Far be it from me to besmirch the mighty boffins at the Institute of Public Affairs —
Wait. You haven’t heard of them? But they provide such excellent opinions, such as
- Ken Henry should resign as Secretary of the Treasury because he said that economists should ‘put down their weapons and join a consensus’.
- Australia is a ‘Nanny State’ and only ‘outsiders’ notice this.
- Australia is a ‘Nanny State’ in ten entirely different and extremely awful ways.
- Your kid is a wuss.
- Australia is a ‘Nanny State’ and your kids are fat.
— but there comes a time when you have to scratch your head and ask: ‘In which libertarian wet dream are you living, Chris Berg?’
In an article for The Drum, Berg takes a vague and pointless swipe at ‘growth sceptics‘. The assertions ranged from the absurd to the crazy.
Growing richer means getting healthier. People in wealthy countries live longer – this graph, which compares GDP per capita with life expectancy demonstrates that clearly enough. — Berg.
The graph is worth a look. It charts life expectancy at birth against the GDP per person adjusted for purchasing power. Take a look again and notice the x-axis.
This isn’t a straight line correlation at all. Check out how close together 1,000 and 2,000 are compared to 5,000 and 10,000. If you tease out the numbers with a consistent x-axis, you note that everything goes all over the shop and that beautiful line vanishes.
What the graph actually shows is that there are no high life expectancy countries which are poor. What it doesn’t show is that growing richer means getting healthier. If it did show that, there’d be a straight line correlation and countries like South Africa and Equatorial Guinea would be placed higher on the y-axis.
Further, it seems rather arbitrary to pick life expectancy as a measure. There are, for example, other measures. If I wanted to be like Mirror Universe Chris Berg, I’d say something like:
Growing richer means giving birth to more dead babies. People in the wealthiest countries have higher infant mortality rate that people in moderately rich countries. Just check out the top ten countries by GDP versus their positions in the infant mortality ranking. — Mirror Universe Berg.
It’s a completely nonsensical thing to say. There’s more to wealth than just GDP. I’d need to play around with Excel a bit, but I suspect — intuitively, and I could be incorrect — that there is more correlation between countries ranked by gap between rich and poor and countries ranked by life expectancy.
But that’s just my bellyfeel guess. I’d need to check.
The drive for wealth involves the drive for competitive efficiency. There is nothing less efficient than waste and pollution. — Berg.
‘There’s nothing less efficient than waste and pollution’? Oh, so nuclear reactors which create radioactive waste is just inefficiency? If we’d let factories continue their drive for efficiency, they would have stopped pumping sulphur dioxide into the air? Oh, wait! We had to regulate both of those, didn’t we? The Invisible Hand was fisting the environment and we had to get the State to come in and lay down the law.
If we powered down to a motionless “stable” economy, as growth sceptics believe we should, we’d be discarding our biggest incentive to invent green things. — Berg.
I invented new drive mechanisms to create a more accurate orrery. Why? Because I, like hundreds of thousands of inventors throughout history, get weird little fixations. Benjamin Franklin — the archetypal inventor — wrote:
[A]s we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously. — Benjamin Franklin.
When I was in my teens, I wanted to be a gentleman scientist. How marvellous to live in a society where a person could pursue academic endeavours for the benefit of his fellow man without having to worry about the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy! I wonder what killed off that wonderful society? Oh, that’s right.
Yes, many natural resources are limited, but our capacity to innovate – given the incentive to profit – is unlimited. — Berg.
It is? I guess that’s why we’ve moved beyond oil-dependent industries, isn’t it? You know, to cheaper and more efficient energy sources, yes? Like how we’ve been saying we would since the 1970s, hmmm?
The developing world might be poor, but it’s wealthier than it was. And healthier. — Berg.
This is Mexico today:
This is what Mexico was creating under a dictatorship:
Gosh, thanks modernisation and liberation! Further, most of these countries were healthier before we colonised them. Sure, the survivors are generally more resistant to smallpox but that wasn’t really so great for their societies. Special Economic Zones in China were infamous for the exploitation of workers for the benefit of industry owners. It didn’t make them healthier: the workers subjected themselves to it in order to benefit their families. This appears to be the world Berg fantasises about: an invisible underclass gets exploited so that wealthy white guys like Chris Berg can live until they’re 100.
The point Berg seems to have missed is that nobody is saying that economic growth is itself terrible. We’ve had a boom of economic growth and we should now consider reaping the benefits of that growth by shifting the focus on to other things: improving the quality of life, for example. Sharing the wealth so everybody benefits, for another.
But this is all anathema to the libertarian — especially one who performs no labour — who can only associate improvement with economic improvement.