14 September 2018

The Recovery is Real And Yet We Still Have Poor People. That's How Economies Have Always Worked

I'm seeing a fair bit about how the recovery isn't real or isn't really done because people are still poor. That's nonsense. We have had and always will have poor people. Markets simply don't lift up everyone. Markets are marvelous but they've never taken care of everyone.

The philosopher Karl Jaspers (who died in 1969) argued for an Axial Age. Within a few centuries the foundations for religions we still have today were laid. 

Confucius and Lao-Tse were living in China, all the schools of Chinese philosophy came into being, including those of Mo Ti, Chuang Tse, Lieh Tzu and a host of others; India produced the Upanishads and Buddha and, like China, ran the whole gamut of philosophical possibilities down to materialism, scepticism and nihilism; in Iran Zarathustra taught a challenging view of the world as a struggle between good and evil; in Palestine the prophets made their appearance from Elijah by way of Isaiah and Jeremiah to Deutero-Isaiah; Greece witnessed the appearance of Homer, of the philosophers – Parmenides, Heraclitus and Plato, – of the tragedians, of Thucydides and Archimedes. Everything implied by these names developed during these few centuries almost simultaneously in China, India and the West.
— Karl Jaspers, Origin and Goal of History, p. 2

One theory (I don't think it is Jaspers') is that this happened at this point in history because of the emergence of the city which lead to wealth. Oh, and disparities in wealth. If you are living as a hunter gatherer, you can't accumulate much. If you settle down in a city, you can. And as more people live in proximity there is more opportunity for trade (of goods, ideas and services) and the prosperity that comes with it. This emergence of wealth raised the question of who we should be towards the poor; the major religions emerged - in part - as answers to that question.

There are certainly things we can do to make the poor more self-sufficient, to create opportunities for them and their children. I think that's hugely important. But once we've done that, we will still have poor people. And at that point how we treat them is not a question of economic policy; it's a question of morality, something humans were clear about roughly 3,000 years ago.

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