If you want to help the poor, you should read this

I agree with Mark Perry (an economist who has bought me a beer), of Carpe Diem, that the reduction in the world poverty rate is the most remarkable achievement in human history.

The percentage of the world population living on $1 per day or less has dropped since 1970 from around 26% to just over 5%.

It’s hard to argue with those results. They are inflation-adjusted.

I can think of a couple things that might be easier to argue about regarding those results.

1. I can imagine some folks would say that 5% isn’t good enough.

2. I can imagine that some folks would argue about the cause of those results. I agree with Perry’s explanation as provided by Arthur Brooks: “globalization, free trade and international entrepreneurship.”

I can imagine that some folks would say it was the growth in government and aid. But, for them, I’d ask, what if you’re wrong? As Brooks says:

…if you love the poor, if you are a good Samaritan, you must stand for the free enterprise system, and you must defend it, not just for ourselves but for people around the world. It is the best anti-poverty measure ever invented.

I agree. I could be wrong and I think — for the benefit of the poor — I should keep that in mind and stay open to evidence to the contrary, because whether I’m right or wrong doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

What is important it what really helps them.

I also think us supporters of free markets often forget this. The opposition paints us as the defenders of the rich, the “1%” and king-like CEOs, while we’re really advocating for the benefit of everyone, including the poor. 

Know your audience

Arthur Brooks made a great point in his Wall Street Journal opinion piece yesterday, Republicans and Their Faulty Moral Arithmetic.

Raging against government debt and tax rates that most Americans don’t pay gets conservatives nowhere, and it will always be an exercise in futility to compete with liberals on government spending and transfers.

Instead, the answer is to make improving the lives of vulnerable people the primary focus of authentically conservative policies. For example, the core problem with out-of-control entitlements is not that they are costly—it is that the impending insolvency of Social Security and Medicare imperils the social safety net for the neediest citizens. Education innovation and school choice are not needed to fight rapacious unions and bureaucrats—too often the most prominent focus of conservative education concerns—but because poor children and their parents deserve better schools.

That reminds me. I have made headway with liberal friends on the subject of school choice by doing exactly what Brooks suggests, making it about the kids and the parents who need the most help.

I pointed out that middle-income and wealthy folks already have school choice because they can afford to live in an area with a good public school district or pay to send their kids to private school. That may contribute to why these schools are successful.

I then asked why low-income parents shouldn’t be given more choice, too.

Several told me that changed their mind about school choice and they became supporters of it.

Learned Helplessness

Recent discussion in the comments of this blog about poverty reminded me of a caller I heard on a local radio show I heard within the last year.  The caller was a teacher and he shared the results of an assignment he has always done with students in his 30 years of teaching in an urban school district.

He said that he has always done this assignment to encourage his students to think about their futures and how they will earn their keep.

The first part of the exercise is to think about and write down the things they may want to have someday — homes, cars, jewelry, boats, etc.  In the second part of the assignment, they think about what they’ll do to afford those things — like earn money as a nurse, or firefighter or start a business.

He then commented on how he has seen the responses to that exercise change over the years.

In his early years, his students would want to become nurses, firefighters and teachers to be able to earn money to buy what they want.

But, now he’s more likely to get these types of responses: I’ll just use the check or card that comes from the government to buy it, like Mom does.

I doubt much has changed. My guess is that the students normally say they’ll do whatever it is they see their parents or aunts and uncles doing.  The future nurses of 20 years ago probably had a Mom who was a nurse.

Which reminds me of this post where I linked to and quoted from a Wall Street Journal piece by Arthur Brooks about earned success and learned helplessness.

It also reminds me of the story Dr. Carson told in his speech about how his Mom would not allow Dr. Carson or his brother to accept excuses for their failures or their lot in life.


Arthur Brooks: Earned Success vs. Learned Helplessness

I recommend reading this piece from Arthur Brooks in the Wall Street Journal.  A snippet:

Earned success means defining your future as you see fit and achieving that success on the basis of merit and hard work. It allows you to measure your life’s “profit” however you want, be it in money, making beautiful music, or helping people learn English. Earned success is at the root of American exceptionalism.

The opposite of earned success is “learned helplessness,” a term coined by Martin Seligman, the eminent psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. It refers to what happens if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit: People simply give up and stop trying to succeed.

Dennis Miller Show Podcasts

Here are two quotes from the Dennis Miller show last week.  The first came in an interview with Michelle Malkin and it was in reference to Malkin’s new book title, Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks and Cronies.

While reading the title, after “Tax Cheats” Miller inserts this:

People say, ‘oh that’s such an incendiary title’.  Geithner DID NOT PAY TAXES.  We live in a time when you can point out an accuracy and be deemed to be incendiary.

I agree. I often find that the other side doesn’t mind being incendiary.  They often drop bombs not based on reason or fact and they want to be able to get away with that without a response.  When I start to respond, usually by simply asking them  the reasons or facts behind their statement, they shut down the conversation with something like,  “Oh, I don’t feel like talking about that,” “I just know,” or “that’s just how I feel and you aren’t going to change that.”

Miller also interviewed author Arthur C. Brooks, who made some excellent points.  Here are a couple of those.

In regards to Greece and the U.S.:

Here’s the great contrast [between Greece and the U.S.].  And the question is, what are their protesters protesting?  They’re burning down their own buildings because they want more lavish pensions, they retire at…what do they retire at, like age 21?   They want to have their salaries paid by their fellow Greeks in the worst recession in 50 years.

In the United States we have protesters too.  The tea party guys who are protesting against exactly what the Greeks are demanding.  That’s an example of what’s best about America as far as I’m concerned.

Miller then went on to say:

It amazes me, all the old hippies who warned you about The Man, the Jerry Browns, the Bill Ayers, now they’re perpetually on the government teat all the way to the death rattle.  It’s unbelievable.  Do they not see the irony that they have become an insipid version of the man they so decried in their fiery youth.  It’s unbelievable, isn’t it Arthur?

Brooks’ great response:

Actually, it’s kind of believable.  People who love liberty, love liberty all the way through.  But people who simply [protest] because somebody has power and they don’t, you know that pretty soon they’re going to be able to get their hands on the reins and things are going to be even worse than they were when they were protesting.