Economics 101: More Wealth Means Less Poverty

By: Per Bylund
buka island house.jpg

Tweeting about poverty and wealth1 is quite instructive. It’s obvious that many feel very strongly about it yet know so little.

Consider what wealth is: it is to have the means to satisfy wants. Those means can be anything, including berries or fruits growing in the wild. But the vast majority of means are created. There are no hamburgers, iPhones, or houses growing on trees.

In other words, most means to satisfy wants were created. So wealth, generally speaking, is created.

Many appear confused by this rather obvious fact, or take offense by it being stated.

That is not only ignorant, but counter-productive: whoever does not believe that the means to satisfy wants (wealth) are created surely is not acting to create them. So we are missing out on a lot of wealth because of this ignorant view; our standard of living could be higher.

It should also be obvious that the creation of one means does not makes anyone poorer or, as some claim, that the creation of any means to satisfy a want “creates poverty.”

Imagine two people living without any created means to satisfy wants: they are naked and without any wealth other than the occasional berry or fruit provided by nature. If Person One spends her day creating a shelter, this provides a means to satisfy a want. She is thus richer. Does that make Person Two poorer? No. That person’s situation has not changed. If anything, there is now a shelter that could potentially be shared, and the knowledge of how to create one is now available. So if anything, Person Two is (slightly) richer too.

Sure, there is now inequality because person one has a shelter and person two does not. You may have the opinion that Person One must share this wealth or think it is okay for Person Two to use force to take that shelter away from Person One. But neither changes the fact that this wealth – the shelter – was created and that, as a result, there is now more wealth in the world.

More wealth means less poverty.

The distribution of wealth is an important issue that needs to be properly discussed, but it is separate from the fact that wealth is created. And it must be created before it can be “distributed.” Anything else is nonsense.

Sure, critics may claim shelters are different from the things people want today. That, for example, iPhones etc. do not satisfy “real” wants. But that’s also an issue that is separate from the creation of wealth, and it is not really for them to make such judgments. The only thing that matters is that people who use – and choose to use – those means do so because their use satisfy some want that they have. It thus creates value in their lives.  Your opinion does change this fact; it does not decide the wealth or standard of living of someone else.

It’s actually beautiful that we do want different things and have different skills, which means we can cooperate through specializing and exchanging and help everyone satisfy more wants than we would be able to on our own. So we’re richer as a result (perhaps despite your opinion of people’s choices).

Formatted from Twitter: @PerBylund.
  • 1. Link added by the editor.

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