Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why Anthropologists aren't Economists

I recently read on Dienekes' Anthropology Blog that a "pioneering" study has discovered that 2% of the world's population owns 50% of the household wealth.

Does that surprise anyone? Should it?

And does anyone else care that this is quite a remarkable egalitarian shift from the good old days when a handful of kings owned their realms and subjects due to heavenly mandate?


Anonymous said...

And half the world population controls less than 1% of its wealth. What's your point? Are you saying that's a fair division of wealth or does it need changing? More importantly, how can there be equal opportunity with such differences in the means to make a person's life better?

Tim said...

What's the point? That things have never been so equal since agriculture took off - i.e., about 10,000 years for most of the world.

That the general trend is that things are getting better, in a nutshell.

I'm not saying the division of wealth is fair or unfair - I'm saying the big picture shows it getting smaller.

I'm saying that people's lives ARE getting better, and have been getting better for several hundred years - before that there wasn't much improvement over living in 1200 Germany vs. -1200 Greece. The massive progress we have made, like it or not, has helped everyone, and not in little ways.

What I'm saying is that the rich people, nasty, evil greedy things they are, have accidentally brought great benefits to everyone else, and that this is a much better situation distributionally than it was in the time of, say, Diocletian (maniac and cabbage farmer that he was).

If you're looking for equality, strange as it may seem, Communism isn't a great way to do it - and while you don't mention that at all, it's the ultimate focus of my writings in general.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the big picture is that you miss the important details. Things may be better now, but things were pretty crummy to begin with. For most of the world, things are pretty much the same.

You didn't mention what helped trigger this massive change. It wasn't the rich people. They tried to keep things the way they are so they could keep their power. It was Thomas Savery, who invented the steam engine for mining.


Tim said...

Jason - let me reemphasize my point.

Yes, things are better now, and yes, they did start off pretty bad. In much of the world, they're still pretty bad.

They're getting better because people are productive little buggeroos. That's the whole point, right there. You said it yourself, the nasty, selfish inventor wanting to get rich mining invents a steam engine, ultimately making the world a better place for everyone else.

Oops. Self-interest spills over again - perhaps we should have government correct the market failure involved in the aggregate social benefits accruing to those that don't actually pay for the services and goods created...

Tim said...

Ahem. That being a joke, just in case anyone actually thinks I was calling for government intervention.