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July 27, 2005

Travelling on the Dark Side.

Thought I’d go over and see what is being said by and about the environmental movement. You know, check out what the real gurus are saying. So, to The Ecologist.

But, there is a problem with Sachs’ and so many of the other end-poverty prescriptions. Sachs doesn’t understand where poverty comes from. He seems to view it as the original sin. ‘A few generations ago, almost everybody was poor,’ he writes, before adding: ‘The Industrial Revolution led to new riches, but much of the world was left far behind.’ This is a totally false history of poverty. The poor are not those who have been ‘left behind’; they are the ones who have been robbed. The riches accumulated by Europe are based on riches taken from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Without the destruction of India’s rich textile industry, without the takeover of the spice trade, without the genocide of the native American tribes, without Africa’s slavery, the Industrial Revolution would not have led to new riches for Europe or the US. It was this violent takeover of Third World resources and markets that created wealth in the North and poverty in the South.

Oh dear. If you start from this end of the argument you’re bound to get it wrong. Morons.

July 27, 2005 in Environmentalism | Permalink


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» nice logic from Strange stuff
So their logic each must have had an income of $35440.61 a rather good middle class salary. I wonder why all the archeolgists seem to find are small scale craftsmen and subsistance farming peasants? [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 27, 2005 2:46:38 PM


Thing is when I run into people who argue like that I really have no idea where to begin. Their entire world view is so alien that pointing out how that argument is both bad history and bad economics does not cut any ice.

Posted by: Lorenzo | Jul 27, 2005 11:27:32 AM

If stealing stuff made us rich, many civilisations would have been as rich throughout history. To explain the new wealth, you have to investigate new behaviour. If you don't, you are, as the Worst of all Tims suggests, morons. QED.

Posted by: dearieme | Jul 27, 2005 11:28:23 AM

Unfortunately I have met people like that in the work I do! frightening but it makes me think that I am not so bad at my job!

Are these people mutated from folks who sell the Socialist Worker?

It just goes to show that there's always a few people around to talk shite on any subject going who will get a few headlines.

Posted by: angry economist | Jul 27, 2005 12:04:54 PM

Excerpt from an essay on 'Poverty' written by an eight-year old pupil attending a very select, upmarket school in Beverly Hills.

"There once was a very poor family, the Daddy was poor, the Mommy was poor, all the children were very poor; and the Butler was poorest of all!"

Posted by: Mike Cunningham | Jul 27, 2005 12:09:33 PM

The quote doesn't sound that unreasonable to me.

Lorenzo - try and explain it to me anyway. I would like to know how you see it and why.

Tim adds: I’m not Lorenzo but here goes. In 1600 (before the industrial revolution) wealth in the world was x, and y per capita. Wealth in the world now is greater than x and greater than y per capita. So, wealth has been created, not just moved around.

Posted by: moron | Jul 27, 2005 12:14:29 PM

& Tim dont tell me ... we are all to blame for the worlds woes!

Should I feel guilt about feeling no guilt?

Tim adds: You and I were both educated as Catholics so of course we should feel guilt. Doesn’t matter what about, just that the guilt exists. It’s the definition of the beast isn’t it?

Posted by: Mr Free Market | Jul 27, 2005 12:49:48 PM

That would be The Ecologist, edited by Zac Goldsmith, millionaire son of James Goldsmith, the famous corporate raider, no stranger to wealth creation, or even the sharper end of capitalism?

How does the apple fall so far from the tree?

Posted by: Andrew | Jul 27, 2005 2:09:48 PM

It's such a daft set of preconceptions (zero-sum economics) and such a mangling of history, it's hard to know where to start.

But here's one quick question for them: "What about Japan, then?"

Posted by: John Farren | Jul 27, 2005 2:25:18 PM

Tim - thanks for replying. It does not seem implausible to me that getting rid of the native Americans and taking their land/resources made colonial Americans richer. Or that taking people from Africa to work for us as slave labour made us richer.

So how is wealth created then?

Tim adds: Wealth is created by the divsion of labour and the increased specialization that allows, along with the trade between those who do it. What you have described is the re-allocation of wealth, not the creation. Did the latter happen? Yes. What made riches? The former.

Posted by: moron | Jul 27, 2005 7:06:13 PM

Sure, extra land available to the (euro)American eapansion gave them increased total potential.
But then so did e.g. the expansion of Mongols in Eurasia, or tribe v. tribe among native Americans.
Crucial point, is how they used that potential.
If the slave trade is crucial, why didn't the Arabs, whose trans-Sahara and Indian Ocean trades likely equalled the Europeans Atlantic trade, become economic powerhouse?
If colonial expansion, why not the Mogul Empire over India, or Spanish, or Ottoman?
Why did e.g. North America and Australia become rich, while South America remained relatively poor?
If colonies are exploited, why are former Japanese colonies S. Korea and Taiwan rich?
Why is never colonised (OK, apart from ten years by Italy) Ethiopia poor?

This recalls 17th/18th century Mercantilism: there's only so much gold to go round: grab it! Or Physiocracy: wealth = farmland and peasantry: grab it!
Read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. He nailed the basics down back in 1776.

Posted by: John Farren | Jul 27, 2005 11:26:44 PM


Two points:
1. Pre 1492, the most developed societies (ergo the ones with the most to steal) in the Americas were the Incas and the Aztec - central and southern America.
2. 9 out of 10 Africans slaves were taken to South America and the Caribbean and only 1 out of 10 taken to North America.

From these two facts it would follow that South America and the Caribbean ought to be substantially richer than North America. Additionally, the southern US states ought to be richer than the northern ones that never allowed slavery or the western ones that completely missed out.

Posted by: JohnM | Jul 27, 2005 11:32:06 PM

Lande's Wealth and Poverty of Nations is a great contemporary update of Smith.


Posted by: soru | Jul 28, 2005 12:05:16 AM

Heck, even if someone reads Marx's Communist Manifesto they'll still get an explanation that "[t]he bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundread years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together."

Marx may have thought that capitalists were stealing value created by labor, and he may have thought that capitalism was doomed, but he certainly gladly admitted that the overall amount of wealth in the world could and had increased, and the capitalism was better than feudalism. He understood that division of labor, technology, and the organization of productive forces could create wealth where none was before by harnessing productivity.

He may have been wrong in many things, but at least he understood more than so many who followed in his name. (And thanks to Professor Schumpeter's book for the idea behind my commont.)

Posted by: John Thacker | Jul 28, 2005 4:46:23 AM

Thank you for replies - Adam Smith goes on my library list - I hope I will be able to understand at least some of it.

Posted by: moron | Jul 29, 2005 11:09:38 AM