You’re Right – Jason Hickel Is An Ignorant Know Nothing Twat

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It’s not that Jason Hickel doesn’t know some stuff, that’s just fine. I am incredibly ill-informed on whatever species it is that Lady Gaga purports to be. Shrug. It’s not even that Hickel doesn’t know some stuff that he should, given that he says he does economic stuff, even if of the anthropoligical kind. It’s that he’s basing an argument on something that he really should know is untrue. Which, in an academic, really isn’t a good look.

What Hickel wants to argue is that capitalism really does impoverish. Therefore if we abolish it then we’ll all get richer. This suggestion rather runs into that brick wall of falling poverty levels as a result of globalised and neoliberal capitalism. You know, once near all were poor, now only 10% are.

So, how to argue around this?

There are a number of problems with this graph, though. First of all, real data on poverty has only been collected since 1981. Anything before that is extremely sketchy, and to go back as far as 1820 is meaningless.

Oh, that’s useful then, we can reject any- and every- thing from Engels and Marx then. Not based on real data, d’ye see?

But rhetorical parps aside, this:

What Roser’s numbers actually reveal is that the world went from a situation where most of humanity had no need of money at all to one where today most of humanity struggles to survive on extremely small amounts of money. The graph casts this as a decline in poverty, but in reality what was going on was a process of dispossession that bulldozed people into the capitalist labour system, during the enclosure movements in Europe and the colonisation of the global south.

Prior to colonisation, most people lived in subsistence economies where they enjoyed access to abundant commons – land, water, forests, livestock and robust systems of sharing and reciprocity. They had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor. This way of life was violently destroyed by colonisers who forced people off the land and into European-owned mines, factories and plantations, where they were paid paltry wages for work they never wanted to do in the first place.

The claim is that our estimations only measure money – as with GDP – mediated transactions. So, self-sufficiency on those verdant commons is disregarded.

Which is bollocks. For the simple reason that economists aren’t that damn stupid. Here’s Max Roser telling us how poverty is measured today and also historically:

Firstly, it’s important to get clear from the outset that historical reconstructions of poverty and prosperity do not just concern the amount of money people had in the past. This is a common misunderstanding that is often at the heart of misinformed critiques of historical research. For instance, in a discussion of our global extreme poverty chart on reddit, one user suggested that it was “indicative of the fact that quite a lot of the world […] did not use fiat currency.”

This interpretation is incorrect. Yes, over the last two hundred years, there has been a major shift from people farming for their own consumption towards people working for a wage and purchasing goods in the market. But historians know about history and where non-market sources of income make up a substantial part of total income, it is very obvious that money would represent a rather silly indicator of welfare.

Just as we need to adjust for price inflation, accounting for non-market sources of income is an essential part of making meaningful welfare comparisons over time. Estimates of poverty and prosperity account for both market and non-market sources of income, including the value of food grown for own consumption or other goods and services that enriched the lives of households without being sold in a market.

This issue is not just of importance for historical estimates, but it is also of central relevance for poverty measurement today, given the importance that food produced at home, or otherwise received in-kind, continues to play in the incomes of the rural poor, especially in low-income countries. Accordingly, these flows are accounted for in household surveys of both consumption and income, and in the historical estimates.

That is, we are, best as we can, measuring the consumption possibilities. Including what is consumed as a result of being able to exploit those verdant commons. What we are not measuring is just money-mediated purchases or income.

Or, Jason Hickel is an ignorant know nothing twat. But then you were already right in knowing that, weren’t you?

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jgh
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jgh

Yey!!!! Everybody should (be forced to) go back to subsistance living. How ***DARE**** people have more resources that just the amount needed to keep themselves alive for the next 24 hours.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

So what happens if we measure global poverty at the low end of this more realistic spectrum – $7.40 per day, to be extra conservative? Well, we see that the number of people living under this line has increased dramatically since measurements began in 1981, reaching some 4.2 billion people today. Suddenly the happy Davos narrative melts away.

is this true? It seems unlikely given the substantial reduction in numbers living under $1.90.

Barks
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Barks

This cash income v total input jiggery is the way the poverty industry tells us vast numbers of Western citizens are living at levels lower than those of the most primitive Amazon lost tribes. Of course the argument would be used here.

Snarkus
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Snarkus

From my limited reading, ie Pursuit of the Millenium, History of Middle Ages and Medieval Warfare etc, the average time between peasant revolts was about 7 years. usually due to hunger. What was that comment about abundance in pre-industrial times ? One of the Roman historians (Sutonius, The Twelve Caesars ?) had comments on the oldest known peoples’ ages. IIRC one Greek made 106, a very few Romans made it to 90. All wealthy. Now how many people over 90 live in the West who are not millionaires ? Lets keep technology and a rational capitalism. Having lived with a… Read more »