November 27, 2004

David Brooks: Let's compare apples and unicorns!

Okay, so, as everyone should know by now, David Brooks is a tool. Let's look at some statements he makes.

we're in the 11th month of the most prosperous year in human history. Last week, the World Bank released a report showing that global growth "accelerated sharply" this year to a rate of about 4 percent.

Okay, let's assume for the minute that this is true. Naturally, I wouldn't trust David Brooks to hose me down if I were on fire, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt here. However, this doesn't really mean shit. The global economy grew fantastically in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was called `imperialism', and it didn't work out so well for places that weren't Europe and the north Atlantic coast of the US.

So why does David Brooks think the current boom is so great?

This is having a wonderful effect on world poverty, because when regions grow, that growth is shared up and down the income ladder. In its report, the World Bank notes that economic growth is producing a "spectacular" decline in poverty in East and South Asia. In 1990, there were roughly 472 million people in the East Asia and Pacific region living on less than $1 a day. By 2001, there were 271 million living in extreme poverty, and by 2015, at current projections, there will only be 19 million people living under those conditions.

Because supply-side economics works, of course! Look, these irrelevant statistics prove it! (Again, I'll assume his statistics are accurate, and the comparison between 'living on less than $1 a day' and 'extreme poverty' was appropriate.)

Here's the thing: there is a broad trend towards economic integration on a global level; there is also a broad trend towards higher standards of living. But the people responsible for the second one aren't the ones responsible for the first one. Amartya Sen -- who won a Nobel prize in economics, something not even David Brooks believes David Brooks has done -- argued in Development as Freedom a few years ago that the Indian states that have improved their standard of living the most over the past 20+ years are the ones that have weighted their options carefully, not done what the Western capitalists wanted because it would supposedly make their economy go whoooosh. (As Argentina and Russia will tell you, those Western capitalists turned out to mostly be wrong.)

In other words: yeah, local economic growth is generally a good thing. But don't confuse an increased real GDP with more health care and literacy and rights for women. The people and their leaders need to channel and regulate the direction 'those guys in pinstrip suits' want to take them. And David Brooks is still an incoherent and craptacular writer.

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