The weekend homework reading and thinking assignment for all the Bernie Sanders college supporters, including many of their parents, as well as all other concerned Americans, is the uplifting essay Why the West (and the Rest) Got Rich.
It is subtitled 'The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has one primary source: the liberation of ordinary people to pursue their economic betterment.'
Selected excerpts follow:
Why are we so rich? An American earns, on average, $130 a day, which
puts the U.S. in the highest rank of the league table. China sits at $20
a day (in real, purchasing-power adjusted income) and India at $10,
even after their emergence in recent decades from a crippling socialism
of $1 a day. After a few more generations of economic betterment, tested
in trade, they will be rich, too.
Actually, the “we” of
comparative enrichment includes most countries nowadays, with sad
exceptions. Two centuries ago, the average world income per human (in
present-day prices) was about $3 a day. It had been so since we lived in
caves. Now it is $33 a day—which is Brazil’s current level and the
level of the U.S. in 1940. Over the past 200 years, the average real
income per person—including even such present-day tragedies as Chad and
North Korea—has grown by a factor of 10. It is stunning. In countries
that adopted trade and economic betterment wholeheartedly, like Japan,
Sweden and the U.S., it is more like a factor of 30—even more stunning.
these figures don’t take into account the radical improvement since
1800 in commonly available goods and services. Today’s concerns over the
stagnation of real wages in the U.S. and other developed economies are
overblown if put in historical perspective. . . .
Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever
happened before.... A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account
everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the
question. Until it happened. . . .
What enriched the modern world wasn’t capital stolen from workers or
capital virtuously saved, nor was it institutions for routinely
accumulating it. Capital and the rule of law were necessary, of course,
but so was a labor force and liquid water and the arrow of time.
capital became productive because of ideas for betterment—ideas enacted
by a country carpenter or a boy telegrapher or a teenage Seattle
computer whiz. . . .
The ideas sufficed. Once we had the ideas for railroads or air
conditioning or the modern research university, getting the wherewithal
to do them was comparatively simple, because they were so obviously
profitable. . . .
The answer, in a word, is “liberty.” Liberated people, it turns out, are
ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a
hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. . . .
You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To
use another big concept, what came—slowly, imperfectly—was equality. It
was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled “French” in
honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, “Scottish,” in honor of David Hume
and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity.
It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was,
as Smith put it, “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own
way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.” . . .
Economists and historians from left, right and center cannot explain the
Great Enrichment. Perhaps their sciences need revision, toward a
“humanomics” that takes ideas seriously. Humanomics doesn’t abandon the
economics of arbitrage or entry, or the math of elasticities of demand,
or the statistics of regression analysis. But it adds the study of words
and meaning and their stunning contribution to our enrichment.
What public policy to further this revolution? As little as is
prudent. As Adam Smith said, “it is the highest impertinence…in kings
and ministers to pretend to watch over the economy of private people.”
We certainly can tax ourselves to give a hand up to the poor. Smith
himself gave to the poor with a liberal hand. The liberalism of a
Christian, or for that matter of a Jew, Muslim or Hindu, recommends it.
But note, too, that 95% of the enrichment of the poor since 1800 has
come not from charity but from a more productive economy."
Facts are stubborn things.
They're worth knowing as well.
And the truth is worth spreading.
It's all about freedom, human nature and equality.
And it's not all about the government or our so-called political leaders.
We the People are the key.
That's my take.