrunk thanks to the much higher value of labor that comes from working with productive capital. We spend a much smaller percentage of our lives working for pay, whether we’re rich or poor. And even with economic change, the incomes of the poor are much less variable, as they are not linked to the unpredictable changes in weather that are part and parcel of a predominantly agricultural economy long since disappeared.

Think of it this way: the fabulously wealthy kings of old had servants attending to their every need, but an impacted tooth would likely kill them. The poor in largely capitalist countries have access to a quality of medical care and a variety and quality of food that the ancient kings could only dream of.

Consider, too, that the working poor of London 100 years ago were, at best, able to split a pound of meat per week among all of their children, which were greater in number than the two or three of today. In addition, the whole family ate meat once a week on Sunday, the one day the man of the household was home for dinner. That was meat for a week.

Compare that to today, when we worry that poor Americans are too easily able to afford a meal with a quarter pound of meat in it every single day for less than an hour’s labor. Even if you think that capitalism has made poor people overweight, that’s a major accomplishment compared to the precapitalist norm of constant malnutrition and the struggle even 100 years ago for the working poor to get enough calories.

The reality is that the rich have always lived well historically, as for centuries they could commandeer human labor to attend to their every need. In a precapitalist world, the poor had no hope of upward mobility or of relief from the endless physical drudgery that barely kept them alive.

Today, the poor in capitalist countries live like kings, thanks mostly to the freeing of labor and the ability to accumulate capital that makes that labor more productive and enriches even the poorest. The falling cost of what were once luxuries and are now necessities, driven by the competitive market and its profit and loss signals, has brought labor-saving machines to the masses. When profit-seeking and innovation became acceptable behavior for the bourgeoisie, the horn of plenty brought forth its bounty, and even the poorest shared in that wealth.

Once people no longer needed permission to innovate, and once the value of new inventions was judged by the improvements they made to the lives of the masses in the form of profit and loss, the poor began to live lives of comfort and dignity.

These changes are not, as some would say, about technology. After all, the Soviets had great scientists but could not channel that knowledge into material comfort for their poor. And it’s not about natural resources, which is obvious today as resource-poor Hong Kong is among the richest countries in the world thanks to capitalism, while Venezuelan socialism has destroyed that resource-rich country.

Inventions only become innovations when the right institutions exist to make them improve the lives of the masses. That is what capitalism did and continues to do every single day. And that’s why capitalism has been so good for the poor.

Consider, finally, what happened when the Soviets decided to show the film version of The Grapes of Wrath as anticapitalist propaganda. In the novel and film, a poor American family is driven from their Depression-era home by the Dust Bowl. They get in their old car and make a horrifying journey in search of a better life in California. The Soviets had to stop showing the film after a short period because the Russian audiences were astonished that poor Americans were able to own a car.

Even anticapitalist propaganda can’t help but provide evidence that contradicts its own argument. The historical truth is clear: nothing has done more for the poor than capitalism.

Steven HorwitzSteven Horwitz

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions.

He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

2016 Is the Year of Inequality – And Prosperity by Chelsea German

This past weekend, the Economist uploaded a short video to its Facebook page called, “The year of the 1 percent.” The video shows a graph superimposed over the Earth seen from space, while a voice narrates, “2016 is set to be a more unequal world than ever before. For the first time, the richest 1 percent of the population will enjoy a greater share of global wealth than the other 99 percent.”

The Economist’s graph reminded me of another graph, which also shows two lines that eventually cross but tells a very different story. Despite population growth, there are fewer people living in extreme poverty today than ever before:

How can both graphs be accurate? Poverty can decline even as inequality rises, as long as the total amount of wealth in the world is growing.

To ignore this is to fall prey to the “fixed pie fallacy.” Throughout most of human history, global wealth hardly changed. But thanks to trade and industrialization, wealth has skyrocketed, especially since the 1900s, and continues to climb.

At the same time, technological advances have also increased human wellbeing in ways not captured by looking at GDP alone.

Because the pie is growing, focusing solely on inequality, like the Economist’s video does, makes little sense. Most of us would rather have a relatively small slice of a gigantic pie than the biggest slice of a microscopic pie.

In other words, most of us would rather be wealthier in absolute terms, regardless of our relative position. This is why many of us, if given the choice, would choose to be an ordinary person today, instead of a member of the upper crust a century ago or a 17th century king.

Cross-posted from HumanProgress.org.

Chelsea GermanChelsea German

Chelsea German works at the Cato Institute as a Researcher and Managing Editor of HumanProgress.org.

‘Could this be the year Europe dies’ as economic conditions drive a billion Africans North?

Klaus Schwab the founder of the World Economic Forum convening in Davos, Switzerland this week has a very scary prediction for the future of Europe.

Learn more here at American Resistance 2016!

See our complete ‘Invasion of Europe’ archive by clicking here.

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What Can the Rich Afford that Average Americans Can’t? by Donald J. Boudreaux

Raffi Melkonian asks — as relayed by my colleague Tyler Cowen — “When can median income consumers afford the very best?”

Tyler offers a list of some of the items in the modern, market-oriented world that are as high-quality as such items get and yet are easily affordable to ordinary people. This list includes iPhones, books, and rutabagas. Indeed, this list includes nearly all foods for use in preparing home snacks and meals. I doubt very much that Bill Gates and Larry Ellison munch at home on foods — such as carrots, blueberries, peanuts, and scrambled eggs — that an ordinary American cannot easily afford to enjoy at home.

This list includes also non-prescription pain relievers, most other first-aid medicines and devices such as Band-Aids, and personal-hygiene products such as toothpaste, dental floss, and toilet paper. (I once saw a billionaire take two Bayer aspirin — the identical pain reliever that I use.) This list includes also gasoline and diesel. Probably also contact lenses.

A slightly different list can be drawn up in response to this question: When can median-income consumers afford products that, while not as high-quality as those versions that are bought by the super-rich, are nevertheless virtually indistinguishable — because they are quite close in quality — to the naked eye from those versions bought by the super-rich?

On this list would be most clothing. For example, an ordinary American man can today afford a suit that, while it’s neither tailor-made nor of a fabric as fine as are suits that I suspect are worn by most billionaires, is nevertheless close enough in fit and fabric quality to be indistinguishable by the naked eye from expensive suits worn by billionaires. (I suspect that the same is true for women’s clothing, but I’m less expert on that topic.)

Ditto for shoes, underwear, haircuts, corrective eye-wear, collars for dogs and cats, pet food, household bath towels and “linens,” tableware and cutlery, automobile tires, hand tools, most household furniture, and wristwatches.

(You’d have to get physically very close to someone wearing a Patek Philippe — and you’d have to know what a Patek Philippe is — in order to determine that that person’s wristwatch is one that you, an ordinary American, can’t afford. And you could stare at that Patek Philippe for months without detecting any superiority that it might have over your quartz-powered Timex at keeping time.)

Coffee. Tea. Beer. Wine. (There is available today a large selection of very good wines at affordable prices. These wines almost never rise to the quality of Chateau Petrus, d’yquem, or the best Montrachets, but the differences are often quite small and barely distinguishable save by true connoisseurs.)

Indeed, the more one ponders this question relayed by Tyler, the more one suspects that the shorter list would be one drawn up in response to this question: When can high-income consumers afford what median-income consumers cannot?

Such a list, of course, would be far from empty. It would include private air travel, beachfront homes, regular vacations in Tahiti and Davos, private suites at sports arenas, luxury automobiles, rooms at the Ritz, original Picassos and Warhols. (It would, by the way, include also invitations to White House dinners and private lunches with rent-creating senators, governors, and mayors.)

But I’ll bet that this latter list would be shorter than one made up in response to the question relayed by Tyler combined with one drawn up in response to the question that I pose above in the third paragraph (call this list “the combined list”).

And whether shorter or not, what other germane characteristics might distinguish the items on this last list from the combined list?

A version of this post first appeared at Cafe Hayek.

Donald J. BoudreauxDonald J. Boudreaux

Donald Boudreaux is asenior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University and, a former FEE president.

Social Science and the Nuclear Family by Steven Horwitz

The question of the importance of family structure, specifically marriage, is back in the limelight. Conservatives are promoting three papers that provide some strong evidence that children raised by married parents do better along a number of dimensions than those raised in other household forms.

For many commentators, this makes for a strong case against those who appear to claim that family structure has either a minimal effect or doesn’t matter at all. As someone who might well fall into that group, or at least appear to, I think there are several responses to these new studies, all of which can acknowledge the empirical evidence that being raised by two loving parents is better for kids than alternative family structures.

One side note: conservatives might wish to not use the term “family structure denialists” as Wilcox does in the link above.

Comparing a legitimate disagreement over empirical evidence and public policy to those who would deny the overwhelming evidence of the Holocaust is an unacceptable rhetorical move whether it comes from leftists speaking of “climate change deniers” or conservatives speaking of “family structure deniers.” The disagreements in both case are legitimate objects of intellectual discussion and the language of “denier” indicates a refusal to engage in good faith debate.

On the substance of this issue, the conservatives cheering these recent studies don’t always note that there are differences among single-parent households formed through: 1) the choice to have and raise a child by oneself; 2) death of a spouse; and 3) divorce. Each of these presents a different set of circumstances and tradeoffs that we might wish to consider when we think about the role of family structure.

The conservative defenders of the superiority of the two-parent family (and it’s presumably not just “two parents” but two parents of the opposite sex, which raises a whole other set of questions), might wish to disentangle the multiple reasons such a family structure might not be present. For example, the children of widows do better than those of women who choose not to marry the fathers of their children, and the children of widows have outcomes that look more like those of kids from two-parent families.

The empirical evidence under discussion has to be understood with an “all else equal” condition. A healthy marriage will indeed produce better outcomes than, say, single motherhood. But there is equally strong social scientific evidence about the harm done to children who are raised in high-conflict households. Those children may well be better off if their parents get divorced and they are raised in two single-parent households with less conflict.

When parents in high-conflict marriages split up, the reduction in their stress levels, especially for women, leads to improved relationships with their children and better outcomes for the kids. In general, comparisons of different types of family structures must avoid the “Nirvana Fallacy” by not comparing an idealized vision of married parenthood with a more realistic perspective on single parenthood. The choices facing couples in the real world are always about comparing imperfect alternatives.

In addition, to say that married parents create “better” outcomes for kids does not mean that other family forms don’t produce “acceptable” outcomes for kids. It’s not as if every child raised by a single mother, whether through divorce, widowhood, or simply not marrying the father, is condemned to poverty or a life of crime.

Averages are averages. Though these three recent studies do continue to confirm the existing literature’s consensus that marriage is “better” for kids, there is still much debate over how much better those outcomes are, and especially whether other family structures are or are not sufficient to raise functional adults.

And this leads to the next point, which is that parents matter too.

The focus of the “family structure matters” crowd is almost exclusively on the outcomes for kids. That parents matter too is most obvious with divorce, where leaving a bad marriage may be extremely valuable for mom and/or dad, even if it leads to worse outcomes for the kids. The evidence from Stevenson and Wolfers that no-fault divorce has led to a decline in intimate partner violence, as well as suicides of married women, makes the importance of this point clear.

We can acknowledge that higher divorce rates have not been good for kids, but we can’t do single-entry moral bookkeeping. We have to include the effects of divorce on the married couple, because adults matter too. When we add this to the idea that conflict in marriage is bad for kids, the increased ease with which adults can get out of marriages, and the resulting single parenthood, is not so clearly a net problem when we consider the well-being of both children and adults.

These calculations are complicated and idiosyncratic, which seems to suggest that they should be left to those with the best knowledge of the situation and not artificially encouraged or discouraged by public policy.

This last point raises the final question, which is what do these studies mean for public policy?

If two-parent families are better than the alternatives, what does this imply? Are conservatives suggesting that we subsidize couples who have kids? Should that apply to only biological parents and not adoptive ones? Isn’t this a case for same-sex marriage? Should we make divorce more difficult, and if so, what about the probable result that doing so would reduce the number of marriages by increasing the cost of exit?

I would certainly agree that we should stop subsidizing single-parenthood through various government programs, but I’d make the same argument about two-parent families as well. In any case, what’s not clear is what the conservatives trumpeting these studies think they mean for public policy.

Perhaps, though, they think the solutions are cultural. If conservatives wish to argue that these studies mean that we should use moral suasion and intermediary institutions such as houses of worship to encourage people to marry and stay married if they wish to have kids, or that we should encourage young people to use contraception and think more carefully about when and with whom they have sex, that’s fine. And in fact, teen pregnancies are down.

But if intermediary institutions can do all of that, then they can also play a key role in helping single parents who make the difficult decision to divorce or continue a pregnancy in the complicated circumstances of their lives. Such institutions will also likely do that more effectively than can the state.

So if we are genuinely concerned about single parenthood, we should be asking what are the best ways to deal with it. Libertarians like me might well agree with such conservatives if they think the solutions are cultural or should rest in the hands of such intermediate institutions. But if they think there are public policy solutions, particularly ones that limit or penalize the choices facing couples, I wish they would spell them out explicitly in the context of their discussions of these studies.

One last thought: It ill-serves libertarians to deny the results of good science and social science, whether it’s climate change from the left or family structure from the right. We should, of course, critically interrogate that work to make sure that it is, in fact, good. But if it is good, we should welcome it as we should first be concerned with the truth and not our ideological priors.

The next questions we should ask, however, are about the implications. In the case of these recent studies on family structure, it is incumbent upon us to assess both the quality of the work and its implications, and we should pay particular attention to what is not being seen and what questions are not being asked.

Just because one family structure is better for children all else equal means neither that other family structures aren’t good enough for kids, nor that all else is always equal, nor that we shouldn’t consider the well-being of adults when we discuss the consequences of alternative family structures.

This post first appeared at the excellent philosophy blog Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

Steven Horwitz
Steven Horwitz

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Microfoundations and Macroeconomics: An Austrian Perspective, now in paperback.

Bernie Sanders and the Fixed Pie Fallacy by Chelsea German

“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” Senator Bernie Sanders first said those words in 1974 and has been repeating them ever since.

Senator Sanders is not alone in his belief. Three out of four Americans agree with the statement, “Today it’s really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.”

Senator Sanders is half right: the rich are getting richer. However, his assertion that the poor are becoming poorer is incorrect. The poor are becoming richer as well.

Economist Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institute showed that between 1979 and 2010, the real (inflation-adjusted) after-tax income of the top 1% of U.S. income-earners grew by an impressive 202%.

He also showed that the real after-tax income of the bottom fifth of income-earners grew by 49%. All groups made real income gains. While the rich are making gains at a faster pace, both the rich and the poor are in fact becoming richer.

label

In addition to these measurable real income gains, decreases in prices have given the poor increased purchasing power, helping to raise living standards for the worst off in society. As a result of falling prices such as for groceries and material goods, along with gains in real income, Americans have more income left after basic expenses.

Technology has also become cheaper, improving our lives in unexpected ways. For example, consider the spread of cell phones. There was a time when only the wealthiest Americans could afford one. Today, over 98% of Americans have a cellular subscription, and the rise of smart phones has made these devices more useful than ever.

Unfortunately, progress has been uneven. In those areas of the economy where competition is hobbled, such as education, housing, and healthcare, prices continue to increase.

Still, the percentage of the population classified as living in relative poverty has decreased over time. Why then do three quarters of Americans, including Senator Sanders, believe that the poor are “getting poorer?”

A simple logical error underlies Sanders’ belief. If we assume that wealth is a fixed pie, then the more slices the rich get, the fewer are left over for the poor. In other words, people can only better themselves at the expense of others. In the world of the fixed pie, if we observe the rich becoming richer, then it must be because other people are becoming poorer.

Fortunately, in the real world, the pie is not fixed. US GDP is growing, and it’s growing faster than the population.

Poverty remains a pressing issue, but Senator Sanders is incorrect when he says that the poor are becoming poorer. In the words of HumanProgress.org advisory board member Professor Deirdre McCloskey,

The rich got richer, true. But millions more have gas heating, cars, smallpox vaccinations, indoor plumbing, cheap travelrights for womenlower child mortalityadequate nutrition, taller bodies, doubled life expectancyschooling for their kids, newspapers, a vote, a shot at university, and respect.

This post first appeared at HumanProgress.org.

Chelsea German

Chelsea German

Chelsea German works at the Cato Institute as a Researcher and Managing Editor of HumanProgress.org.

Pope Francis’s Graph of the Day by Ian Vásquez

As the Argentine Pope, ever critical of capitalism, visits the United States, my colleagues at HumanProgress.org have posted this graph.

pope graph

It shows that in 1896, income per person in the United States and Argentina, two of the richest countries in the world, was about identical. Argentina subsequently eschewed the free market, replacing it with trade protectionism and other corporatist policies intended to help the poor by redistributing wealth. By 2010, Argentine income was a third of that of the United States.

Perhaps Pope Francis doesn’t endorse Argentine economic policies, but having just arrived from Cuba, he missed an opportunity to denounce the lack of freedoms that have kept that island and other Latin American countries poor and repressed. He met with none of the many admirable Cuban dissidents, in or out of prison, who have been peacefully advocating basic rights. Nor did he mention the plight of the Cuban people they represent, even as authorities arrested or detained 250 Cuban activists during his visit.

The Cuban Forum for Rights and Liberties (Foro por los Derechos y Libertades), an independent group of dissidents in Cuba, summed up how it felt about, and experienced, the Pope’s visit. It read, in part:

We human rights activists, regime opponents and independent journalists have experienced days full of threats, harassment, telephone connections being cut off, homes besieged by the authorities, and violent, arbitrary arrests.

The behavior of the regime was expected. However, the position of the church has been surprising.

The exaggerated and repeated shows of approval of the dictatorship, the silence toward its excesses, and the refusal to hear dissident voices have created broad discontent among Cuban believers and non-believers both within and outside of the island.

The group might have added that the disappointment has spread more widely in the Americas.

This post first appeared at Cato.org.

Ian Vásquez

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VIDEO: Why Wouldn’t You Save a Drowning Child? by Matt Zwolinski

Would you lose $500 to save a drowning child? We explore a thought experiment that just may save someone’s life.

Imagine you’re walking to work in the morning down a quiet rural road to the side of the road there’s a pond and pass by every day. Only today, something is different. Today you see a small child in that pond.

He is alone, he’s flailing his arms, and if you don’t act quickly it looks like he is going to drown. Luckily, the pond is shallow. You can wade in, grab the child, and bring him to safety without putting yourself in any danger at all.

Unluckily, you’re wearing a very expensive set of clothes, and there just isn’t enough time to take them off. So even though saving the child is perfectly safe, it is going to cost you at least $500 to replace your suit and shoes. There’s no one else around, so the decision is yours alone to make.

Do you wade in, save the child, and ruin your expensive clothes? Or do you decide that $500 just too high a price to pay for the life of someone you don’t even know and walk on by.

If you’re like most people, the answer is obvious. Of course you save the child. Anyone that would would let us small child die just to keep their nice clothes from getting wet would be a moral monster. As peter singer, the philosopher who originated this drowning child thought experiment argued, if you had the power to prevent something really bad from happening to someone else just by suffering something merely slightly bad yourself, then “taking the hit” is the right thing to do.

Now of course most of us will never come across a drowning child on her way to work but all of us do find ourselves living in a world where over six million children die each year from preventable causes. And while none of us have the power to help all of those children, almost all of us have the power to help some of them. By donating a small amount of money much less than $500 to an effective charity through a site like GiveWell.org, you could literally save someone’s life. But that brings up another question.

How do we make sure aid efforts do the most good and the least harm?

Matt Zwolinski
Matt Zwolinski

Matt Zwolinski is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Diego. He is also a co-director of USD’s Institute for Law and Philosophy, a member of the editorial board of Business Ethics Quarterly, and a blogger for Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

The Pope’s Misplaced Focus

Pope John Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S. is generating quite a bit of excitement here, especially among his Catholic faithful.  But for me and many others, his visit is generating consternation, not excitement.

Usually, most people tend to have great respect and affection for the Pope.  He is usually viewed by the public as a beacon of moral guidance, even for those who are non-Catholics.  This is definitely a view I once had of previous Popes.

But I must admit that my respect for this current Pope, John Francis is somewhat diminished.

I am totally confused by his constant advocating for policies that goes against the Catholic Church’s own teachings.  On the issue of homosexuality his position is, “Who are we to judge?”  Though church doctrine is very clear on this issue.

He is a fanatical supporter of open borders; in his view people have an inherent right to enter illegally into any country they choose as long as the ends justify the means.

He rabidly promotes theories in support of global warming, despite the fact that he is one of the biggest contributors to it.  When the Pope travels, he normally charters an Alitalia A320 jet.  It is estimated that the pope travels about 100,000 miles per year.  So this means based on the type of plane the Pope flies, he emits 20 pounds of CO2 for every mile of flight which is 2,000,000 pounds a year.

Every denomination has their own precepts that their members must abide by.  Likewise, nations have laws that their citizens or visitors must abide by.

Poverty or wanting a better life is not sufficient reason for people to break our laws to enter into our country.  The Pope expects Catholics to abide by the rules of Catholicism; so why should America expect anything less from those who seek entry into our country?

So, by the Pope’s standard I, as a Baptist, should still be able to participate in all things Catholic; even though I don’t adhere to Catholicism.

The Pope, in many ways, is operating just like Obama is in the U.S.  They both are picking and choosing which rules and laws they want to abide by.

Forgive me for not being able to get beyond the fact that the Pope has spent very little time dealing with the child abuse that has taken place in his church; but yet he seems to have plenty of time to meet with illegals, homosexuals and promote global warming

Am I the only one who finds it offensive that the Pope will be meeting with some of those in the U.S. illegally, but will not be meeting with families that have had family members killed, raped, or maimed by illegals?

Am I the only one who finds it offensive that the Pope will not be meeting with any of the victims of sexual abuse from within the Catholic Church?

Am I the only one who finds it offensive that the Pope constantly talks about income inequality and the need for employers to pay their employees more money; but he has never discussed what is the obligation of employees to their employers (more productivity and more efficiency, etc.)?

The Pope should not be aligned to a political agenda, but rather what is right or wrong.

America has no moral obligation to allow those who enter our country illegally to stay in our country no more so than the Pope allowing someone who refuses to abide by the rules of Catholicism should be allowed to say they are a member of the Catholic Church.

Furthermore, the Bible is very clear, a man’s first responsibility is for the well being of his family, not his neighbor’s family.

The Pope seems to be on a global tour to promote an entitlement agenda as opposed to being a beacon for right and wrong.  Even if you are poor and downtrodden, you still are responsible for being responsible.

Many of the illegals coming to the U.S. are having children that they can’t afford to provide for.  How many speeches has the Pope given on individual responsibility?

How many speeches has the Pope given on the need to fire and prosecute every priest that has molested or covered up sexual abuse of kids in the Catholic Church?

How many speeches has the Pope given about what are an employee’s obligations to his employer?

I really believe the Pope’s heart is in the right place, but the issues he is focusing on should be subservient to the more critical issues listed above.

I definitely think the church can and should play a constructive role in our society, especially to those who are in need.  In many respects, I think the faith community is better equipped to deal with a lot of the social ills of our society than our government is.

But the Pope cannot shine the light on my darkness until he is first willing to shine the light on his on darkness.  Until then, the Pope’s moral compass is pointing in the wrong direction.

Environmental Doom-mongering and the Myth of Vanishing Resources by Chelsea German

Media outlets ranging from Newsweek and Time, to National Geographic and even the Weather Channel, all recently ran articles on the so-called “Overshoot Day,” which is defined by its official website as the day of the year

When humanity’s annual demand for the goods and services that our land and seas can provide — fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, and carbon dioxide absorption — exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can renew in a year.

This year, the world allegedly reached the Overshoot Day on August 13th. Overshoot Day’s proponents claim that, having used up our ecological “budget” for the year and entered into “deficit spending,” all consumption after August 13th is unsustainable.

Let’s look at the data concerning resources that, according to Overshoot Day’s definition, we are consuming unsustainably. (We’ll leave aside carbon dioxide absorption — as that issue is more complex — and focus on all the other resources).

Fruits and vegetables

Since millions of people rose from extreme poverty and starvation over the past few decades, the world is consuming more fruits and vegetables than before. We are also producing more fruits and vegetables per person than before. That is, partly, because of increasing yields, which allow us to extract more food from less land. Consider vegetable yields:

Meat and fish

As people in developing countries grow richer, they consume more protein (i.e., meat). The supply of meat and fish per person is rising to meet the increased demand, just as with fruits and vegetables. Overall dietary supply adequacy is, therefore, increasing.

Wood

It is true that the world is losing forest area, but there is cause for optimism. The United States has more forest area today than it did in 1990.

As Ronald Bailey says in his new book The End of Doom, “In fact, except in the cases of India and Brazil, globally the forests of the world have increased by about 2 percent since 1990.”

As the people of India and Brazil grow wealthier and as new forest-sparing technologies spread, those countries will likely follow suit. To quote Jesse H. Ausubel:

Fortunately, the twentieth century witnessed the start of a “Great Restoration” of the world’s forests. Efficient farmers and foresters are learning to spare forestland by growing more food and fiber in ever-smaller areas. Meanwhile, increased use of metals, plastics, and electricity has eased the need for timber. And recycling has cut the amount of virgin wood pulped into paper.

Although the size and wealth of the human population has shot up, the area of farm and forestland that must be dedicated to feed, heat, and house this population is shrinking. Slowly, trees can return to the liberated land.

Cotton

Cotton yields are also increasing — as is the case with so many other crops. Not only does this mean that we will not “run out” of cotton (as the Overshoot Day proponents might have you believe), but it also means consumers can buy cheaper clothing.

Please consider the graph below, showing U.S. cotton yields rising and cotton prices falling.

While it is true that humankind is consuming more, innovations such as GMOs and synthetic fertilizers are also allowing us to produce more. Predictions of natural resource depletion are not new.

Consider the famous bet between the environmentalist Paul Ehrlich and economist Julian Simon: Ehrlich bet that the prices of five essential metals would rise as the metals became scarcer, exhausted by the needs of a growing population. Simon bet that human ingenuity would rise to the challenge of growing demand, and that the metals would decrease in price over time. Simon and human ingenuity won in the end. (Later, the prices of many metals and minerals did increase, as rapidly developing countries drove up demand, but those prices are starting to come back down again).

To date, humankind has never exhausted a single natural resource. To learn more about why predictions of doom are often exaggerated, consider watching Cato’s recent book forum, The End of Doom.

A version of this post first appeared at Cato.org.

Chelsea German

Chelsea German

Chelsea German works at the Cato Institute as a Researcher and Managing Editor of HumanProgress.org.

RELATED ARTICLE: EPA’s Hightest Paid Employee, “Climate Change Expert,” Sentenced to 32 Months for Fraud, Says Lying Was a ‘Rush’

How Minimum Wages Discourage Entrepreneurship by Donald J. Boudreaux

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Brian Collins asks, “Do you truly believe that absent any increase in the minimum wage that Wendy’s or any other business will suspend efforts to develop and implement new forms of automation that promise to reduce staff levels?”

The answer is “no.” Contrary to Mr. Collins’s implication, however, this fact does nothing to excuse raising the minimum wage.

Even in a world in which market forces naturally promote automation, raising the minimum wage has two pernicious effects.

First, it causes the rate of automation to be faster than it would be if the minimum wage were not raised. That is, raising the minimum wage results in automation being introduced at a rate that is too fast given the size of the low-skilled labor force.

Second, raising the minimum wage destroys incentives for entrepreneurs and businesses to find ways to profitably employ workers whose limited skills prevent them from producing hourly outputs valued at least as high as the minimum wage.

The first effect throws some low-skilled workers out of jobs that they would otherwise retain, while the second effect ensures that no one has incentives to find ways to profitably employ these and other low-skilled workers.

If it is inhumane to outlaw the profitable employment of those workers whose skills are the least valuable, then the minimum wage is deeply inhumane.

If the government instituted a minimum wage of $100 per hour and, therefore, made unlawful the profitable employment of all those people whose skills are too meager to enable them to produce at least $100 worth of output per hour, there would be a national uproar — and rightly so.

Yet when the government implements such a policy but in a way that outlaws the profitable employment only of people whose skill-sets are among thelowest, relatively few people object and many people — especially “Progressives” — applaud the policy as humane.

How sad. And how especially sad that many economists today, who above all should know better, lend their authority to such an inhumane policy.

A version of this letter first appeared at Café Hayek.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald Boudreaux is a professor of economics at George Mason University, a former FEE president, and the author of Hypocrites and Half-Wits.

The War on Air Conditioning Heats Up: Is Climate Control Immoral? by Sarah Skwire

It started with the pope. In his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, he singled out air conditioning as a particularly good example of wasteful habits and excessive consumption that overcome our better natures:

People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning.

Now, it seems to be open season on air conditioning. From a raging Facebook debate over an article that claims that air conditioning is an oppressive tool of the patriarchy to an article in the Washington Post that calls the American use of air conditioning an “addiction” and compares it unfavorably to the European willingness to sweat through the heat of summer, air conditioning is under attack. So I want to defend it.

Understand that when I defend air conditioning, I do so as something of a reluctant proponent. I grew up in the Midwest, and I have always loved sitting on the screened-in porch, rocking on the porch swing, drinking a glass of something cold. I worked in Key West during the summer after my sophomore year of college, lived in an apartment with no air conditioning, and discovered the enormous value of ceiling fans. A lazy, hot summer day can be a real pleasure.

However, let’s not kid ourselves. There were frequent nights in my childhood when it was just too hot to sleep, and the entire family would hunker down in the one air-conditioned room of the house — my father’s attic study — to cool off at night. When we moved from that house to a place that had central air, none of us complained.

And after my recent article on home canning, my friend Kathryn wrote to say,

When I was growing up in the Deep South, everybody I knew had a garden, shelled beans and peas, and canned. It could have been an Olympic event. What I remember most — besides how good the food was — is how hot it was, all those hours spent over huge pots of boiling something or other on the stove in a house with no air conditioning.

There’s a lot to be said for being able to cook in comfort and to enjoy the screened-in porch by choice rather than necessity. Making your family more comfortable is one of the great advantages of an increasingly wealthy society, after all.

So when I read that the US Department of Energy says that you can save about 11 percent on your electric bill by raising the thermostat from 72 to 77 degrees, mostly I want to invite the Department of Energy to come over to my 1929 bungalow and see if they can get any sleep in my refinished attic bedroom when the thermostat is set to 77 degrees, but the room temperature is a cozy 80-something.

And when I read Petula Dvorak arguing that air conditioning is a tool of sexism because “all these women [are freezing] who actually dress for the season — linens, sundresses, flowy silk shirts, short-sleeve tops — changing their wardrobes to fit the sweltering temperatures around them. … And then there are the men, stalwart in their business armor, manipulating their environment for their own comfort, heaven forbid they make any adjustments in what they wear,” mostly I want to ask her if she’s read the dress codes for most professional offices. In my office, women can wear sleeveless tops and open-toed shoes in the summer. Men have to wear a jacket and tie. Air conditioning isn’t sexist. Modern dress codes very well might be.

But arguments based on nostalgia or gender are mostly easily dismissed. Moral arguments, like those made by Pope Francis or by those who are concerned about the environmental and energy impact of air conditioning, are more serious and require real attention.

Is it immoral to use air conditioning?

Pope Francis certainly suggests it is. And the article in the Washington Post that compares US and European air conditioning use agrees, suggesting that the United States prefers the short-term benefits of air conditioning over the long-term dangers of potential global warming — and that our air conditioning use “will make it harder for the US to ask other countries to continue to abstain from using it to save energy.” We are meant to be deeply concerned about the global environmental impact as countries like India, Indonesia, and Brazil become wealthy enough to afford widespread air conditioning. We are meant to set a good example.

But two months before the Washington Post worried that the United States has made it difficult to persuade India not to use air conditioning, 2,500 Indians died in one of the worst heat waves in the country’s history. This June, 780 people died in a four-day heat wave in Karachi, Pakistan. And in 2003, a heat wave that spanned Europe killed 70,000. Meanwhile, in the United States, heat causes an average of only 618 deaths per year, and the more than 5,000 North American deaths in the un-air-conditioned days of 1936 remain a grim outlier.

Air conditioning is not immoral. Possessing a technology that can prevent mortality numbers like these and not using it? That’s immoral.

Air conditioning is, for most of us, a small summertime luxury. For others, it is a life-saving necessity. I am sure that it has environmental effects. Benefits always have costs, and there’s no such thing as a free climate-controlled lunch. But rather than addressing those costs by trying to limit the use of air conditioning and by insisting that developing nations not use the technologies that rocketed the developed world to success, perhaps we should be focusing on innovating new kinds of air conditioning that can keep us cool at a lesser cost.

I bet the kids who will invent that technology have already been born. I pray that they do not die in a heat wave before they can share it with us.


Sarah Skwire

Sarah Skwire is a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis.

Leftists Use Black Lives Matter to Exploit Blacks, Again

animals versus human babyRecently, my black brother shared an unfortunate incident. Years ago, police in two unmarked cars blocked his car. They jumped out pointing guns, demanding that he exit his car. My brother immediately raised his hands, but did not exit his car because he was frozen with fear. An officer pulled him out of his car onto the ground. My brother said, “Calm down! I am not resisting!”

After checking him out, the officers realized he was not their suspect. Rather than sending my brother on his way with an apology, the police framed him. My brother had an unopened six pack of beer on the floor. An officer opened one of the beers and said, “You’re under arrest for drunk driving.” The bogus charge did not stick and my brother was released hours later, angry, with a bitter taste in his mouth.

Ironically, my brother’s reason for telling me about the incident was to defend the police in the recent shooting and arrests covered 24/7 on CNN. He said the cops who framed him were a few bad apples which are everywhere in every profession. Amen to that. Jesus had 12 disciples and one was a bad apple. My brother made the point that he was not harmed because he submitted to the police’s authority. He noted that the blacks in the videos shown on TV did not submit to the police.

My brother’s point is correct. In each incident caught on video in which people are second-guessing officer’s behavior, bad outcomes could have been avoided had the persons simply respected authority and complied.

A friend of mine is a veteran Baltimore black cop. He told me upon arriving at a scene, a cop must immediately take control of the situation. If not, the cop could end up dead – stabbed in the back by a weepy girlfriend or mom. The most hazardous part of a police officer’s job is the routine traffic stop; 62 officers killed 2002- 2011.

Democrats, CNN and other liberal bias media have an insidiously evil agenda to convince black America that Republicans, conservatives and police are out to get them. These Leftists would love to feature my brother’s bad boy cops story 24/7; claiming the cops were unequivocally motivated by white racism.

Meanwhile, the Left avoids experiences like mine with police like the plague. In the 80’s, an interracial couple robbed a bank, their description matching my wife, me and our car. Police surrounded our car with guns drawn and ordered us out of our car. We complied. They checked us out, apologized and went on their way. We were stopped on another occasion years later. Again, the officers were respectful and professional.

black lives matter bill boardAs a young adult, my cousins wife called me in a panic to their home in the hood. My black cousin had a nervous breakdown. He held their two toddler sons hostage in the basement, threatening to kill himself and their boys. First on the scene were two white cops – one young and fit, the other much older and morbidly obese. Masterfully, the old obese cop gained my cousin’s trust and talked him out of the basement. “C’mon son, I know life gets tough, but you don’t want to do this.” My cousin was arrested, given the mental health assistance he needed and was later released. My cousin is alive, well and a great dad.

Folks, cops kill whites at almost double the rate of blacks. As a matter of fact, blacks are killed by blacks 93% of the time. The Left does not want you to know the biggest threat to black lives is other blacks. Despite the Left’s Black Lives Matter (blame and hate white America) movement, incidents of blacks killing blacks are on the rise.

The Left is ignoring the stunning numbers of blacks murdered in Chicago by blacks.

In July, Baltimore homicides reached its highest in 43 years, up 60%. 

The mainstream media deliberately creating the false impression that cops are the biggest threat to blacks is reprehensible. Proving they do not give a rat’s derriere about blacks, the Left refuses to address real issues plaguing black America; multi-generational government dependency; increasing numbers of fatherless households; unprecedented high unemployment under Obama; epidemic school dropouts; black on black homicides and Leftist encouraged moral and cultural decline

White guys in white hoods, the Aryan nation nor cops are infiltrating black neighborhoods, victimizing residents and murdering blacks. The Left has been fooling blacks with its blame-everything-on-whitey tactic for decades; keeping blacks voting for their supposed Democrat saviors.

As young as 9 or 10, I realized the blame-everything-on-whitey excuse was a lie. My family lived on the sixth floor of a Baltimore project high-rise building. The elevators were often not working due to vandalism. The stairwells were pitch black due to broken light bulbs and smelled of urine. The crunch sound under foot echoing off the concrete walls was due to broken liquor bottles. I knew whites were not sneaking in at night, peeing in our stairwells.

Not to indict everyone who lived in the projects, some neighbors kept their apartments immaculate. Even as a child, I concluded that poverty (and ghetto) was a mindset rather than simply an absence of money.

The Black Lives Matter movement, “white privilege” and so on are founded on lies. They are despicable tools to exploit blacks’ emotions. These Leftist scams have resulted in what can be described as black terror cells. Police are assassinated, outbreaks of black flash mob attacks and innocent whites assaulted, raped and murdered.

Outrageously, Black Lives Matter thugs threaten to “shut down” the Republican National Convention. Notice the stupid, hateful and racist assumption that white Republicans are a threat to black lives? Imagine if the Tea Party announced a plan to shut down the Democrat National Convention. After recovering from multiple convulsions of pleasure from being given such an opportunity to demonize the Tea Party, Leftist media would bombard the public with 24/7 news coverage; branding the Tea Party racist, sexist and homophobic.

Rest assured, you will not hear any meaningful criticism from the MSM, Democrats or Obama regarding Black Lives Matter thugs arrogantly assaulting free speech. Quite the opposite. Leftists are behind the scene cheering on the Black Lives Matter thugs.

Wake up black America. The Left is playin’ y’all, again.