Oxfam’s wrong-headedness

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Charities like Oxfam who want to play their part in ending poverty, but who are ignorant of simple economic truths and who don’t understand what the solution to poverty is, do more harm than good when they make alarmist observations about the current global distribution of wealth.

Only an organisation that believes the solution to poverty is to much more evenly or even completely evenly distribute wealth would announce to the world that the 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population – as if that is a problem (caused by capitalism, naturally).

In other words, Oxfam believes that the only way to make the 99% richer would be to make the richest 1% much poorer. There’s two problems with this. One, it’s false. Two, it would require taking people’s stuff by force. Which among civilised human beings has come to be universally considered immoral (and for good reason).

It’s really hard to excuse people who have such zeal for ending poverty, but who apparently have no interest in understanding the science of the human action that creates the solution: economic exchange.

Would it be too much to ask if, just once, the people who run these charities picked up a damn economics book? A sound economics book, that is, not one from Thomas Picketty or one of the other darlings of mainstream economics that churns out statistics to ‘prove’ popular beliefs.

Wealth is not a fixed amount; it’s not a pie that everyone has to fight and to abandon morality just to get their share of. There is no fixed or limited amount of wealth in the world. As more of the world’s people engage in free economic exchange we all make the pie bigger. When the pie can be as big as we want it to be it is senseless to worry about the size of everyone’s slice.

It’s a fact that the total amount of wealth in the world has been increasing for the last several decades as a result of the spread of capitalism, which is why there’s less global poverty than there’s ever been. The pie’s getting bigger and bigger.

Yes, the rich have been getting richer, but those concerned about poverty should rejoice at the fact that the poor have been getting richer too. Most of them don’t, however. It seems instead of being happy about poverty being reduced they prefer to be unhappy about wealthy people getting wealthier. That’s a choice. And what a peculiar one it is.

Richard Branson is probably something like 100,000% times wealthier than I am, but that doesn’t harm me (it indirectly benefits me, in fact) and he’s not a criminal, so why would that upset me? Envy is an ugly and self-destructive thing.

The reality that wealthy people are not the cause of poverty and therefore that they are not valid targets for moral condemnation or government coercion, however, annoys certain people. They seem to take some perverse pleasure in wallowing in a bleak delusion that we’re all fighting each other for survival and that we’re all scrapping for our share, and that a bigger share for some results in a smaller share for others.

That’s the way the world used to be, certainly, before the common man gained (or was granted) the freedom to keep what he produced, and exchange it and dispose of it as he pleased. But it’s not like that any more. And it hasn’t been for centuries due to the development and proliferation of capitalism, and the industrial revolution. (Which is why we’re all far, far wealthier than our ancestors of several generations ago).

The fixed pie is a total misconception of the global economy and of society. But worst of all, telling the public that wealthy people, merely by virtue of being wealthier, prevent poor people from having better lives is divisive and disheartening. It leads poorer people and the poorest to wrongly see themselves as powerless victims of an inherently malevolent upper class. Karl Marx would be smiling in his grave.

It also encourages people to lament their differences instead of loving them. Which is sad because free economic exchange, the only peaceful action by which we can sustain ourselves and enrich our existences, would be impossible if we weren’t all different, sometimes and in some ways – i.e. if we didn’t value things differently.

That the 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population just doesn’t matter.

That Oxfam produces these silly reports is a sign that the organisation is searching for a reason to justify its purpose for being; it’s looking for and finding problems that just don’t exist.

Perhaps that’s understandable. After all, the proliferation of capitalism around the globe and the wealth that this is creating is fast eradicating the kind of poverty that it was once Oxfam’s mission to provide temporary relief from. Which, to its credit, it did very well. But this means that the world which is fast-approaching probably won’t need Oxfam, or certainly not an Oxfam as large as it is now. And that’s a good thing.

Oxfam needs to let go. If it lumbers on as a champion of the nonsensical socialist ideal of wealth equality and influences the economic policy of governments the world over, then it will only harm the cause of the poor by restricting wealth creation and increasing poverty.

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