Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Our Poor Are the Envy of the World's Poor

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting richer, says George Mason economist Walter Williams:

In 1971, only about 32 percent of all Americans enjoyed air conditioning in their homes. By 2001, 76 percent of poor people had air conditioning. In 1971, only 43 percent of Americans owned a color television; in 2001, 97 percent of poor people owned at least one. In 1971, 1 percent of American homes had a microwave oven; in 2001, 73 percent of poor people had one. Forty-six percent of poor households own their homes. Only about 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. The average poor American has more living space than the average non-poor individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens and other European cities.

Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars. Seventy-eight percent of the poor have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception; and one-third have an automatic dishwasher.

Poverty in the United States, in an absolute sense, has virtually disappeared. Today, there's nothing remotely resembling poverty of yesteryear. However, if poverty is defined in the relative sense, the lowest fifth of income-earners, "poverty" will always be with us.


At 10/31/2007 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tell ya' what, Mark. Why don't you take a spin behind the veil of ignorance. 1 random draw from the empirical distribution of income in the U.S. When you pull back the curtain, you'll get to live in their shoes. Then you can tell me how much richer the poor actually are.

At 10/31/2007 6:25 PM, Blogger HispanicPundit said...

I was raised in Compton, California, by an immigrant single mother from Mexico, all considered on the low end of poverty in the United States...and I completely agree with Walter Williams (someone who also grew up in poverty).

Me thinks the only people who have a hard time accepting his (obvious to me) points are those that have never experienced poverty in the United States and been able to compare it to poverty in other countries (like, say Mexico). In other words, people who live in comfortable neighborhoods and only read about poverty. Because those of us that have experienced it, find it very easy to say the poor in the United States have it far better than the poor in the rest of the world - and especially the poor of yesteryear.

At 10/31/2007 8:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hispanicpundit --

I hear Compton's a wonderful place -- so much nicer than the slums of Calcutta.

At 10/31/2007 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen HP!
I was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras raised in Chicago by my "abuela". There is simply no comparison.


At 11/01/2007 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and this is relevant, how? Our underclass is better than your underclass! Neener neener!

At 11/01/2007 6:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It means that when people talk about the average 'poor' person in America, they are referring to those that will remain dissatisfied (and victimized) with their lives so long as there are others who have more than they do. This is especially evident in the ever expanding sense of entitlement that allows Americans to live in luxury (compared to the other 99% of the world) and call themselves 'poor'.

At 11/01/2007 10:41 PM, Blogger HispanicPundit said...

At the risk of overgeneralizing, there are two views to poverty alleviation: there is the 'left', that tends to champion direct government involvement (welfare et al.) and there is the 'right' that tends to champion economic growth. The problem is, the two tend to be mutually exclusive. To get more government involvement, you need higher taxes and an increase in the size of government....two things that greatly harm economic growth. So in effect you have a trade off and a disagreement over which poverty solution is better - direct immediate alleviation, though one that may dramatically change incentives and behavioral patterns along with decrease economic growth, or you have the long term solution that increases economic growth and significantly increases the standard of living over time.

So comparing standard of living from an earlier era shows in stark contrast the very real gains economic growth produce, and how overwhelmingly larger they are than any immediate government program can possibly achieve. The same is true when you compare the United States standard of living (arguably the most capitalist country in the world) with the standard of living of other less capitalist countries.

The opposite is the reason why the left avoids making such comparisons.


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