We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Detractors will try to argue that the poorest quintiles have a smaller percentage of the overall pie. And that might be true, but the pie is much, much bigger. Would you rather have 50 percent of a million or 20 percent of a billion? Another way of putting this is: Would you rather be better off, even if that meant certain people were super well off? Or would you rather everyone were worse off, as long as everyone were relatively equal?

That the poorest among us are still, on balance, doing better today than they were 50 years ago is a remarkable testimony to what relatively free people and markets can do, even as governments put up roadblocks. So if the poor aren’t getting poorer, why do people say they are?

Max Borders

37 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Lee Moore

    I don’t disagree with Max Borders analysis at all. But it does come across as meeting the hyper materialist poverty warriors on their home turf. It’s easy to sniff at materialism when you’re well off, but there really are other things in life than material possessions. It’s perfectly possible for a bottom quintile chap, whose material well being has gone up plenty, to feel more squished than before if his status (and thus bird pulling possibilities) are going downhill.

    So, yes. measured in material terms, the poverty warriors are talking crap, as they always do. And material well being is pretty damn important, even for hippies. But there are other, perhaps harder to measure, things that could be suffering while the poor get richer materially.

  • Tarrou

    Because we need some bullshit excuse to hate our own culture.

  • John Galt III

    Those quintiles of people’s assets and income are also misleading as used by the left. The left gives the impression that they are static and that if you are in the lowest quintile you never get out. That is utter nonsense. Every study available on this topic shows the opposite.

    Obama’s own governmental agencies call bullshit on this lie:


    Our Marxist President, Obama, believes this garbage and for those who don’t think he is a Marxist, here’s a man who lived under Batista and then Castro. he knows whereof he speaks. The father of the next US president if we are lucky:


  • pete

    Telling the poor they are richer than the poor were in the olden days won’t work for long.

    There are too many of them.

  • Error 404 World Not Found

    There are too many of them.

    Hell at no time in human history have a smaller proportion of humanity NOT been poor by any reasonable definition of the word.

  • “Telling the poor they are richer than the poor were in the olden days won’t work for long.”

    But telling them they’re getting poorer – which is demonstrably untrue – does?

    Actually, rhetorical question. We know it does. But why? Because it’s what they want to hear? Or perhaps because – given the constant mobility JG III mentions – at any given time, it is true, if only temporarily, for a certain proportion of poorer people?

    Also, what 404 said.

  • No, wait: the opposite of what 404 said. Geez.

  • Mr Black

    Socialists need muscle on the ground, discontents they can point to and claim to represent. The more discontents they create, the more power they claim to represent. A healthy and satisfied member of society is worthless to socialism.

  • Johnnydub

    A healthy and satisfied member of society WITHOUT SOMEONE TO BLAME is worthless to socialism.

  • Very retired

    The poverty we, as a culture, are experiencing in this age is not material, but intellectual and spiritual.

    Our educational system is in a state of free fall, unable to teach even the rudimentary elements of literacy and numeracy to large segments of our young, and floundering in a self-made desert of moral famine, unwilling to teach the truths that our ancestors found self-evident, and unable to construct any coherent alternative.

    We are unmoored in the tumultuous seas of life, dis masted by our own failure to enunciate any meaningful vision of our purpose, and any realistic description of how we should conduct our affairs, either individually or as a society.

    The day will come when my lamentable generation of spoiled children will have passed away, and the tantrums we have inflicted on the world might then be discarded, and the damage we have caused be repaired.

    Hercules only had 12 labors. Our unfortunate heirs will have tasks innumerable, and troubles beyond measure. Their only possible path to safety will be to re-discover the values and virtues so long disused and defamed by the slanders and scapegoating of the collapsing progressive house of cards.

    Discover the safe harbor of individual dignity and rights, and learn that the only true energy that can power a civilization is the creative energy of the independent mind.

    Then, perhaps, the poverty so many find themselves trapped in may be alleviated, and the dark night of the soul our culture is cursed with might see the glory of sunlit uplands.

  • NickM

    Give me strength! The kids are probably as good or bad now as ever. You sound like the Daily Mail. The minute anyone talks about “our purpose” and all the rest you ain’t an individualist. You are saying it would be better if everyone turned-up at church of a Sunday in a nice hat. Well, I don’t buy that. I don’t buy that sort of bankrupt “morality” built on an ersatz concept of common purpose. It was always a myth the whole, “Old maids cycling to evensong” and all that pre-jazz. The ’60s (or whenever) was not a cultural hecatomb (though there was some very questionable fashion). There is much wrong but it is not the existential bugbear that gets yanked-out every so often over a course of generations too long to recount. I like life in 2015. Things are getting better. Not smoothly I shall grant you but they never have.

  • No, wait: the opposite of what 404 said. Geez.

    No I would have to agree with 404 entirely. It is clear that there is a smaller percentage of people on the edge of starvation and poverty globally than ever in human history.

  • 18 years and counting

    This is the difference between socialists and libertarians in a nutshell.

    Socialists don’t care about absolute levels of (insert any measure here) of the worst off in society. They only care about reducing the gap between the worst off and the best off, even if that means the worst off get worse off.

  • Mr Ed

    here is a smaller percentage of people on the edge of starvation and poverty globally than ever in human history.

    Indeed, and the reason for their condition is primarily ideological in that it arises from a faillure to adopt and respect private property, time preference or giving in to base impulses, either on their part or the part of their rulers.

  • Paul Marks

    The partial deregulation of the “Permit Raj” in India, and the roll back of Maoist socialism in China have vastly reduced poverty in the world.

    As for economic polices favoured by, for example, Pope Francis.

    I do not expect this gentleman to have a deep understanding of economics – but he should be able to use his eyes and see the results of price controls and wild government welfare spending.

    For example in Venezuela – or his own Argentina.

    There have always been good currents and bad currents of thought in the Roman Catholic Church (and other Churches) – but in modern times, the bad currents (the “Social Justice” crowd) have become dominant.

    Sadly the last thing that a country such as the Philippines is to listen to the advice (this-country-is-too-unequal-take-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor) of someone like Pope Francis.

    The virtue of justice and the virtue of mercy (charity) are NOT the same thing. Charity is NOT a matter of justice – not a matter of the state, of crime and punishment.

    That tradition in the Church that, for example, Brian Tierney (“The Idea of Natural Rights”) represents is just wrong – flat wrong.

    Why am banging on about the Churches?

    Because they, especially the largest Church, is supposed to be the alternative to the “liberal” “Progressive” statist establishment elite.

    They are not acting as an alternative to the “left” (for want of a better word) most of the Churches are acting as an ECHO CHAMBER for them.

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    Coming back to Max’s original comment about people’s attitudes to being better off, while others are much better off, the answer is surprising.

    I’m quoting from memory now, but I remember a survey carried out some years ago by, I believe, Harvard University. Students were asked whether they would prefer to be earning $50,000 a year while everyone else also earned $50,000, or $100,000 while everyone else was making $200,000. The majority of respondents selected the former.

  • Jake Haye

    They only care about reducing the gap between the worst off and the best off, even if that means the worst off get worse off.
    18 years and counting January 18, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Attributing sincere beliefs to leftist grievance mongers is a mistake imo. They seem to be primarily motivated by a desire to discomfit people they dislike, something their ‘solutions’ invariably entail.

    Students were asked whether they would prefer to be earning $50,000 a year while everyone else also earned $50,000, or $100,000 while everyone else was making $200,000.

    Seems like you would need to stipulate that the purchasing power of $1 is the same in both cases, otherwise the former does indeed look like the best option. I seriously doubt that occured to anyone involved though.

    In a similar vein, something I would ask leftists is this:

    Other things being equal, which of these healthcare systems do you think is preferable:

    (a) A system which allows or causes 20,000 preventable deaths per year, but those deaths are uniformly distributed throughout the population; or

    (b) A system which allows or causes 10,000 preventable deaths per year, but those deaths occur disproportionately among those on low incomes.

    By adjusting the numbers, perhaps it would be possible to establish just how many people they believe should die for socialism.

  • I think that all of it boils down to the fundamental self-perception of individuals within the rest of society: do I measure my wellbeing (material or otherwise) as compared to that of others, or on its own (meaning, as compared to my aspirations or to my past condition)?

  • Coming back to Max’s original comment about people’s attitudes to being better off, while others are much better off, the answer is surprising.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Lee Moore and Alisa have got it (partly) right: it’s partly to do with status.
    Lee Moore has gone a step further in recognizing that it’s also about bird pulling potential; it’s understandable that Alisa did not get this.
    But there is also another scarce resource, apart from attractive young ladies: real estate. As long as house prices rise with incomes, getting a smaller slice of a growing pie ain’t gonna do you much good; not if your goal in life is to marry a beuatiful girl and raise a family.
    At the risk of starting a dispute: that is ONE reason why i think that a Georgist tax, while probably not optimal, would be an improvement over the current system — especially the current UK system.

    Jake also gets it right:

    Attributing sincere beliefs to leftist grievance mongers is a mistake imo.

    In this concrete example: why think that they are motivated by envy, rather than lust for power, or moral vanity?

  • So we tax Georges? Fine, I’m a Nick 😉

  • Oh, I think some (not all) leftists (or whatevists) have sincerely held beliefs. The brute fact they may or may not be wrong doesn’t prevent the belief does it?

  • Snag

    On a similar note, it has become the rage to discuss government spending in terms of percentage of GDP. So we regularly get stories bemoaning “cuts” in overseas aid, or military spending, in terms of a percentage of GDP even when the total spend has increased. Just why military spending should be related to GDP is never explained. This is, to put it mildly, nuts.

  • “No I would have to agree with 404 entirely. It is clear that there is a smaller percentage of people on the edge of starvation and poverty globally than ever in human history.”

    Yeah, I thought that was what it said, hence my initial agreement, and then looked again. Bloody double negatives. It still makes my head reel – I thought it was only because it was late, and I was tired – and I still can’t decide if he/she really meant what was actually posted.

    At no time in human history has a smaller proportion of humanity been poor. Right? No emphatic “NOT”.

  • John Galt III


    I think you are correct. I don’t think the majority of leftists are lying, cynical people. America’s first progressives: Woodrow Wilson (D), Teddy Roosevelt (R), Herbert Hoover (R) and the whole FDR Brain Trust had very firmly held beliefs. Our founding fathers with their Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights have been attacked by these people for 100 years because their vision needs to be imposed on us dumb folk. Those documents and laws are impediments. In brief, they know what is best for us and “God damn it you better do as we say”. Obama and the RINO’s are just a continuation of the Elites knowing far better than the ordinary citizen what is good for them.

    In the meantime I have a permit for concealed carry of a firearm. In Montana where I live if that Muslim tried to pull that Sydney stunt in the coffee shop here, he might get one or two of us but he’s a dead man before any police arrive. Why the rest of the Western World wants to rely on policemen is beyond me. They sure didn’t help those girls in Rotherham. You are the best protection of yourself, your family and your friends. Muslims have guns, bad guys have guns and you don’t. That is insane. Level the playing field gentlemen.

  • Stonyground

    Regarding earlier comments on the dire state of our education system, I would suggest that, in the internet age, the brighter kids are educating themselves.

  • Phil B

    It very much depends on how you define “poverty”. I recall a headline in one of the newspapers which effectively said that due to lots of people losing their jobs, 330,000 LESS children were living in poverty.

    In other words, as the average wage went down, then the gap between the “rich” and poor narrowed and as “poverty” was defined as receiving (from whatever source) less than 60% of the average wage, then people on benefits rose above the 60% threshold.

    Now when someone bandies the word “poverty” around like a bludgeon to seize the argument I demand their definition of poverty.

    I also note that at no point in the previous history of mankind have “poor” people been fatter than the rich. Now it is the other way around.

  • it’s understandable that Alisa did not get this

    Oh I did, Snorri – it’s just that I was getting at something entirely different from what Lee was. I was not talking about status at all.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Alisa: i don’t see it as entirely different. Different, yes, but, in my imperfect understanding of human nature, closely related.

  • Snorri, you are talking about status, which is by definition person X comparing himself to the rest of the persons around him. Conversely, I am talking about individuals not comparing their condition to that of others. So not only is it entirely different, it is the direct opposite.

  • bradley13

    The study mentioned above has been done in many different contexts. Here’s a pop-science article about one such. Earning more compared to your neighbors is more important than earning more on an absolute scale.

    The objective truth is: today’s poor in the West are rich by historical standards. Today’s poor in the developing world are also doing better and better. Everyone should be hopping up and down for joy.

    The subjective truth is: people compare themselves to other people they know or encounter. The poorest person in Britain might be rich in Somalia – but they are in Britain, and that’s how they measure themselves.

    There is another aspect to this: the poor in the West, dependent on benefits, generally don’t feel useful. I remember some African ambassador visiting the UK and being given a tour of some government housing project. Seeing the homes – luxury by African standards – but also seeing the people hanging around, nothing to do, not caring about anything – he was not impressed. Instead, he observed that the people lacked purpose in their lives, and he found the whole situation dehumanizing.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Alisa: it seems to me that we agree on the facts: people prefer a larger slice of a smaller pie, because they are worried about status.
    What you seem to say, in addition, is that they are wrong to do so.
    To which i reply: it’s not a matter of right or wrong: you cannot change human nature any more than you can abolish inequality. People will always desire spouses more desirable than average, and housing with better than average location; in fact people will continue to desire them even if economic inequality were to be somehow abolished.
    This is NOT to say that economic inequality could or should be reduced by government action; and certainly it is not to approve of the idiotic rationalizations that are being put forward to justify government action:

  • Nowhere did I say that this is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, Snorri. What I am saying is that it is decidedly not universal human nature.

    People will always desire spouses more desirable than average, and housing with better than average location

    You don’t know that. The fact that you and I may desire the same house, tells you absolutely nothing about the reasons I desire it (if I even do, and not everyone does: I know plenty of people who prefer a smaller house even if they can financially afford a bigger one, same with cars and other “stuff”). You may desire the fancy house because you compare yourself to your neighbor and don’t want to feel inferior to him, I may desire it because I see it as an investment (not that I do, but plenty of people other people do). Etc.

  • Snorri Godhi

    ou may desire the fancy house because you compare yourself to your neighbor

    No, you got it the wrong way around: i compare myself to my neighbor because i am worried that he can offer more money for the house that i want to buy. (And can impress girls with a car fancier than i can afford.) THAT is human nature.

  • Mr Ed

    THAT is human nature.

    Is it not the nature of the beast? It not being human rising above base instinct, and co-operating on a voluntary basis. You lose nothing in reality if you are better off but your neighbour succeeds to a greater degree in a free society, other than a hope that you might satisfy your base instincts. Why should others let you succeed, were you so minded?

  • Snorri, are you really blind to the fact that different humans have different “nature”?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Sorry Alisa, but i already misunderstood you at least twice in this thread, and you misunderstood me at least once. Now you make a claim that is either obviously true but irrelevant to the issue, or potentially relevant if it weren’t obviously untrue, depending on the interpretation; and i cannot be bothered to argue against either interpretation.

    As for Mr Ed, his misrepresentation of what i said is sufficiently blatant that, even without the internal contradiction in his comment, i am inclined to dismiss it as trolling.