Bryan Caplan  

Outline for Poverty: Who To Blame

Finding Out the Implications o... Is the Limit on Nuclear Liabil...
My next project is my non-fiction graphic novel on the ethics and social science of immigration, tentatively titled All Roads Lead to Open Borders.  But I've already begun outlining my next big word book, Poverty: Who To BlameHere are the slides from my recent talk on the topic. 

Since I've yet to start seriously reading for this project, much less writing, the time is especially ripe for constructive criticism and reading recommendations...

COMMENTS (31 to date)
Thomas writes:

Scanning your slides, I see this: "How does NYC keep 30M Americans from moving in?" I assume that's meant to demonstrate that if 30M Americans could freely move into NYC, there's no reason to restrict immigration. But 30M Americans don't move into NYC. The mass importation of immigrants (i.e., deliberate encouragement through refusal to enforce immigration law) isn't due to market adjustments that enable some number of persons (far less than 30M) to move into and out of NYC every year.

LemmusLemmus writes:

Do you know this one?

Pavel writes:

Thomas, I actually think he meant what he wrote, and what he was trying to demonstrate is that there are mechanisms in place (e.g. price of housing, number of good jobs available in the area at each moment) that prevent all (or, too many) to try and reach NYC, where they would be better off, presumably.
That is to say that opening borders, doesn't necessarily mean an endless flood of people, because some wouldn't be willing to leave, others won't be able to afford it, etc.

Brian, do correct me if I'm wrong.

john hare writes:

1. I don't accept your blame game guilt trip for the poverty of others.
2. IMO, your analysis is consistently ivory tower, working with some real poor in the real world would help your understanding of the arguments against open borders and such.
3. One of the comments in your linked post touched on a very real problem. Restricting the ability of the domestic workforce to do low-skilled/low-compensation jobs increases the backlash against foreigners doing the same jobs.
3a. Minimum wage.
3b. Multiple restrictions in hiring via drug tests, criminal records, illegality of aptitude testing, credentialism etc.
3c. Paying people to not work with penalties for earning over a certain amount.
3d. Subsidizing children by those below some earnings cut off.

caryatis writes:

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James writes:

John Hare:

You write "...working with some real poor in the real world would help your understanding..." I've seen this view expressed many times before but I do not understand the purpose of this recommendation for field work.

If the meaning is that interacting with the poor would increase empathy, that's true, but empathy is not helpful in objectively determining who is to blame for poverty. If you know of relevant facts to be learned from direct field work, you could have just stated them.

honeyoak writes:

Brian, it is not obvious to me that bad Economic policies are "avoidable" in any epistemological sense. the work of weinghast and more recently acemoglu have shown that there are strong reasons why bad Economic policies become entrenched. the Soviet Union lasted for 65 years despite its complete inability to deliver benefits to its citizens.

Joseph writes:

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John Saunders writes:

What about trading with de facto rulers thereby incentivising coups, etc. (as raised by Leif Wenar and Thomas Pogge)?

John hare writes:

There are real world consequences that are invisible from the tower.

Maniel writes:

Prof Caplan,
Interesting topic. Observations on your slides follow.
# 1: “Who” or Whom ??
# 2: There are implied actors here, someone (or some group) who is doing the blaming and others who are or might be to blame.
# 3,12: Blaming someone else for a problem reduces the likelihood that I will take ownership of that problem. In general, the “blame game” provides reasonable assurance that a problem will not be resolved.
# 4: Yes, and preserving economic freedom in the “First World” is a source of hope for the “Third World.”
# 6-9: Concur. These slides show the way to an alternative to poverty, namely, prosperity. However, building blocks of prosperity – values such as freedom, mutual respect, and education – are difficult to impose from the outside in.
# 10: Cultural issues and values should not be underestimated in the reactions of citizens to immigration. The success of immigration in Israel is an example of that principle at work. In the USA, our successes have come in spite of initial hostility to immigrants and inconsistencies in policies and enforcement.
# 11: Concur.
# 13: I believe that “morality” is strongest when it can be shown to be have utility; for example, mutual trust enables free enterprise which leads to prosperity.

Philo writes:

So who is to blame? You definitely suggest that *some* poor people are to blame for their own poverty, but you specifically blame no other individual people. You complain about bad government policies, but you do not identify any particular individuals as being responsible for those policies, and such individuals may be quite scarce. For example, a rich-country citizen who votes for anti-immigration candidates is not responsible for his country's anti-immigration policies, which would have been no different if he had voted otherwise. The adoption and enforcement of a government policy is a suite of collective actions, but surely you do not take seriously the notion of collective (as opposed to individual) moral responsibility. Where are the decisive individual actions (appropriately related to governmental actions), and who are the individuals doing them? Might the answer be: there are none?

Ilya writes:

Read lot's and lot's of Matt Bruenig's blog posts on this topic.

ThaomasH writes:

I do not see why to approach poverty as a problem in "blaming." There is an inevitable trade off in any program that alleviates poverty that it may in some degree fail to provide enough incentive for the recipients from having fallen into poverty.

Perry Metzger writes:

Side point: if you made your slides available as a PDF (by dong print to PDF from Powerpoint), people could read them (even in many web browsers) even if they didn't have powerpoint. Many people do not have Powerpoint.

Sergey Kurdakov writes:

I think one of the thing to blame is a lack of effective tools for dissemination of common sense best practices knowledge.
while Russia ( my native country ) is not most poor, still there is amazingly few common sense in daily discussion. Like: people blame big cities for 'stealing their wealth' ( so people hate Moscow and Petersburg ) but in fact - big cities are just more effective. It is quite possible, that if people knew that bigger cities are better for them - they will be moving to them with more enthusiasm. Of cause - some do move, but still - many just miss the point.
Or while electronic books have some positive effects - the country still has very small penetration of this 'tool of development' and traditional bookstores are rare ( and disappear ) and there is really almost impossible to find a good book there: no market no books.

so you get - there are some problems, but our society even does not realize - that there are some possible solutions.

And those tools to disseminate information seems are relatively easy to establish. And here is my personal blame on those who can spend few effort - but provide big results. I think - that it is pity a lot of people just do not have a slight sense of what are real problems of developing world while having good advice to share if they knew better. and thus - there is no 'motion' to make some minor effort ( which they can afford due to spare time ) to make a personal contribution to solve this big problem.

Then, I think a wikipedia like project with details on common projects which 'improves' lives might be a very useful in this case.

so common sense is great. It is just common sense has very little penetration to lives of people in developing world.

so it deserves just to mention: it is not difficult to improve situation by more small steps, someone just have to announce - hey - there is a tool.

Say like hyperloop was presented to the world: there is an idea - you might use it.

And it is quite possible, that hyperloop transportation will change both developed and developing world in near future. And it cost just nothing for Musk to share his insight. Let others do the same - share common sense approaches to solve small and big problems, so that it reaches wider auditory.

A Country Farmer writes:

Good but various grammar mistakes on slide 12

A Country Farmer writes:

I like the conception of "micro-ethics." Mind blown. Thanks

Mr. Econotarian writes:

Unfortunately just saying "third world governments have bad policies" doesn't answer the blame game.

Who is to blame for bad third world governments?

And perhaps more constructively, what can be done to encourage those responsible for bad third world governments to make better third world governments?

World Back/IMF bribery for good policies doesn't seem very effective.

Widespread lack of belief in economic science is the biggest problem that I see. If an entire population doesn't believe in economic science, who could expect them to support a good government (whether it is through democracy or even through "selectorate" driven autocracy.)

Someone has to answer how the heck China managed to back away from total communism (while still claiming it is a communist country). That was a miracle! Of course China is unlikely to reach its full potential until most of its people are willing to say "hey, we're really capitalist, and proud of it!".

Emerich writes:

Great book idea. Poverty is not new, but judging by the PPT your approach will be bracing and quite likely, mostly right!

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

As used here, "Blame" implies cause or failure to prevent cause.

There will be a distinct difference if the inquiry starts from the conclusion that poverty is "caused," rather than the result of the lack of (or prevention of) factors that ameliorate, alleviate and displace poverty.

To some extent it appears that the inquiry will be concerned with what has gone missing in our society and why have what factors diminished or disappeared.

Even a determination of what factors have diminished or disappeared, will require an understanding of why if there is to be any point in determining "blame," presumably for the elimination of the conduct that creates that blame.

James writes:

Jon Hare,
Of course there are facts in every discipline that cannot be observed without the right vantage point. If you are aware of some set of facts which can only be learned via fieldwork, please share with those of us who choose to direct our efforts elsewhere. Or do you mean to suggest that there are facts about poverty which can be learned firsthand through fieldwork but which cannot even not be transmitted via written English?

John hare writes:

Yes, there are many things that don't transmit in writing. Someone with no background in the field cannot relate to heat exhaustion as a minor example. In concrete work you clean up your tools every use, except a couple of weeks ago when we got too hot and it was a safety issue. None of the people in that retirement community could relate to my order to drop the dirty tools on the ground and worry about it tomorrow. It takes experience.

Johnnhare writes:

I meant to say, experience to go with the acedemic. Either one alone is at a severe disadvantage.

Reading recommendation: Hardin, Garrett
"The Tragedy of the Commons"
__Science__ (1968-Dec-13)

1. Earth's human population cannot grow without limit.
2. Earth's maximum possible instantaneous human population exceeds Earth's maximum possible sustainable population.
3. Earth's maximum possible sustainable human population leaves little room for wilderness or large non-human terrestrial animals.
4. Value is determined by supply and demand*, therefore ...
5. A world in which human life is precious is a world in which human life is scarce.
6. Earth's human population will stop growing when either (a) the birth rate falls to meet the death rate or (b) the death rate rises to meet the birth rate.
7. Earth's human population will stop growing as a result of (a) deliberate human agency or (b) other.
8. Deliberate human agency is either (a) democratically controlled or (b) other.
9. For every locality __A__ the term "the government of A" names the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality*.
10. All human behavioral traits are heritable*, therefore ...
11. Voluntary programs for population control selectively breed non-compliant individuals.
12. Human misery is like heat; in the absence of barriers it will flow until it is evenly distributed.

4. This is not an axiom of capitalist economics or even human economics; it is a fact of life. Compare the leaf surface area to root mass ratio of plants of the tropical rain forest floor to the leaf surface area to root mass ratio of plants of the Sonoran desert. Compute the correlation (leaf mass/root mass, dissolved nutrient concentration) of water hyacinth grown on ponds of sewage.
6. Eric Turkheimer, "The Three Laws of Behavior Genetics and What They Mean", (__Current Directions in Psychological Science__ 2000).
10. Definition, after Weber.

James writes:

John Hare,

I think you underestimate your ability to communicate or the ability of others to learn. Anyone can read what you wrote and, assuming that you are reliable, take away the lesson that proper concrete work practices must take into account the weather.

Please stop being so coy. If there are relevant facts about the causes of poverty which you have learned firsthand, just state them. To do otherwise after repeated requests just seems sketchy.

john hare writes:

The relevant fact is that I have dealt with many people that only have theoretical knowledge of various problems, and the vast majority are nearly helpless when dealing with the real world.

The heat example was one of hundreds of things that most people cannot understand unless they have some exposure to the situation. My inability to get the requirement for experience across is another.

In one of my other pastimes that is extensively theoretical, we hit the whack a mole problem when talking about individual problems. Mention one problem and someone tries to shoot that one down, then the next one ad infinitum. In reality, proponents of a single idea like say, settling Mars, like discussing solutions to one problem to distract from the reality that there are thousands of unknowns to be addressed before the reality can be accomplished.

James writes:

John Hare:

I asked you for facts learned through fieldwork related to the causes of poverty and you provided none. Maybe we should stop to consider: How informative can such fieldwork be if the lessons to be learned cannot even be expressed in English?

john hare writes:

Advocating policy based on theoretical studies only is an ivory tower problem. Note how many fields there are in which theoretical knowledge in insufficient. Mechanics, chefs, doctors, pilots and many others require practical experience, unless you are comfortable riding with a first time pilot, doctor, etc... Working with people requires understanding people.

Michael Crone writes:

James: There is an intuition/wisdom that develops with experience that can't be expressed in specific instructions. Do you disagree?

John hare: Are there certain, specific points where you think Caplan is wrong or are you just saying something like "I don't trust Caplan as an expert source because he lacks on-the-ground experience"?

john hare writes:

Michael Crone,
Both. I have noticed numerous comments by various people pointing out possible flaws in his concepts, and he ignores them. Arrogance of this type is often based on a lack of experience with trying to put a concept into practice.

I run a business, am somewhat of an entrepreneur, and am an inventor. In all three areas I see concepts derail in the face of reality. If all my concepts had worked, I'd be a multi-gazzillionair by now. With the failures that I have experienced, the need for both good theory and solid testing have been deeply impressed on me. Some of the people I know are far better at one or more of those fields than I am, and the topic of conversation is often about the little unknown that stops it all.

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