In response to my piece “Censorship on the Internet“, a friend from Mumbai emailed me two questions: “How should we look at issues like pornography. Is it okay to let people say/show what they want to and let children and other vulnerable groups see/listen to all that ?” and “How can India move in the direction of First amendment?”
Let’s take the issue of pornography. Different societies have different standards about what’s acceptable in all aspects of living — what to eat, how to dress, how to worship, sing, dance, make music, make art, etc. These evolve with time and technology. Whether we like it or not, the moral code too evolves.
To a previous piece , “The End of Poverty“, my friend Indradeep added a few thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. I take him seriously since he’s a fellow member of my tribe (namely, economists). In the following, I will do my best to address the points that he has raised. But first, here’s what I wrote in summary in my piece:
Technology is advancing at an exponential pace. Therefore the cost of energy will continue to drop. Therefore the cost of production of stuff will monotonically decrease, until a point that it will be practically close to zero. Therefore all the basics of life will be available for consumption at zero price. Therefore extreme poverty will be solved. This will happen in about 15 years.
I reproduce Indradeep’s comment here for reference:
Hard to argue with the idea that technology will reduce cost to near-zero levels. But the rest of it borders on wishful thinking. Especially, the expectation that some system of distribution will magically appear, sounds almost as sanguine as the familiar and now roundly discredited argument advanced by free-market fanatics that free trade is surely beneficial and the matter of how the winners compensate the losers is only a minor wrinkle that we do not need to worry about. Political economy, voice, agency – these things are nowhere in the picture. Does not a system of representation of voice have to precede the appearance of a system of distribution? If the rich have no intrinsic interest in alleviating poverty, how will that first system come into existence?
In the context of exponential technological growth (a topic that I explored in the piece “The End of Poverty“), Akshar asked in his comment, “Don’t you think the gap between a poor person in India and a poor person in say USA would only increase ?”
Yes, I think that the gap will only increase with time. But that is just part of a broader trend of increasing inequality in numerous dimensions — within and between nations. In technical terms, the Gini coefficients (a measure of inequality, where 1 means perfect inequality and 0 means perfect equality) will continually increase. Continue reading “The Growth of Inequality”
This is an optimistic piece — a rarity for sure around this blog. Here I claim that in 15 years or so, extreme poverty which afflicts around one billion people, mainly in the so-called third world, will be eradicated. That problem has plagued mankind since the beginning but the end is in sight.
Global extreme poverty will be eliminated as a side-effect of technological advances, primarily made by people who probably neither care about poverty nor do they intend to solve that problem. Which is good news for India. India has the largest number of people suffering extreme poverty in the world. Around half of the billion extremely poor people of the world live in India.
There are two kinds of problems. There are hard problems and there are impossible to solve problems. Given time, with advances in knowledge, all hard problems will be solved. Poverty is a hard problem but not an impossible problem since in many parts of the world it has been solved for all practical purposes. The critically important key to eradicating poverty is knowledge.
Knowledge is what economists call a “public good.” Once produced, knowledge can be repeatedly used without diminishing the available stock. It is “non-rival” in consumption. Technology increases monotonically because of the accumulation of knowledge. And technology (which is essentially knowledge of how to do something) developed somewhere gets adopted in the rest of the world with surprising rapidity. It is very cheap to use once developed.
Consider the cell phone, internet and computer technologies that were developed in the Western economies (they are called developed economies partly because they developed technology) but those advances spread to every part of the globe. Just like the computation and communications technologies, it will be people in rich countries who will develop the technology to eliminate poverty in poor countries, albeit not by design nor intent.
That means India’s dire poverty will be solved not by Indians — least of all by the insanely inept, criminally corrupt government of India which is arguably the fountainhead of India’s poverty — but by others. I note in passing that India’s telecommunications problem was created by the government but it was solved using foreign technology.
One of the benefits of living in a security-state aka mass surveillance state or Big Brother State is that one is constantly under the threat of being put under the microscope and dissected. Benefit? Nope. For those who love freedom, mass surveillance is a cancerous evil that should be resisted.