Quote Of The Day

“Scientists now think that King Tut may have died of malaria….this is a good excuse to meditate on just how rich we are.  King Tut was probably the wealthiest man in the world during his time.  He died of something that wouldn’t kill the most abjectly immiserated welfare mother in the United States today, because of a combination of public health efforts, and cheap antimalarial drugs. You always need to factor in things like this when you talk about changes in living standards over time.  All the positive changes in society mean that the absolute difference between the income of Bill Gates and the man who valets his car is larger than it has ever been in history.  But the actual difference in comfort between the two of them is probably much smaller than the difference between JP Morgan and his stableboy.  And both Gates and the valet are almost immeasurably better off than their predecessors.” — Megan McArdle

9 Responses to “Quote Of The Day”

  1. Jon says:

    True, but don’t let that be an excuse for the wealthy and privileged to continue to stomp on the poor as they do now. And here’s a suspicion of mine. Places where the neo-liberal economic policies have been imposed (Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, etc) continue to live in poverty. True, Japan’s economy has not been great over the last few decades and many blame their protectionism, but it’s not third world like El Salvador and Haiti. We have it great in this country, but we’re the equivalent of imperial Japan or imperial England or Belgium as contrasted with the Congo. Belgium had it pretty good. But look at the Congo. What Belgium did to the Congo was pretty bad.

    A lot of these right wingers want to look at the U.S. which is the equivalent of Belgium in a lot of ways, and point to the prosperity and act like that’s some sort of vindication. If becoming wealthy by stomping on everyone is good then yeah, I guess we’re great. Is that good?

  2. I’m curious Jon, in your view of the world, how do you explain stuff like this and this?

  3. Jon says:

    As I said, I’m just expression a suspicion. I haven’t researched it enough to know. Actually the study linked to in your links is not available unless I’m going to purchase it, which I suppose I could do if I was going to be hard core, but I’m not that hard core. I see this “people on a dollar a day decreasing” and I’m a little curious. You know, the dollar has dropped in value since 1970. Neither of your articles address inflation, so are there really fewer people on a dollar a day? Could be. But I can’t tell based on what you have. Do you know how much the supply of dollars has gone up since 1970? It’s like 30x. See here:


    Measuring by the amount of dollars in circulation you’d want to know how many are living on less than $30 per day if you’re going to contrast with people on $1/day in 1970. Is that what this study does? As I said, I don’t know. It would be interesting to see.

  4. Jon says:

    I do suspect that the # of people borderline starving has gone up. So rather than a measure in terms of dollars, which are kind of a moving target, it would be interesting to see a measurement in terms of essential goods and services needed for survival. With the technological improvements (food is much cheaper to make these days, fertilization so much better, etc) you’d think food would be far more accessible across the board. What if you find that while it’s 30x cheaper, it’s only slightly more accessible for the super poor? Things might be better for them, but this would suggest to me that the current neo-liberal system is depriving the poor of gains they might otherwise have had. So you have to think not just in terms of absolute gains, but what gains should we expect all things being equal and what gains are we actually seeing.

    As I’ve said before, I might be 6x more efficient as an engineer with the tools that are now available to me. I’m not 6x more welath than an engineer prior to the invention of these tools. CEO’s are 6x more wealthy, if not more. What explains that?

  5. Your suspicions are completely off. Check out this relatively recent Ted Talk that discusses this very thing.

    Your thoughts?

  6. I couldnt pass this up, you wrote:

    As I’ve said before, I might be 6x more efficient as an engineer with the tools that are now available to me. I’m not 6x more welath than an engineer prior to the invention of these tools. CEO’s are 6x more wealthy, if not more. What explains that?

    You may be 6x more efficient but the tools are also a factor. Roughly the same profits have to pay you and the tools – which each run into the multiple 100’s of thousands. Also, your much more replaceable now than engineers were say even 10 years ago. Can’t find an American mechanical engineer, fine, get a great one from China, or India, or etc…you get the idea. That explains 95% of the changes and all of them have nothing to do with CEO pay.

  7. Jon says:

    You can get CEO’s from India as well. The CEO of the company I work for is Indian. It’s not like the Chinese and Indians can’t do business. And engineering grads are still on top of the scale in terms of pay for college grads, so really I’m one of the lucky ones. My profession is not the one with the depressed wages as a consequence of India and China. That’s more true in other professions. So really the example of engineering is a best case scenario from you perspective. The people that are really getting slammed are the people that didn’t have the skills and education required for the type of skilled labor that I do. People like those in Honduras and Haiti where market discipline has been imposed.

    I agree that I can’t expect one to one correlation in terms of my efficiency and the consequent wealth I should expect because the software development that makes me more efficient has costs associated with it, but I’m just trying to sketch a basic case. I think we have a system that is rigged to ensure that the gains are being distributed in a manner favorable to the rich and powerful. Not an outrageous claim in my view. This is to be expected and is the way human history has always gone. The rich and powerful press their advantage.

  8. Not a Chinese or Indian CEO with a track record. Its alot harder. There simply isn’t that many of them. And track records are even more important with CEO’s cuz of the greater risk.

    Here are some possible explanations on why CEO pay has risen: here, here and here.

    Did you even see the Ted Talk linked above? It completely rebukes the world economy perspective implicit in your response. The market economy has spread to the underdeveloped world and the underdeveloped world has grown markedly wealthier. A view contrary to Chomsky but reality nonetheless.

    I await your thoughts on the Ted Talk.

  9. Jon says:

    I will watch and get back to you. It sounds interesting. Can’t download at work unfortunately.

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