The Corner

Up with the Poor, Down with the L.A. Times

The Los Angeles Times is one of the great scandals in American life — that the nation’s second-largest city should have such an inept newspaper is an indictment of American journalism.

A particularly good example of that is the newspaper’s just-retracted claim that 85 individuals own nearly half of the world’s wealth, suspicious even to those of us with only English-major math to work with. The claim is — or should have been — rejected out of hand: One-half of the world’s wealth amounts to more than $100 trillion, which would mean that we would have to have 85 trillionaires walking the Earth, when in reality there are none. In fact, there is no one who is even one-tenth of the way there: Neither Bill Gates nor Carlos Slim has crossed the $100 billion mark, though it seems likely that somebody will, someday.

What is really lost in the Times’s report, and in the Oxfam study upon which it is based, is the complete lack of appreciation for the fact that the lives of the world’s poor have in material terms seen radical improvement over the past 40 years. The very fact that we’re talking about the asset holdings of the world’s poor is an indicator that bears some contemplation. As recently as the 1980s, the conversation about global poverty was not very much focused on net worth — it was focused on famine. (On that subject, it is worth considering the extent to which modern famines have been caused by political actions rather than by economic conditions or drought.)

What can we do about the situation of the global poor? We could seize all of the wealth of those 85 super-rich people whose portfolios so fascinate the Los Angeles Times, which would have the effect of raising the average wealth of the world’s poor from about $485 to about $970 — not exactly a solution.

The only way to help the world’s poor to a position of relative prosperity and economic independence is to help them to participate in the global economy, and here our progressive friends take a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t approach. They’re scandalized by the scanty assets of the world’s poor, and they’re even more scandalized when rich countries open their markets to the global poor, or when companies from rich countries invest in poor countries and employ the poor people residing therein. The Democrats refer to Americans who do business with the global poor as “economic traitors,” and their most recent national convention was an energetic pageant of xenophobia, replete with ritualistic denunciations of the Yellow Peril come to steal our jobs.

You can have one or the other. If you’re opposed to free trade, overseas investment, and global supply chains, fine — but don’t pretend like you give a rodential hind-eighth about the world’s poor when you’re blocking their only avenue toward relative prosperity and economic independence. And don’t pretend like you care about the American poor, either: The same system that scandalizes Democrats by allowing poor Chinese and Indians to eat also provides low-income Americans with lower prices on essential goods, one important reason why our poor people are no longer shoeless, which was the case within living memory.

It is unhappily the case that a fictitious newspaper statistic can sprint halfway ’round the world while the correction is still lacing up its sneakers, so expect that Los Angeles Times account to live a long and active life.