Sunday, 26 January 2014

What About The Smart-Suited Philanthropists?

Here's an anti-monopoly quote someone posted on Facebook - it's from a well known novel:

“Poverty is not caused by men and women getting married; it's not caused by machinery; it's not caused by "over-production"; it's not caused by drink or laziness; and it's not caused by "over-population". It's caused by Private Monopoly. That is the present system. They have monopolized everything that it is possible to monopolize; they have got the whole earth, the minerals in the earth and the streams that water the earth. The only reason they have not monopolized the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it.  Even as you think at present that it's right for so few people to own the Earth, the Minerals and the Water, which are all just as necessary as is the air. In exactly the same spirit as you now say: "It's Their Land," "It's Their Water," "It's Their Coal," "It's Their Iron," so you would say "It's Their Air," "These are their gasometers, and what right have the likes of us to expect them to allow us to breathe for nothing?" And even while he is doing this the air monopolist will be preaching sermons on the Brotherhood of Man; he will be dispensing advice on "Christian Duty" in the Sunday magazines; he will give utterance to numerous more or less moral maxims for the guidance of the young. And meantime, all around, people will be dying for want of some of the air that he will have bottled up in his gasometers".
― Robert Tressell, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

The one good way the government regulates an economy is by anti-monopoly regulations (like those in the UK and USA). Monopolies are not economically efficient - they cause underproduction in order for the monopoly power to keep prices up, which is why it used to be good policy to enable increased production for small businesses.

What Robert Tressell didn't account for in 1914 is that when increased capital power creates a top-heavy wealth stratification it also generates improved prosperity for the poorest people in the world too (just about every country in the world is richer and more prosperous now than it was in 1915). That is to say, yes it's true that the rich are getting richer, but so are the poor as a result of it - and the reason this is happening is the progression-explosion that's occurred in the past 200 years, which has seen the diminution of subsistence level living, high infant mortality and widespread poverty being replaced with better health, wealth and prosperity not seen at any time prior to that.

Whenever I meet people who contest the proposition of improvement across the world in recent times, I like to ask them questions like these:

1) Would you rather go about making Sunday lunch for five guests in a 2014 kitchen or in a 1920s kitchen?

2) Would you rather need a heart operation in a 2014 hospital or in a 19th century hospital?

3) Would you rather have to travel urgently from London to Edinburgh on today's transport or on transport in the Victorian times?

4) Would you rather be a father in modern day Mozambique trying to feed his family or a father in 1850s Mozambique trying to feed his family?

5) Would you rather have the holiday options in a 2014 travel agent or the holiday options in a 1940s travel agent?

6) Would you rather have the number of people below the poverty line in 2014 or the number of people below the poverty line in the 1970s?

7) Would you rather be defended by the UK's 2014 armed forces or by the armed forces in the UK in 1813?

8) Would you rather be a woman, or a black person, or a homosexual in the Western world in 2014 or a woman, or a black person, or a homosexual in the Western world in the 1890s?

9) Would you rather have the knowledge of the world available to you in 2014 or the knowledge of the world available to you in 1913?

10) Would you rather have the working week of 2014 or the working week of 1873?

I'll bet that you chose the first option in each of the ten questions - and I could think of dozens more just like them from which you'd choose the contemporary option rather than opting for how things were in the past.

In fact, even if you just focus on some of the wealthiest people in history, I'd wager that any of the Kings or Queens from the York, Tudor, Stuart or even Hanover household would have willingly traded 90% of their wealth and power for 21st century knowledge, medicine, sanitation, roads, cars, worldwide travel, household goods, the internet and access to the knowledge and understanding of the world we have today.

* Picture is called "Stepping Out of Poverty" by Chiarra Palazzolo, a 7th grader from St. Theresa School

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