** U.N. & world poor
06 Jun 1994
There was an article in Thursday's Chronicle about a new U.N. study and
some of the accompanying proposals. My proposal is to rename it the
U.P. because no one there seems to be from this planet!
It's main conclusion seems to be "Unfortunately, this peace dividend
has not been used to finance the world's social agenda." One of its
recommendations is a global gasoline tax to finance all of its good
ideas. My favorite is a 20% tax on the peace dividend of rich
countries for a fund that would pay for, among other things,
controlling drug trafficking.
Is there no bad idea for which the drug war is not an excuse? I don't
suppose the U.S. being $4T in debt will dissuade the U.N. from seeing
it as rich. True to form for politicians everywhere, no increase in
spending can ever be seen as unnecessary. We have had to borrow money
(both explicitly and implicitly via higher taxes restraining growth)
to win the cold war. Now, it's time to pay back that debt. But, no,
let's suck up that tax money for whatever foolish plan comes down the
Sniping aside, my real point is that this sort of thinking is nothing
but exploitation of the successful by the foolish. Any country which
has made a mess of itself should be rewarded for its errors. Any
country which has held to policies conducive to development should be
punished for daring to succeed instead of crawling in the mud with the
socialist states of the world.
This sort of statement about individuals is controversial because, of
course, not everyone has equal ability (due to either genetics or
environment). However, applied to states it is much clearer. States
are not people. Averaging over any population, the same potential is
available to any state. People are not inherently smarter one place
than another. Some countries are poor because they are socialist and
some are rich because they are capitalist. Turning the U.N. into a
world redistribution organ is absolutely the wrong thing to do.
The old argument that some countries have much natural wealth and
others have little is all but irrelevant. The total amount of wealth
that comes from natural resources is quite small, typically less than
1%. If we could forever banish socialism, I'd gladly redistribute all
natural resources. It would not matter. Consider some of the
empirical data. Japan is wealthy with very few natural resources.
Taiwan & Hong Kong are even more exaggerated cases. Japan is something
of a special case, though basically capitalist. Taiwan is especially
interesting because most Taiwaneese are of recent extraction from
China. They speak the same language, have the same culture, etc. Yet,
Taiwan has 14 times the GDP/capita despite a paucity of natural
resources. The only difference was a choice of capitalism over
communism. The examples are numerous. The U.S. versus the USSR is the
most obvious. (Some would argue that the middle ground of social
democracy (or whatever) can do better than either extreme. Obviously,
I think this is wrong. The trend line of more capitalism means more
wealth is true all across the board. I don't intend to argue the whole
case here but merely show the natural resource argument is bogus.)
Another objection is that some countries are poor and cannot lift
themselves out of poverty. This is equally nonsensical. All countries
were at one time or another poor. Modern poor nations have a huge
developmental advantage because technology and capital are now
available which never were when it happened the first time.
Nonetheless, they squander all of these advantages.
As for the argument that poor countries simply need capital to develop.
They have it. There are $T's available on the world capital markets.
All it takes to get access to that money is to do something useful with
it. This is in sharp contrast with U.N. aid which is given to already
pathetic governments to distribute on more of their own bad ideas.
My policy: abolish foreign aid (except for military/strategic aid which
is unfortunately necessary). Use the veto power of the U.S. in the
security council for all such foolishness as the above (likely). The
U.S. should stop invading banana republics for whatever silly reason
comes along. Though this is debatable, I think it would help foster
the general impression among citizens of poor countries that capitalism
means wealth and happiness instead of imperialist domination. Such a
change of attitude would help more than all the U.N. handouts in the