On poverty and inequality

published Dec 31, 2018

People often talk about "the causes of poverty" (or hunger, or destitution...).  Any conversation that purports to figure out what those are, is wrong from the very beginning down to its basic, most fundamental premise.

Poverty is not "caused by" anything.  Poverty is the default state of Mankind.  It is literally the word we use to describe a socioeconomic state of affairs — hunger, destitution, lack of resources — brought about precisely by doing nothing to avoid that state.  To sum it up: poverty is what happens to you, when you fail to do anything productive.

In that — and only — sense, the "cause" of poverty, is lack of productive action.

Therefore — if we are to argue that poverty needs "curing" — the cure for poverty is to be productive.  Productivity — providing value to others in exchange for value — is the only legitimate way to fix poverty.

To be certain: there are other accidental circumstances in which a person may find themselves temporarily poorer than before — bankruptcy, natural disasters, calamity — but even in all these exceptional cases, the cure for that temporary poverty remains to be productive.

Many folks also like to discuss inequality as if it was a great evil or a calamitous tragedy.  These folks commit the same error above, with respect to the concept of equality.

Inequality is not "an evil", and it is also "not caused" by anything.  Inequality is simply the result of some people being more productive than others.  This, in turn, is the effect of pre-existing differences between people's capacities to be productive.

In that — and only — sense, the "cause" of inequality, is some people engaging in productive action at a faster rate than others.

Therefore — if we are to argue that inequality needs "curing" — the cure for inequality is to get everyone to be more productive.

Anyone trying to convince you that better productivity is evil, is necessarily wrong, from the most basic concepts.  Anyone telling you that productive folks are to blame for the evils of poverty and inequality, is not just wrong, but also full of hate for success.  Do not let them lie to you.

Libertarians, even those who don’t have a detailed knowledge of economics, generally appreciate that wealth has to be created for people not to be poor, and out of a basic sense of fairness (if not a deep-seated respect for property rights) it follows that those who create wealth are entitled to keep it. The wealth they create is theirs, and they don’t owe anyone anything. For this reason, libertarians are often maligned as “greedy” or “selfish”, but this is merely the embittered accusation of the envious. How is it greedy or selfish to say I should get to keep what I earn and how is it not greedy or selfish to claim entitlement to someone else’s stuff?