George Monbiot's latest tome gets an airing in The Guardian. And we're specifically fingered as being some of the evil ones who imposed neoliberalism upon the world. From Mises and Hayek, through the Mont Pelerin Society, leads us directly to the Adam Smith Institute and the condition of the world today.
We think that's rather overdoing our contribution to be frank but we are willing to accept responsibility all the same. As a point or argumentation that is: assume that the charge is correct, we really have been plotting all these decades to make the world as it is today.
OK, so what is it that our pushing of neoliberalism has done? You could look at that chart above from Max Roser. This last generation of globally applied neoliberalism, all that free trade, globalisation, that application of the Washington Consensus (that list of stupid things that governments should not do), what has been the effect? The greatest decline in absolute poverty in the history of our entire species. That decline has been so great that global inequality has been falling.
Or if you prefer it in words, from 2013:
The number of people living on less than $1.25 per day has decreased dramatically in the past three decades, from half the citizens in the developing world in 1981 to 21 percent in 2010, despite a 59 percent increase in the developing world population. However, a new analysis of extreme poverty released today by the World Bank shows that there are still 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty, and despite recent impressive progress, Sub-Saharan Africa still accounts for more than one-third of the world’s extreme poor.
The number of people living in extreme poverty around the world is likely to fall to under 10 percent of the global population in 2015, according to World Bank projections released today, giving fresh evidence that a quarter-century-long sustained reduction in poverty is moving the world closer to the historic goal of ending poverty by 2030.
The distribution of the economic growth that has been happening. Yes, certainly, the global 1% have been doing well (that global 1% is just about everyone a bit over median income in the rich countries. Over about £30,000 a year in the UK and you're the 1%) but look at Branko Milanovic's chart to see what has been really happening elsewhere:
The top 1% of the global income distribution has seen its real income (adjusted for inflation) rise by more than 60% over those two decades.
What is far less known is that an even greater increase in incomes was realized by those parts of the global income distribution that now lie around the median. They achieved an 80% real increase in incomes.
It is there — between the 50th and 60th percentile of global income distribution, which in 2008 included people with annual after-tax per capita incomes between 1,200 and 1,800 international dollars — that we find some 200 million Chinese and 90 million Indians, as well as about 30 million each in Indonesia, Brazil, Egypt and Mexico. These 400 million people are among the biggest gainers in the global income distribution.
The real surprise is that those in the bottom third of the global income distribution have also made significant gains, with real incomes rising between more than 40% and almost 70%. (The only exception is the poorest 5% of the population, whose real incomes have remained about the same.)
Monbiot namechecks Milton Friedman, of course. And there's an interesting comment that has been made about Friedman. Which is that he wasn't right wing at all (his railing against the monopoly of the AMA should be enough for people to see that) but was a very left wing extreme utilitarian. The goal is to make the poor richer. What is to be done is what works in making that happen. We rather share that goal and outlook.
So, back to Monbiot's accusation. We're, in part at least, responsible for the state of the modern world, for the way things have gone these recent decades. What has happened is that the greatest curse upon humanity, that absolute , peasant, poverty has been alleviated as never before and looks as if it's well on the way to extinction.
We're really very happy indeed to be blamed for that. We'll celebrate, in fact we do celebrate, that it has happened and might even suffer from that warm smug glow of knowing that a plan has worked.
At which point a question or four for George himself. What's wrong with wanting the global poor to be richer? What's wrong with advocating policies that promote that goal? And what on Earth is wrong with the application of policies which have, largely, achieved that goal?
Just what is it we are supposed to be ashamed of?