Pontificating on Poverty in a Vacuum of Values

Barb Wire

A while back, the Pope questioned the free market economy, “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.  As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized; without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.  The idea that a free market will succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world has never been confirmed by the facts.”

Not long after that, Bill Gates stated that by 2035, there will almost be no poor countries left in the world.  He cites statistics that indicate extreme poverty rates have been cut in half in the past 25 years, child mortality rates are plunging, and many nations that were “developing” are now developed.

Finally, another study published by Oxfam indicated that the world’s 85 richest people own as much as the poorest 50 percent of humanity and that one percent of the world’s population controls nearly half of the planet’s wealth.

Personally, I believe individual choices, in a free society that is, explain more about a person’s economic state than any other determining factor.  Here in America, simply finishing high school, avoiding out of wedlock pregnancy, drugs and crime, and having a work ethic will virtually guarantee an escape from poverty because our system of government affords both rights and opportunities.

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Along these lines, two great minds, economist Dr. Barry Asmus and theologian Dr. Wayne Grudem, have teamed up and written a fascinating book titled “The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution”.  Some of the points they bring up should cause us to reflect on why America continues to be the one country in the world where the escape from poverty has routinely been the norm instead of the exception for people who continue to make good choices in their lives.

A country’s economy is ultimately influenced, affected and determined by a number of factors, including the type of government employed, the rights afforded individuals under the legal system, and the dominant religious construct which determines the world view of the citizenry.  Other determining factors include the universal right to an education and the rights of women in the society.  Surprisingly, when Popes, pundits and politicians are bemoaning poverty in the world, they fail to assess the impact of these determining factors.

For instance, in America, we live in a constitutional republic which protects the rights of the individual from the majority, allows people to own and collateralize property, allows all citizens to seek redress from their fellows and their government in a court of law that is bound to be impartial, and we subscribe to a religious ethos which values the work ethic while it condemns stealing, fraud and coveting.  Not many countries wallowing in poverty can make any of these claims and that is a root cause of their poverty.  They do not have economic success because they don’t have basic equality, freedoms and rights.

Free market capitalism may be far from perfect, but the fact is no other economic model, coupled with our form of government, has resulted in greater freedom and wealth creation in the history of the world.  Egalitarians like to point out the income disparity among the working class and the super wealthy, but they fail to recognize and appreciate the fact that wealthy people create jobs, shoulder huge tax burdens, and typically leave much of their fortune to charitable foundations.  For example, consider Bill Gates.  How much wealth and tax revenue has been created by Microsoft?  And, do realize he is giving his $58 billion fortune to charity!

This column was first published in the Santa Barbara News Press. 

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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