The Evil that Men Do: How Bad Governments Create Poverty
Ideas have consequences. When societies deny that all men are created equal, the masses suffer, even when surrounded by rich resources.
The silent, staring orphans: Science Magazine tells a chilling account of the aftermath of Nicolas Ceaucescu’s communist regime in Romania. The dictator wanted to increase the population, so he rewarded childbirth – but not parenting. Women with fewer than five children were taxed, whether or not they could afford to care for their babies. As a result, 170,000 newborns were confined to orphanages in a dreadful “experiment in zero parenting,” Eliot Marshall writes. When U.S. scientists visited an orphanage in Bucharest, they were shocked at what they saw: “many children rocking back and forth while sitting or on all fours, turning their head from side to side, or repeatedly bringing their hand to their face, often slapping themselves.”
The “creepiest thing” about the Romanian orphanages and other places where young children suffer chronic neglect is that “they’re quiet,” Pollak says. In most U.S. elementary schools or child care centers, he says, “you hear talking and screaming and crying … it’s just raucous.” But in “an environment where children are not being attended to, there is this kind of dead silence. … Children are learning: ‘Why should I cry, or gesture, or make eye contact if no one is responding?’”
Even though many Americans rushed to adopt some of them, the effects on Romania’s youth continue to this day. Neglected children often develop chronic mental and physical problems, further stressing service organizations. On the flip side is China, where the decades long forcible “experiment” (its one-child policy) has left a society with an imbalance of restless young men unable to find brides.
Pharoah, let my people go: How did ancient Egypt become a land of slaves building fantastic monuments to dictatorial leaders? The land of Egypt was rich and fertile, a seeming paradise for egalitarian living. Stephanie Pappas writes in Live Science about how despots “evolved” in ancient societies, but that’s a misleading use of the term; it actually was a series of bad choices by free people. She writes how Simon Powers at the University of Lausanne came up with a mathematical model to explain the shift from egalitarianism to despotism. Whether it actually explains them could be disputed, but he posits that people gradually yielded up their rights to strong leaders who promised them benefits. As population density grew, he thinks, people had fewer options; a “feedback loop” ensued, that led to more yielding of power for more promises. In Egypt, surrounded by desert, the people had nowhere else to go; in Peru, leaving the dictator would have required climbing mountains. Still, those obstacles have not hindered other people groups throughout history, while nations with plenty of space and resources (Russia, China) have also given in to despots.
Violence in the bones: Examination of skeletons from precolonial natives of Colorado shows that the pueblo people went through a period of “brutal fighting” and “cataclysmic levels of violence” about 800 years ago, “with almost every person in the ancient society affected,” according to new research reported by Live Science. This is strange, considering that “ancient inhabitants further south in New Mexico lived relatively peacefully.” Anthropologists can only guess why. Was it population density? drought? lack of specialization in social structures? Whatever happened, the settlements were completely abandoned, leaving scarred bones in the empty houses at Mesa Verde for modern tourists to wonder about.
Outside exploitation: Environmentalists for decades have worried about the loss of Brazilian rainforests, calling for united global action to stop it. Fred Pearce has a different idea: on New Scientist, he recommends, “Give forests to local people to preserve them.” He has data to back up the idea that local control increases conservation, because local people have more interest in preserving the resources. Outsiders, like large logging conglomerates, often enter from the outside to plunder the land, leaving the local people destitute.
The best way to protect rainforests is to keep people out, right? Absolutely not. The best way to keep the trees, and prevent the carbon in them from entering the atmosphere, is by letting people into the forests: local people with the legal right to control what happens there.
Given the chance, most communities protect rather than plunder their forests, says a new study by the World Resources Institute and Rights and Resources Initiative, both in Washington DC. The forests provide food, water, shelter, medicines and much else….
But community-owned forests are often the best-protected. In the Amazon rainforest, deforestation rates in community-owned areas are far lower than outside….
“No one has a stronger interest in the health of forests than the communities that depend on them for their livelihoods and culture,” says Andy White of the Rights and Resources Initiative. “It is tragic that this has not yet been fully adopted as a climate change mitigation strategy.”
Voting with your feet: Sid Perkins in Science wrote about other models that try to capture the transition to despotism. In “The Benefits of Inequality,” he mentions that people can make choices that cannot be reflected in mathematical models:
But to be more realistic, the duo’s simulation may need to include more factors, says Kim Sterelny, who studies the evolution of social behavior at Australian National University in Canberra and wasn’t involved in the current work. For example, the benefits of being a leader almost ensure that there would be strong competition (and possibly even conflict) among group members for power. “The [team’s] model idealizes away the costs and inefficiencies of politics,” he suggests. Plus, he notes, the model doesn’t seem to consider the notion that egalitarian members of a group could band together into an “antielite” coalition.
One nice aspect of the team’s simulation, Sterelny notes, is that dissatisfied individuals within a group can, in essence, vote with their feet and leave the group: “If dispersal is relatively low cost, leaders cannot afford to be greedy.” Yet the team’s model also helps explain how despots can rise to and retain power: When the costs of switching allegiance to another group or striking out on one’s own are unacceptably high, Powers says, individuals in the group are essentially stuck in the group, left to make the best of a bad situation.
Both views seem simplistic. The cost to America’s founding fathers was high: death. Yet in pursuit of their ideals that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, they mutually pledged to one another their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.
Terror on a goldmine: Having local control of resources is not enough. The right belief system must give the people incentive for peace and prosperity. For decades, Afghanistan has been a land of blood, terror and inequality toward women and non-Muslims. It’s tragic, considering how the people there could have a healthy, wealthy society: why? they are sitting on a gold mine of mineral wealth in those cave-ridden, barren mountains: rare earth elements and other resources the world is clamoring for. Marcia McNutt, Editor-in chief of Science Magazine, thinks science could bring lasting peace by showing the Afghans were the resources are and teaching them the technology to extract them:
Data collection was just the start. The Afghan Geological Survey (AGS) was an empty shell of a building. The USGS set about rebuilding the AGS, teaching staff and students modern techniques such as remote sensing, digital data processing, and geophysical techniques through distance-learning methods. With this mentoring, the first woman Afghan scientist joined the ranks of the AGS employees. Together, the USGS and the reconstituted AGS interpreted the hyperspectral data and verified the discoveries with ground truth, converting the information to “treasure maps” for what eventually might be a trillion-dollar payday for Afghanistan.
Other resource-rich countries, such as Botswana, Chile, and Norway, provide good models for Afghanistan to emulate in order to avoid the social unrest, graft, corruption, and environmental degradation that can often accompany natural resource development. Important factors contributing to peace, prosperity, and improved quality of life are equitable redistribution of revenues; strong public institutions; and investment in local capacity-building, environmental planning, and transparency.
But what if the radical Muslims who control (or strongly influence) the government refuse to be be influenced by these enticements? What if they don’t want “peace, prosperity, and improved quality of life” but rather make as their primary aim the imposition of Shariah law on everyone? What if they don’t value transparency, and hate Western science? By promoting “equitable redistribution of revenues” and “investment” (read: taxes) for “environmental planning” and “strong public institutions,” McNutt has already stepped way outside of science, and has revealed her personal socialist bias (ignoring the fact that the richest country on earth built its institutions—the envy of the world,—on free-market capitalism, natural rights and the rule of law). The contrast could not be more stark: on one side of the world, entrepreneurs create wealth out of thin air (e.g., information). On the other side of the globe, a nation sitting on a gold mine languishes in the 7th century, its corrupt political leaders stifling freedom, its religious leaders brandishing machine guns, its teachers teaching hate.
Examples could be multiplied: North Korea, Zimbabwe, Cuba – countries where ideology, corruption or false religion starve the people of their God-given rights. It’s the Christian west, with its Protestant work ethic, moral values, and fundamental belief in God-given rights, that created the wealthiest, most prosperous societies on earth. These societies did not “evolve” according to some academic egghead’s mathematical model. They were intelligently designed by rational and moral beings with the right world view. Rodney Stark’s books have a lot to say about this. Sadly, human potential has been corrupted since sin entered the world, and violence has been the lot of man since the firstborn child, Cain, murdered his brother.
It’s interesting to watch leftist PC bias pop up in the science journals. McNutt clearly let her slip show on her left leg, with references to “equitable redistribution of revenues” and “strong public institutions.” In the article on Romania, Eliot Marshall had a lot to say about the importance of “parenting” but you can look in vain for the words mother or father.
We end with a quote from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” For those in China, Romania, Afghanistan: take the blinders off, and let these self-evident truths burn in their brilliance in your mind’s eye. You don’t have to suffer under dictators any longer. You were created equal to Bill Gates or Donald Trump. You were given gifts in your body and mind. You’re walking on a treasure chest of a planet. You have a God who loves you, and a Savior who died for you. You don’t need a scientist with a mathematical model. You need a Reformation of your world view, and then the Spirit of ’76.