12/06/2018

Why Are People Poor?

Michael Tanner, National Review

Why are people poor? Conservatives and liberals offer very different explanations.

Conservatives point to a “culture of poverty” and suggest that much deprivation is the result of flawed choices and behavior by the poor themselves. They point to a strong correlation between poverty and a failure to follow the so-called “success sequence”: finish school, get a job, get married, and only then have children. Relatively few people who do those things end up in poverty.

Liberals, on the other hand, say that that is all very well, but choices are always constrained by the circumstances in which people live. Therefore, conservatives are wrong to discount structural factors, such as racism, gender-based discrimination, and economic dislocation, that can help shape people’s choices.

There is truth to both explanations. One can’t strip the poor of agency by treating them as if they were little more than chaff blown by the wind, with no responsibility for their choices. But neither should we ignore the context in which those decisions are made. For all the progress we have made, not everyone starts with an equal opportunity.

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4,000 Years Of Price Control

Tablets, said to be 200 years older than the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi ... show that the ancient kingdom of Eshnunna had wage control and price control. The news ought not to have come as a surprise. For the code of Hammurabi itself (unearthed in 1902), which was promulgated earlier than 2000 B.C., fixed prices, wages, interest rates, and fees. This makes price control at least about 4,000 years old. ...

 

Ironically, it is those who now wish to return to this ancient totalitarian device who are fondest of calling themselves “progressives.” They are also fond of saying that those who believe in economic liberty “are living in the nineteenth century.” These controlists have yet to learn that they themselves are still living, as the discoveries in Babylonia attest, in the nineteenth century—B.C.!

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