Solutions

If our world is unfair and unsustainable, what do we do about it? Where do we start?

This section is all about setting the world right, and since that needs to happen on so many levels, I’ve sorted solutions between personal, local, national, and international actions. But before we can actually say what needs to happen, it’s worth painting some kind of picture of what we want in the first place. It’s a whole lot easier to outline some ways forward if we know where we’re going. In a single sentence:

My vision is for everyone to have the opportunity to live a fulfilling life in a fair society, in a way that doesn’t undermine future generations’ capacity to do the same.

I don’t suppose anyone’s going to argue for unfulfilling lives in an unfair society that is unsustainable, but no doubt the devil is in the details, so let me break it down.

Fulfilling lives: As writers such as Oliver James and Richard Layard have shown, levels of happiness in the wealthiest countries haven’t risen since the 1970s, despite a doubling of GDP. Poverty is miserable and wealth makes us happier, but only up to a point. Once we have enough, further growth delivers diminishing returns. (The first free refill at the café is great, the second is appreciated, but nobody needs ten cups of coffee.) We have geared our economy around the pursuit of growth, assuming that growth will automatically translate into more fulfilling lives. Unfortunately many of the policies that deliver economic growth actually work against us, making society less equal, more competitive, and more individualistic. Consumerism coaches us to be permanently dissatisfied with what we have, always wanting more.

Part of the answer here is to make wealth history: not by returning to poverty, but by redefining wealth, remembering that a life worth living involves community, strong relationships, satisfying work, healthy democracy, and the opportunity to participate in art and culture.

Solutions that work towards more fulfilling lives include flexible working, protecting public space, and participative democracy.

Fair society: Global wealth is increasing at remarkable speed. The year I was born, 1981, global GDP stood at $11.3 trillion (US). By the time I was ten it had doubled to $22 trillion, and by 2001 it was $31.8 trillion. You’d think that kind of growth would sweep poverty away, but in 1981 there were 1.5 billion people living on less than a dollar a day. The doubling of global wealth over the next ten years knocked that down to 1.2, and the next ten years managed to reduce it to 1.1 billion people. Think about that for a second: It took $10 trillion dollars of growth to lift 100 million people out of extreme poverty. Of all that magnificent increase in wealth, 95% of it completely by-passed those who needed it most.

That’s just the extreme end – around half of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day, and that figure has barely changed since 1981. So while it is technically true to say that growth can end poverty, it is neither the best nor the only way. Whether they do so knowingly or not, those that say it is are repeating a convenient lie.

I don’t want to live in a world where the 500 richest people have more money than the poorest billion. I reject an economic system where those 500 people need to get 100 times richer for that billion to be just 2 times better off. We’re supposed to be an intelligent, moral species, and such a system is unworthy of us. Let’s make those extremes history.

Solutions that work towards greater equality include minimum and maximum wages, taxes on luxury goods rather than on income, cooperatives instead of corporations, land reform, and fair trade policies.

Future capacity: All of this wealth creating machinery exists within another system – the biosphere. It’s a vast system, but it isn’t infinite. Everything we do as a human race needs to fit within the boundaries of our planet – and that means there are limits to how many resources we can gather in any given year, and how much we can throw away. As things currently stand, we’re drawing resources faster than the earth can renew them, and emitting waste faster than the earth can absorb it. That dooms future generations to a world plundered of its natural wealth and drastically altered by pollution, perhaps to the point of being unliveable in places.

Climate change is the biggest problem here, but the nitrogen cycle is also out of balance, water aquifers are being depleted, and our stocks of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels are rapidly depleting. Deforestation, overfishing, and biodiversity loss are also changing the earth, leaving us poorer even as our economy grows. With every passing year, the world is less equipped provide for us in the future.

A sustainable world is one with limits, where we take just enough and no more from the earth, and emit waste no faster than it can be processed by the earth’s systems. The good news is that good lives don’t have to cost the earth. We can make that overconsuming lifestyle history without compromising human happiness.

Solutions that work towards sustainability include reducing carbon emissions, encouraging localisation, protecting fish stocks and managing forests, recycling, and designing better, longer-lasting products.

49 Comments on “Solutions”

  1. jen April 27, 2007 at 3:26 pm #

    socialist bastards. it’s not the wealthies fault for being successful and being given the freedom of a free market economy. it is not for the rest of the world to mop up africa’s shit bucket ever 20 years. if they want to be more developed they should take it upon themselves to make a difference not b lazy and leav it to westerners

    • Rory Yeung May 30, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

      Surely the biggest problem is that we are trying to use a system of economics that assumes that everyone has the same starting position, when this is clearly not the case. For example, a person who grows up in a shanty town cannot, however hard they work, gain enough education to become a lawyer.

    • SHELAH DAWKINS March 4, 2010 at 8:04 pm #

      I HAVE TO DISAGREE WITH THAT STATEMENT. WHERE A PERSON COMES FROM DOES NOT MEAN THEY CANNOT BECOME A LAWYER. IT IS NOT THEIR ENIVORMENT OR UP BRINGING THAT CAN CREATE THEIR ROAD BLOCKS TO THE POINT THAT SOMETHING CAN NOT BE DONE. IT IS THE CHOICES THEY MAKE TO BE WHO OR WHAT THEY ARE THAT WOULD BE THE PERSON’S ROADBLOCK.

    • tea November 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

      Excuse me mr. ignorant, do not assume that poverty = africa. There is SO much poverty in north america.

      • Jeremy November 14, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

        Well aware of that thanks, but well done for introducing yourself by calling me ignorant! Great way to make friends and be taken seriously.

  2. Jeremy April 27, 2007 at 4:06 pm #

    well, point taken. I don’t want to turn a blind eye to corruption and mismanagement, and lay the blame entirely on the west’s doorstep. But you can’t tell someone to stand up for themselves while you punch them in the face, and that’s pretty much what our trade laws do at the moment.
    The main problem is that no matter what the third world does, it will never enjoy our lifestyle – because we use too much of everything. Are we entitled to more than our fair share of the world’s resources because we got there first? I think not.

  3. supaza89 April 27, 2007 at 7:21 pm #

    The only reason the west is as successful as you stated in your comment is because we exploit them so much. Where does our wealth come from? Where does our coffee come from? Where do almost all our products come from?

    Poor countries. We are rich because we exploit the poor. . not through any major developments of our own. Only selfish abuse of those less fortunate has got us here.

    I think saying that Africa is lazy, and waiting for the west to do everything is an exaggeration. Perhaps you should at least have a look at what damage the debt Western countries hold against Africa is doing before making such bold statements.

    Why should the rest of the world suffer because of our greed? Never mind the “laziness” of Africa

    Your comment is appreciated, even if to prove our point.

  4. Sam April 27, 2007 at 10:16 pm #

    Again, I have no desire to use big words – I don’t know any – but, in your own, it absolutely is for the rest of the world, specifically the UK, to mop up africa’s ‘shit bucket’, considering that we were the ones who gave them the bucket in the first place through colonisation, forcing them to grow our crops and not theirs, trying to teach them to be British and generally doing our best to destroy their culture and their livelihood.
    You can make any number of claims about what we already do – the aid we give, that kind of thing – but the truth is that the way we give our aid benefits us, not them. Put simply, African countries are forced to spend the money we give them in aid buying resources from us, creating jobs and wealth in Britain, not Africa.
    Fair? no. It’s not even like we’re leaving them to get on with cleaning thier bucket themselves. Every time they make a step we’re piling more in.

  5. Zoky April 29, 2007 at 4:29 pm #

    If we are talking about shit buckets, who are the greatest polluters on this planet? And who ends up ‘carrying the can'(‘scuse the pun) for that?

  6. Nancy April 30, 2007 at 1:39 pm #

    Hey Jen…firstly, learn how to spell, secondly, don’t write about what you don’t know. People in Africa aren’t ‘lazy’ they work harder than you and me, who is it who suffers from our pollution?

    • Christina December 7, 2009 at 11:58 am #

      I think the information WAS very useful and i did not know
      that the us had lower levels of social mobility than Europe

    • Ciara December 7, 2009 at 12:02 pm #

      but Ive missed the point – there’s more than one kind of wealth. Americans have chosen financial wealth, and Europe has chosen community and leisure time. Want to take a guess at which one makes people happier?

      And sure, climbing the economic ladder is possible, but did you know that the US has lower levels of social mobility than Europe
      and Jim what age are you xoxox

  7. Nathan Phillips May 10, 2007 at 12:25 pm #

    When talking about distribution of resources I think it is important to distinguish between limited resources and unlimited resources. The amount of money that the West has is not a limited resource. Money is not worth anything until it is spent: money is just a promise. When someone in the West buys something produced in the West the amount of money in the West is unchanged and the amount of resources in the West (in most cases) increases.

    Imagine a lumberjack and a chair maker have £40 each. Imagine the wood cutter doesn’t have any costs and sells enough wood to make a chair for £10 and that the chair maker sells chairs for £20 each.

    One day the lumberjack buys two chairs from the chair maker and the chair maker makes two more chairs for himself. The chair maker has to give the lumberjack £40 for wood at the beginning of the day and the lumberjack has to give the chair maker £40 for two of the chairs at the end of the day. They both end up with the same amount of money as they started the day with but they both have two chairs that they didn’t have at the start of the day, one of which they can give to someone who doesn’t have a chair.

    Now imagine that while sitting on their chairs that night, both of them read this website. The next day the lumberjack decides that though he could do with a couple more chairs he really only needs one more chair and places his order for one chair, the chair maker, seeing that he will make less money today decides he can only afford to make one chair for himself too. £20 changes hands in both directions so they still have the same amount of money at the end of the second day, but today they do not have a spare chair to give to someone else.

    Now there are two problems with this story. One is that most people are not self employed and instead work for larger businesses, the second is that wood is a limited resource.

    Starting with the first of these problems, the story is an analogy to try and understand larger economies. The resources or wealth of an economy are not a product of the value of the money that the economy holds on to at a point in time, but how fast the money can move around in the economy. In general and with a large number of people over a period of time, the more money people spend, the better off they will be. Encouraging a frugal lifestyle, if it were effective and independent of other actions, would reduce the wealth in the first world without benefiting anyone at all.

    The second issue is that of limited resources. There are many resources that are limited and it is important that we act in a way that not only conserves these, but increases the value we can get from our consumption of them. Technology is essentially about doing this. Time is a limited resource amongst a fixed number of people, the amount of CO2 we can afford to emit is another limited resource. At the moment, the amount of food we can produce around the world is not the limiting factor that is causing starvation in some parts.

    What we need is a proper analysis by competent economists of the things that we should and should not conserve in order to increase wealth around the world. I am not an economist, the thoughts and the story on this page are just my own, but I know enough to know that living by a naive philosophy is not going to most effectively make a impact on the state of the third world.

    I am making a point here to try and balance some of the misconceptions that I think might be promoted by this site and I do not want you to think that I do not believe in going without in order to benefit others. After all, if the lumberjack had kept all the chairs for himself then he would end up with a house full of chairs but without real wealth. I hope that I give away more money every year than most of the visitors to this site, but the only reason I can do that is because I run a business that allows people to pay more than they might for things that they could possibly do without. Let us not destroy ourselves because we feel bad for others, let us make our economy even more successful and be those that push resources from our economy out to increase the real wealth of the poorest. In that way we will hopefully see an end to poverty and not an end to wealth.

  8. Jeremy May 11, 2007 at 12:38 pm #

    This is a really interesting comment, and I agree entirely with your conclusion that we need competent economists on the case! I’m not an economist either, by any stretch of the imagination, but I am familiar with the idea that money isn’t actually a limited resource. Your economic parable illustrates that very well.
    The problem is that nothing is that simple. In a closed system and with the assumption that people are going to treat each other fairly, this works fine. But factor in just one unequal trade relationship, and it’s a very different story. Imagine the chair maker tells the lumberjack he’s only going to pay him £10 for wood now, and that the lumberjack has nobody else to sell to. Suddenly he can no longer afford the products he is helping to produce.

    Consumers in the West buying products made locally expands the wealth in circulation within the developed world at no particular loss to anyone. But when we make those products in less developed countries to capitalise on lower wages, the whole system becomes unbalanced. We put profit above people, and as long as those people are on the other side of the world, we don’t have to see the consequences of our actions.

    I am totally in favour of what you are doing in running a business and living generously. That’s just as important as saying no to consumer habits that are exploiting others. They’re two sides of the same coin. (see the post ‘the opposite of stealing’)

    Thanks for your post. We’re looking for answers rather than offering them, and this is a constructive contribution.

  9. Derek Wall August 25, 2007 at 10:26 pm #

    Great blog project, don’t worry about the trolls, we could live better on less, libraries, making goods to last longer, sharing, open source, food from the garden…however I do feel you need to look at some more things to get where you are going.

    Whose common future, here http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/item.shtml?x=52004
    is essential.

    also look at the man who said:

    From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuries, and like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.

    its about access to resources that we maintain in a better state than we found them or at least as good.

    While I guess you worship at the church of no shopping, I am sure you aware that other religions/spiritual traditions share the same goal, for example have a look at my take on spirituality and the abolition of worthless waste
    commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/derek_wall/2007/05/politics_can_get_you_down.html

    if you want a review copy of Babylon and beyond…mail me with your address and I will put it in the post.

    well done!

  10. lushbooks November 26, 2007 at 12:38 am #

    There’s a video documentary called “The Century of the Self” this is a “must watch” video for folks that may be interested in your blog. Check it out: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2637635365191428174

  11. RLTJ March 21, 2008 at 4:25 am #

    You once mentioned religion (Christians) and Environment.

    Religion is one aspect of man and society. There are other aspects of man (and society) and all of them need to be held at equilibrium. These aspects may be peculiar, different from each other, but surely they are all inter-related. An idea belongs to a set of ideas.

    Thus, I think, one should think of his faith in relation to other aspects, like environment, of him. And I think everybody already does that whether they are conscious about it or not. (Another example of that is religion and politics.)

    I agree there won’t be much to be incorporated in all of them. It would be like merging your thumb with your forefinger so that you become four-fingers – if that is what people want or mean. I guess there must be an instance when any aspect tends to be overblown that makes it hot and highly controversial.

  12. Roger June 3, 2008 at 12:22 am #

    Nathan Phillips, when you say

    “let us make our economy even more successful and be those that push resources from our economy out to increase the real wealth of the poorest. In that way we will hopefully see an end to poverty and not an end to wealth.”

    are you not referring to the trickle down theory? you know if the pie gets bigger, then everyones slice gets bigger. I thought this was widely accepted as a myth, something that has been used to allow developed/developing countries to over-develop at the cost of the under-developed countries.

  13. Jengo July 5, 2008 at 11:14 pm #

    I’d like to make a comment in reference to Nathan Phillips’ reply:

    You made mention of the need for competent economists to analyse the situation. That in itself is a royal can of worms. Economists, like lollipops, come in all colours and flavours. The far left and the far right, the middle right, the middle left, the slightly left of middle left… you get the idea. And with every position on the economic spectrum comes a different ‘competent’ analysis.

    Roger (the post above) has made a good point, reminding us that the trickle-down Reaganomics of the 1980s left big business strong and the lower working class no better off. In some instances, they were worse off. This was true for both developed and developing nations. The World Bank, in its 15 page document “Poverty in an Age of Globalization” (October 2000) acknowledges that ‘despite impressive growth performance in many large developing countries, absolute poverty worldwide is still increasing’. Furthermore, the Bank seems to realise that ‘poverty is affected by many factors other than growth’.

    The point here is that growth (here used to describe the quantitative aspects of the economy) is a pretty blunt tool for correcting social problems. I appreciated Nathan’s use of an analogy to describe a concept. Here’s another one:

    If the lumberjack wants to cut wood, he wouldn’t use a screwdriver. If the chair maker wants to turn a screw, he wouldn’t use a saw. There is a right tool for the job, and a wrong tool.

    We in the West (and particularly in universities) are notorious for using the wrong tools for the job. We try to use economics and science to correct social issues. Yes, people need improved economic opportunities. Yes, people need better health care, agricultural options, and so on. But in many instances, we are sawing away at a screw, or chipping away with a screw driver.

    Instead of endless, aimless, conscious-free growth, we need to see more development. This, in contrast with the quantitative fixation of growth, is qualitative. Do we need more food in the world, or better access to food? Do we need more trade, or greater justice between trading nations?

    As Amartya Sen said, “Equal rules for unequal partners is unequal rules”.

    -Jengo

    • Freek Geeris January 24, 2010 at 9:02 am #

      If you look at the World Population Development graph, I come to the conclusion that the explosion in the world population might be the main reason that poverty is still increasing, despite the fact of considerable industrial growth.

      It’s not the only reason but it is clear that to decrease poverty in ‘developing’ nations, whether it’s financial or social, one has to make aware the populace of those nations that fewer children means a better standard of living. Easier said than done, as people do keep on reproducing, but by implementing a simple family planning policy where smaller families are given positive incentives based on reduced future negative impact on society, authorities would be able to make great progress in the struggle for more prosperity for all.

    • Freek Geeris January 24, 2010 at 9:05 am #

      The World Population Development graph shows that the explosion in the world population might be the main reason that poverty is still increasing, despite the fact of considerable industrial growth.

      It’s not the only reason but it is clear that to decrease poverty in ‘developing’ nations, whether it’s financial or social, one has to make aware the populace of those nations that fewer children means a better standard of living. Easier said than done, as people do keep on reproducing, but by implementing a simple family planning policy where smaller families are given positive incentives based on reduced future negative impact on society, authorities would be able to make great progress in the struggle for more prosperity for all.

  14. Jeremy July 6, 2008 at 11:53 am #

    Thanks Jengo, I think you’re right about the tools we use. Through the Washington institutions we continue to promote the same one-size-fits-all solution for development, despite it’s repeated failure to deliver results.
    Economists do indeed come in all shapes and sizes, but unfortunately most of them aren’t listened to. The debate is dominated by liberal trade theorists, to the exclusion of almost all else at the highest levels.

  15. Swithun September 11, 2008 at 8:50 pm #

    I can sympathise with your concerns however your plan will be worse than ineffective. The cause of poverty and the inefficient use of resources is state intervention. The lack of markets in Africa is what causes it to be a back water. The quickest growing African country is Botswana which also happens to be the most free market although I’d be loathe to describe any country as truly free market.
    Note- Reagan or Thatcher wasn’t truly free market. The state was still heavily interventionist and had regulation that helped big business which trampled on the small player. Free markets and free trade don’t exist at present. The “free” trade agreements run to thousands of words- they are managed trade agreements.
    Can I respectfully suggest you read some economics before suggesting ideas which will cripple the economy of the west and third world alike. I suggest you read all or parts of this e-book-

    http://mises.org/books/econforrealpeople.pdf

    Its long but you can easily find the chapters you interested in. Its in simple language for the layman and makes logical sense.

  16. Jeremy September 12, 2008 at 10:30 am #

    As it happens I’ve read a fair bit of economics. What I’ve read has persuaded me that free markets are not necessarily the answer – even real free trade, which as you say, isn’t really being tried.
    If you look back at the history of wealth creation, you’ll find that all the rich countries have practiced intervention, from Holland and Italy to England and Prussia. The US learned from their example. None of the US founding fathers practiced free trade.
    Today countries like Japan, China, India, Malaysia and Singapore are all proving that government intervention works. It simply isn’t true that free trade is the only model for wealth creation.

    Two problems to get you started: first, Ricardo’s trade theory has to treat all goods as equal in order to work. Each country specializes in something where they have a comparative advantage and then trades. According to the theory, their incomes will balance out until they are essentially equivalent. It works on paper. It doesn’t work in practice. Countries encouraged to specialize in raw materials are always poorer than those who specialize in manufactured goods, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why (value added, the law of diminishing returns, etc). Nevertheless, the IMF insists that African countries can develop by growing coffee or bananas, as long as they open their markets.

    Secondly, a free trade system allows free movement of capital and goods, but nobody has extended that same freedom of movement to labour. Without it, you have unemployment in some areas, and unfilled jobs elsewhere, and no mechanism to redress it. Because workers can’t move, countries with high wages and welfare are seeing jobs leaving the country because the countries themselves are now uncompetitive. At the same time, workers in countries with no protection and low wages have no hope of a better life, because their low standard of living is a key factor in bringing jobs into the country. This is why you have sweatshops, and why you have offshoring. Corporations can keep moving their business around to make the most of the cheapest labour and the lowest environmental and social standards. A free trade in labour would make that impossible, because people could move and countries that didn’t look after their labour forces would see their reserves disappear and the unemployment levels rise. But since we’ll probably never have open borders, we’ll never see genuine free trade either, just this unfair and exploitative parody of it.

  17. Swithun September 12, 2008 at 6:00 pm #

    Regarding your first paragraph- post ergo propter hoc. The fact that some countries in the past and today have done well after imposing interventionism does not mean it is because of the intervention. It could be in spite of, because of or independent. What you need is an a priori theory to give counter factual knowledge. Also what do you mean by wealth? As shown by Carl Menger value is based on individuals’ subjective appraisement. If you mean GDP then you can throw that out of the window because its entirely arbitrary.

    Re free trade- all it means is that individuals can trade with whoever they like. When trade takes place it demonstrates that both parties gain- if I trade your watch for my tie it is necessary that you value my tie greater than you watch and vice versa. This is in the ex ante sense only since in retrospect this could change however you can’t measure this since it would be performing an interpersonal comparison of utility. Therefore by definition trade is beneficial and fair except in the obvious case of fraud. Now what does interventionism do? It stops, or restricts, people from trading with other people. This seems rather odd. Stopping trade to help growth. But supposing Ethiopia could gain from protectionism the rest of the world. It would also follow that the north and south of ethiopia should be protectionist also since the principle of coercively restricting trade is good. The logical conclusion is that all men become self sufficient. There’s no unemployment but most starve.

    Re- free movement of people. Well firstly one great problem here is that the government declares that there is land which individuals can’t homestead and further “public” land. Therefore the movement of people cannot be said to be voluntary since the consent of private property owners cannot be gathered since they don’t exist.

    Re wages- like all other factors of production the price is based on competing bids of entrepreneurs. And since they seek physic profit maximisation, normally simplified to prof max, will be bid up and till the point where the extra worker will earn the firm the last bit of profit. So wages in equilibrium equal the workers marginal revenue product. So if “jobs are leaving the country” its not that other countries have cheaper wages but that other home firms can bid wages higher in different industries. In your post you confuse wages with costs. The wage of a third world worker are in general lower than the first world. However the costs are not: due to the greater amount of capital the productivity of the worker in the first world is higher. So in real terms the costs are the same its the wages that aren’t. But remember wages are determined by productivity alone.

    Re environment- if all resources were privately owned they would be used efficiently. Again if there are “lax” regs or “public” land the problem again is caused by the state.

    In conclusion the free market produces better outcomes compared to interventionism.

    Btw what economics have you read? Have you come across the Austrian school? (Menger, Mises, Rothbard, Hoppe etc)

  18. Jeremy September 14, 2008 at 9:02 am #

    Yes, history is always vulnerable to re-interpretation according to one’s assumptions, but if you consider the economic literature of the time you can see that rulers like Henry VII and Elizabeth I really knew what they were doing. Look up the ‘Tudor Plan’ for how interventionism can really work. They key is that you only apply it at the beginning, to get started – otherwise cheap imports will mean you can never get a competitive domestic industry. Once you have developed, you open the markets. This is how it has always worked, but even temporary interventions are forbidden under WTO guidelines. So, I’m not in favour of interventionism wholesale, or in favour of unfettered free trade. I believe we need a more diverse toolbox. I also believe that countries should be free to choose how they run their economies, and that IMF meddling is a threat to sovereignty and democracy.

    I studied some economics at university as part of my International Relations degree, but that was mostly classical liberalism (Smith, Ricardo, etc), and only Marxist alternatives. I’ve explored the Other Canon a bit since then (Friedrich List). I’ve heard of Hoppe’s ‘Democracy…’, but I haven’t read the Austrian school yet. I’m still learning this stuff, and this blog is very much an exploration, so I will read the book you linked to and broaden my perspectives.

  19. Discerpo October 7, 2008 at 11:23 am #

    Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage, which is often cited in support of the benefits of free trade, also assumed that trading partners were equal, that capital did not flow between countries, and that winners would compensate losers.

    Adam Smith’s theories of growth through consumption were derived over two hundred years ago, when the population of the earth was around 800 million, compared to 6.7 billion today. When he published the Wealth of Nations, it was perhaps forgiveable to assume that the effects of consumption on the environment could be neglected, and that endless growth was possible.

    Smith and Ricardo were great men. Although Ricardo is sometimes criticised for basing his ideas too much on theory, at least he was clear that the theory can only hold if the underlying assumptions are true. Adam Smith in contrast derived his theories by study of the real world – he travelled extensively and spoke to people from all walks of life. There is no way he would not have adapted his theories to take account of environmental constraints to growth. If Smith and Ricardo were alive today, they would no doubt be horrified to find that their theories have been preserved in aspic since the eightennth century, and are now cited to support the blind pursuit of endless growth and the obscenely distorted distribution of wealth and power arising from the “free trade solves all” dogma.

  20. Jeremy October 7, 2008 at 2:22 pm #

    Good point. The world changes and we’ve refused to accept that the rules might be different. But when the old rules benefit us the way they do, it’s going to be hard persuading anyone to change.

  21. Jesse January 20, 2009 at 8:11 pm #

    well, on the upside, in an unfortunate way, the old rules will ultimately lose out, as i would hope people can see through the financial boondoggle being realized across the globe more and more everyday.

    but even more unfortunately, the financial collapse is only the beginning. the powers that be still retain great powers and that power will no doubt be used to its fullest extent whenever and where ever possible, and exploiting whatever is “necessary”.

    so, persuasion can take on many different forms. it’s too bad that sometimes things are done the hard way when it wasn’t necessary. which, as a side-note, also explains why technology (among other “advancements”) is accepted, even though the consequences of that technology isn’t known to the fullest extent right away. why do something the hard way, like plowing a field with a horse, when one can just get a tractor? the market will adjust when it is demanded.

    education and tolerance (not to be confused with compromise) is the key.

  22. Grace July 21, 2009 at 3:35 pm #

    I just wanted to say well done for such an insightful, concise blog project (that IS what it is, isn’t it?) I’m currently working in Malawi and the points you make here really resonate with what I’ve seen. I’m glad that the bulk of comments have been infinitely less thick than the first one – what a moron. I think I would have given up on reading them – in which case I would have lost out! The chairmaker/lumberjack analogy is particularly apt. I’ll continue to read, with interest.

    I’ll continue

  23. Jim August 2, 2009 at 6:40 am #

    Actually, Abraham Lincoln grew up dirt-poor… and not only became a lawyer… but one of the greatest presidents ever. Perfect equality is not possible… but hard work and going up the economic chain is. Yes, the West should be generous and try to help others… but help them help themselves. This site is way over the top.. there is a reason we are wealthier than other countries… we work harder plain and simple. Look at Europe and their socialist tendencies… they dont work as many hours.. dont work as hard, have more vacation etc… we have more wealth because we work harder for it- Wealth is NOT limited… but created. For example, just imagine how much wealth has been created because of the invention of the computer. Did Africa suffer because we invented the computer? I do not think so. This site is WAYYYY over the top.

    • Jeremy August 2, 2009 at 5:15 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Jim, but you’ve kind of missed the point – there’s more than one kind of wealth. Americans have chosen financial wealth, and Europe has chosen community and leisure time. Want to take a guess at which one makes people happier?

      And sure, climbing the economic ladder is possible, but did you know that the US has lower levels of social mobility than Europe?

    • Arindam May 8, 2010 at 9:58 am #

      ‘This site is way over the top.. there is a reason we are wealthier than other countries… we work harder plain and simple.’

      This comment is so ridiculous that one wonders how a two-legged creature possessing the semblance of a brain could make it.

      Are you trying to tell us that a billionaire works a thousand times harder than a millionaire? That he works a million times harder than some poor peasant who makes only a thousand Euros a year? That an American banker works hundreds of times harder than a Bolivian farmer who toils from dawn to dusk? Or that an entertainer works hundreds of times harder than a mathematician grappling with problems no one has solved before?

      It really is a pity that few read the classics any more. In Aristotle’s ‘Politics’ the secret of wealth is revealed – and it doesn’t take a genius to discover it. For as the Greek philosopher noted, after explaining how the philosopher Thales made a killing by hiring wine-presses in advance:

      ‘the way to make money is to get, if you can, a monopoly for yourself. Hence we find that states also employing this method when they are short of money: they secure themselves a monopoly.’

      I could easily point to any number of plutocrats to prove my point about monopoly and market power as the means to wealth. But my favourite example remains OPEC – a collection of states that, through cooperation and the wielding of market power, has enriched itself on a scale quite unmatched in recent history. Do you think Saudis, Emiratis, Qataris and Kuwaitis became rich by working hundreds of times harder than Yemenis, Syrians, Egyptians and Tunisians? Hardly…

      Sorry for the long post, but the delusion that ‘hard work = wealth’ is one that simply has to be dispelled in order to make way for a better future.

  24. ciara December 7, 2009 at 12:03 pm #

    I Think We Should Reduce The Mount Of Carbon Footprint In The world
    Dpnt You?

  25. Freek Geeris January 24, 2010 at 9:26 am #

    The World Population Development graph shows the greatest increase in population growth in those countries that struggle with poverty. It’s one of the main reasons, possibly the main reason, that poverty is still increasing, even if there is considerable gain in industrial growth.

    It’s certainly not the only reason but it is clear that to decrease poverty in developing nations, regardless whether it’s financial or social poverty, one has to make aware the populace of those nations that fewer children means a better standard of living.

    Easier said than done, as people do keep on reproducing, but by implementing a simple family planning policy where smaller families are given positive incentives based on reduced future negative impact on society, authorities would be able to make great progress in the struggle for more prosperity for all.

    As this would generate positive benefits to the world as a whole, e.g. less deforestation and depletion of resources, developed nations should actively support them in their efforts, and increase aid based on progress made.

    • Steve Puttick March 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

      Freek, did you get that from the Daily Mail?!

      2 reasons why I disagree:

      1. Confused causality. Looking at two factors (i.e. poverty – or ‘standard of living’ and population) then linking them just because they’re both going up is not an argument. That’s probably why you have only given lots of assertions that just repeat your idea – but no evidence or reasons that actually do back it up and tell us why the two are linked.

      2. Even so, it’s simply not true to say that population increase = poverty. Not sure what ‘World Population Development Graph’ you are using, but there are many significant examples that offer strong evidence aginst it. Using http://www.gapminder.org here’s a couple of different countries to consider:
      China: Over the last 60 years the population has gone up by almost 3 times. But GDP Per Capita has gone up by over 10 times.
      India follows almost exactly the same pattern.

      The same is true of literacy rates, and in both cases populations have gone up and yet the number of people living in abject poverty has also dropped significantly.

  26. Freek Geeris April 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    @Steve Puttick

    Your argument:
    China: Over the last 60 years the population has gone up by almost 3 times. But GDP Per Capita has gone up by over 10 times.

    GDP per capita doesn’t reflect any decrease in poverty for the poor. In many cases the rich get richer while the poor gain nothing, or worse. Those numbers are just that: numbers.

    Furthermore, during this increase in GDP, China has strictly followed and implemented their One-child-per-one-family policies, and India has agressively promoted their successful Small-family-Happy-family programmes.

    So even if your argument would partly be valid, it would still mean that those relatively few who have arisen out of poverty, have been able to do so because of government implemented population control measures that have resulted in small family entities.

  27. william August 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    All this is fine but you miss a couple of crucial issues with this aim to make wealth history.
    You say nothing about capitalism per se or the money system. Both of these have been designed to create the modern consumer society with all its attendant inequalities, exploitation, greed, degradation of the planet and the human spirit. Unless capitalism and the money system that it created is removed then it will be impossible to create a brave new world. The system of pruduction and finance that we have will always bring us back to the old ways.
    I suggest you focus more on reform of the money system & the banks that manage it plus reject the capitalist system where profit is put before people.

  28. booksphotographsandartwork August 7, 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    Just like the book called, Eat This Not That maybe there should be a book called, Buy This Not That.

  29. Alo Ekene May 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    The situation of any man at any time is the result of past life pattern-according to the law of kama.our present social,political,economic life should positively change.someone may say that i sound religious.but then that is the express road to achieving Europ present state of wealth equivelent in Africa.

  30. Sunny April 13, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    I am LOOKING ware i can get things that will make me very wealth man in the world

  31. john December 7, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    The policy of printing and shoving more money into an already overloaded system namely Quantitative Easing did not ease anything but found the majority of its distribution increasing the Banking fraternities wealth and those in the tight confines of the City’s financial system.

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