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February 09, 2007

Kling on Feynman

Arnold Kling reads a little Richard Feynman on the subject of economic development:

Although we do not know how to solve the problem, I would like to point out that we tried two things, technical know-how and economic assistance. We are discouraged with them both, and we are trying something else. As you will see later, I find this encouraging. I think that to keep trying new solutions is the way to do everything.

People did keep trying new solutions and by doing so found the correct one. Hernando De Soto in fact. It's the property rights, Stupid!

February 9, 2007 in Make Poverty History | Permalink


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erm, De Soto is actually quite a lot stronger on blackboard assertions than concrete results, you know.

Posted by: dsquared | Feb 9, 2007 12:56:23 PM

"It's the property rights, Stupid!"

Anyone who thinks this is the whole answer is, er, Stupid.

Tim adds: Jim, no one thinks they are the whole answer. They are, however, necessary. Necessary but not sufficient you might say. Without them you'll never get anywhere, as the full Feynman quote shows.

Posted by: Jim | Feb 9, 2007 2:04:02 PM

Who would have thought Tim would be a supporter of the Movimento Sem Terra?

Posted by: Gdr | Feb 9, 2007 2:23:21 PM

Indeed, de Soto recommendations regarding land have sometimes had adverse results. In large part this is because the state did not provide adequate security or implement the recommendations in such a way as to avoid those problems.

Posted by: Marcin Tustin | Feb 9, 2007 2:49:40 PM

Property rights matter. But in developing countries, people typically don't have the power to protect their property rights.

This can't just be granted by a benevolent state, or in the reverse position assumed away by a withering of the state, it's a fundamental feature of social interaction.

Property rights are a lot more interesting, subtle and varied than De Soto suggests.

Posted by: Adam Jackson | Feb 9, 2007 6:26:35 PM

Mr. Jackson is quite correct. And, before De Soto, Mises had already covered the same ground.

Modern agricultural methods and "know-how"--of the type supposedly dispensed by visiting experts dispatched for the purpose--are virtually worthless. The subsistence farmers themselves are always keenly aware of significant improvements they could effect in their output (and lives) if they just had the requisite werewithal--the capital. But the lack of capital owes primarily not to its scarcity (though it is scarce) in that locale but to the general pervasiveness of what Mises has termed the "anti-capitalist mentality." In large part, the failing is cultural and has enormous (and enormously adverse) effects everywhere--they're merely more visible and pitiable in the cases of those at the very margin of existence.

What is not generally recognized is that the "margin" is not some imaginary line but a very real divide between life and death. And the death toll is imposed not only by the failures of society in those specific places but by the anti-capitalist sabotage of productivity everywhere, which mind-sets and restrictive actions have the direct effect (across the globe) of raising the bar to survival faced by those at that margin.

In a very real sense, those on the political Left everywhere and the policies they endorse are the chief obstacle to improvement in the lives of those near the margin.

Posted by: gene berman | Feb 10, 2007 2:55:49 PM