June 16, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)

World Economics

We have an economic system which, whatever its formal ideological billing, is in substantial part a planned economy.

John Kenneth Galbraith

It doesn't take much travel for a person to realize that different parts of the world are very different. You don't have to go to Africa or Russia to see the differences; you just have to visit different parts of this country.

It is obvious that, just as people go through various stages of development, so do various regions and nations. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, there was a mass migration of people from the farms to the cities. That was because life was better in the cities.

"What!" you say, "Better in the cities?" Not only was life better in the cities, but men even left the farms to work under the miserable conditions in the coal mines. That was because life on a farm was filled with back breaking work with meager rewards. When, thanks to the weather, a crop failed, people starved. People who owned a small patch of land were the lucky ones, but they sometimes had to sell it to keep from starving.

There are now regions where the majority of its inhabitants live in relative prosperity; they have decent houses and as much food to eat as they want. They have leisure time which they can enjoy according to their taste. Sure, people have things that they can complain about. Even millionaires can find things to complain about. Sure, there are always the poor, but in this country, at this time, most are living in poverty either because they don't know how to do things any other way, or are addicted to drugs, or have other habits that keep them in poverty. Some are stupid and some are crazy. Some are simply unwilling to move to where the jobs are. Still, for most people, life can range from satisfactory to great.

People who yearn for "the good olde days" don' t realize how miserable those days were for large masses of people. Nor do they realize how helpless many people were to escape that grinding poverty. Some risked their lives to escape from it to something better, usually in America. There are parts of the world, and parts of this country, that are no better than most of the world was at the turn of the century. Parts of East Africa are in the grip of a deadly famine; many people are starving to death in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia.

There are intellectuals (whatever that word means) who believe that there is a simple solution to the problems that have always plagued mankind. For some it is unrestricted capitalism, for some socialism or communism, for some religion. Come to think of it, the word intellectual might be defined as someone who dreams with his eyes open.

The fact is that regions develop economically along a necessary evolutionary pathway. People evolve by developing skills according to their ability. Just as there is no way for a person to jump from infancy to adulthood, neither can a region or a nation. The process of education can shorten the period that it takes for someone to develop skills; and sometimes it can lengthen it. Some people from third world countries have gotten their education in industrial nations and have gone back to their country and applied that knowledge. In this way the evolution of a country can be accelerated. Still, it cannot jump overnight from an agrarian society, subject to the whims of the weather, to an industrial economy. It can be even more difficult to go from a hunter-gatherer culture to a farming culture.

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