4 thoughts on “Oxfam is more interested in eradicating wealth than in eradicating poverty”

  1. Posted 06/05/2017 at 17:34 | Permalink

    Nice article. I agree that Oxfam is obsessed with inequality, when they should actually be worrying about poverty. But do you think there should be no redistribution at all? Let’s take the case of my country- India. While the public systems of health and education are not the best, do you suggest we completely get rid of them? That will cause of lot welfare loss, even if we assume that by some form of magic, political parties agree to do that.

  2. Posted 08/05/2017 at 17:04 | Permalink

    no, not necessarily. The point about redistribution is that it is a trade off – poor people might get richer and rich people poorer (there are various other arguments that can be discussed about whether that is a good thing). What I am really arguing about here is the problem of seeing inequality in and of itself as desirable (and Oxfam are doing that to such an extent that they are obscuring material facts in the debate)

  3. Posted 09/05/2017 at 04:39 | Permalink

    I fully understand that there is a difference between wealth inequality and income inequality.

    I also fully understand that there is a relationship between rising income and rising wealth, and that it takes time for wealth to increase in line with income.

    I also fully understand that to rob the rich to pay the poor in the simplistic example given – i.e. to take the wealth of the 8 richest men and redistribute it to the world’s poorest – would be (a) unjust (b) ineffective at poverty alleviation – a double injustice.

    So, I’m in agreement with that much of this article.

    However, where I differ with the writer is on the importance of sensibly limiting personal wealth and ensuring that we constrain the wealth of individuals. This is a philosophical point of difference between your way of thinking and mine, and it’s an important one. Allowing no limits on personal or corporate wealth has the effect of allowing a very small number of players to corner the market in the sense that they have enormous concentration of capital and the power to monopolize and dominate areas of the economy to the extent that others are pretty much forever excluded from participation in those areas.

    Giants like Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and the like wield enormous power to control and even limit innovation in their industry sector through e.g. aggressive acquisition of competition. Further, industry giants like this have exponentially greater ability to expand their wealth and dominance by virtue of their enormous reserves of capital. They have exponentially greater ability to avoid their civic duty (pay taxes) because of access to expensive legal services setup to accomplish just that. Time and time again, we find that corporations take advantage of this and exploit every opportunity to evade taxes, underpay their workers, offshore their workers to regions which are less well regulated the better to exploit them, relocate their earnings to tax havens … etc etc.

    Corporations and wealthy individuals alike are beholden to one overriding principle: profit. Hence, considerations of the impact of their behavior on externalities (i.e. the consumers who use their products, the staff they employ, the environment in which they operate) are always going to be a secondary concern. Where necessary, they will use their financial power to crush opposition from environmentalists, consumer agencies or trade unions who oppose their activity.

    So, the naivete of those who subscribe to the idea that free markets are going to lead to an egalitarian paradise strike me as just as foolish (actually, more foolish) as collectivist Marxist visions of utopia.

    Hence, the argument against extreme inequality is not based on the belief that re-apportioning the wealth of the super-rich to the world’s poorest is a solution to poverty. This is a straw man, and a very flimsy one at that.

    The argument against extreme inequality is the power imbalance that it introduces, and the impacts it has on the vast majority for the benefit of the very few.

    Such a rich trove of evidence to choose from! Where do I start?

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/inside-the-koch-brothers-toxic-empire-20140924

    http://www.minyanville.com/businessmarkets/articles/walmart-retail-target-abuse-employees-health/10/9/2009/id/24585?page=full

    https://corporatewatch.org/company-profiles/bayer-ag-corporate-crimes

    http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/abuse-of-power-by-gigantic-corporation-comes-as-total-surprise

  4. Posted 09/05/2017 at 11:01 | Permalink

    I don’t understand from where you get the idea that I subscribe to an egalitarian paradise, I neither believe that nor infer it. Nevertheless, the concerns in your comment are not unreasonable. Indeed, it was the iea that brought public choice economics to the UK about 40 odd years ago – it is interesting that, after 30 years of traducing the discipline, the left now use public choice arguments as if they are an argument against those who believe in free markets (by the way, I don’t mean you, but, for example, Stiglitz and Piketty). If we take these winner-takes-all type markets (which are the ones people are concerned about these days and which often arise because of technology), what can we actually do about it? Firstly, it is worth noting that these companies produce huge benefits. Their founders are only rich because they have huge numbers of customers. But, I guess you appreciate that. A more rational tax system would help (I have written about that elsewhere). Competition policy can be used at times, but I think this is a very clumsy tool. We should make sure that intellectual property rules don’t entrench such companies. I suspect that, like most large companies that were once thought to be potential perpetual monopolies, creative destruction will blow them away in time. If it doesn’t then I might need a better answer.

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