August 12, 2004

Missing the Point

Benazir Bhutto's recent commentary on Pakistan's plight puts the stress on poverty. The problem isn't poverty, but disconnection and poverty is a consequence of that disconnect from the economic core of our globalizing world.

The difference between the rich and poor in dollar terms is the biggest in the US. We have the world's wealthiest man, after all, in our country. But while some may envy Bill Gates' billions, he does not have to fear violence at the same level as many wealthy elites do in the 3rd world, even though those elites have a mere fraction of the wealth that Gates and other 1st world wealthy have accumulated. The difference between the 3rd world wealthy and the 1st world wealthy is twofold.

First, and most important, the 1st world wealthy tend to have many fewer exceptions made for them in the rule of law than 3rd world wealthy. They may be able to buy their way out of a some personal legal difficulty but they are much less likely to draw a significant portion of their fortune from government granted monopolies and concessions. They are much more likely to have gotten to the top by playing the game everybody else could have played if they were just as good at it as the 1st world wealthy are.

The second difference is in the mobility of wealth. People win and lose fortunes in the 1st world at a pretty astonishing rate. Some people have made the round trip from poor to rich and back again several times. It is the very permanence of the elites in the 3rd world that makes for frustration, the rigging of the rules that not only allows people to make their fortunes, but keep them in the face of incompetence, waste, and laziness that can drive men so mad as to countenance violence.

An honest system, or at least a more honest one, would level the playing field. The rich would have to safeguard their fortunes with care because foolishness will be punished by the market. The poor will start to see their own indigenous Horatio Algers and the idea that applying themselves can lead to great success will steal away recruits from the extremists of all stripes.

Benazir Bhutto, unfortunately, wants to only treat the fever (poverty) without addressing the underlying infection. Her family has risen to prominence in the current system and it would take a truly great, visionary statesman to advocate overthrowing the system that brought them to prominence. Maybe, one day, she'll grow into that but that day is not today.

Posted by TMLutas at August 12, 2004 12:02 PM