It’s true and political seems to be the key word. The other consideration is human nature. People in power can be criminals and greedy. In Haiti years ago the head of customs at the airport once told me: “Jonathan, we know you are trying to help Haiti but there is a business of poverty here and you are never going to change it!” ....as they demanded usurious fees to retrieve supply from a plane to build a new school for them.

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"I had embraced this feel-good “fact” without questioning the statistical methods that lie behind it." I had to stop reading and comment immediately, because the way my mind works, the words "*lie* behind it" tell the story. Think about that for one second. Now back to my reading.

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Apr 24Liked by david roberts

Well said and inarguable.

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Apr 24·edited Apr 24Liked by david roberts

Confession: I sort of miss W's *simple* ways. Ah well.

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Suppose we got a world some time in the future where the poorest lived like the average american today does. (as measured in material goods)

By this point, most Americans are fabulously rich by today's standards. And standards have risen. So that what is considered normal today is poor by those higher standards.

Now this world is much richer, and so could easily afford to do much better by these "poor" people. And their standard of living is low by the standards of the time. Yet they aren't poor by our standards.

To the extent that you look at relative poverty, your measuring inequality, not poverty. If you look at poverty compared to the standards rich people expect, thats basically measuring inequality indirectly. Looking at how much better we "could do", also a measure of inequality.

All of these measures go down when some people become very rich.

We have made significant progress. Some things are absolute not relative. (Ie having enough food to not starve)

Suppose you are a total (or average) utilitarian. You want everyone to have as nice a life as possible. The marginal returns to money are diminishing. So redistribution can increase utility. (ie taking $1 from the rich to the poor is good, because the poor need it more) But giving $10 to the rich and $1 to the poor is slightly better. (in terms of giving valueable goods or services, just adding more money causes inflation)

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I couldn’t agree more, David.

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