The left's solutions to the problems of poverty have always been
ineffective. The bureaucratic planning of production, the
nationalization of resources, state intervention, the redistribution
of wealth, high taxes, protectionism: all of these measures, which
are still part and parcel of the left's ideological arsenal, have
been completely discredited both in theory and in practice.
It was nonetheless
possible to concede a certain social relevance to left-wing talk
insofar as it articulated an important preoccupation with the truly
destitute members of society. But the (relative) economic liberalism
of the Western world has solved this problem.
We live in societies that
are fabulously rich, historically speaking. Wretched poverty, which
still existed here in our grandparents' time, has completely
disappeared. There are evidently still some people who are
relatively poor and destitute, but they at least have the basic
minimum necessary to survive, and the source of their distress is
most often a psychological or a social problem (often maintained by
government programs, as in the case of welfare recipients or Indians
living on reserves), not an economic one.
As my colleague Michel
Kelly-Gagnon at the Conseil du patronat du Québec mentioned during the television show, Statistics Canada
notes that the number of low income individuals in Canada went from
16% in 1996 to 11% in 2005 (or more precisely, from 15.7% to 10.8%).
Our opponents immediately tried to discredit these data by claiming
they were Fraser Institute calculations, which is completely false.
Readers will find the figures
in this Statistics Canada document. In any case, the Fraser Institute's calculations (which
evaluate the real poverty rate at 4.9% in 2004) are even more
eloquent, since they take into account the actual absolute level of
destitution, while Statistics Canada's "low income" concept
describes a relative situation.
But even keeping the less-strict
Statistics Canada definition, we can see that poverty continues to
diminish. It is even more insignificant when we realize that
poverty is not a permanent condition and that even fewer people
remain poor for any extended period, a situation which excludes
temporarily poor students or those who recently lost their jobs or
suffered a personal tragedy. Another Statistics Canada study on
social mobility in the country shows that in fact only 3.3% of
Canadians remained below the low income cut-off (LICO) each year for
six consecutive years (from 1993 to 1998). Must we really
nationalize the Canadian economy, increase taxes and massively
redistribute wealth to address a problem that now touches just one
in 33 Canadians?
A Patently Obsolete Discourse
The fact that the left's discourse is obsolete is patently obvious
in the sense that leftists have nothing to reply (apart from lies)
to these observations and do not even recognize the reality of the
situation. They are content to repeat their Marxist slogans, as
Québec solidaire spokesman Amir Khadir did during the television show by affirming that the rich
keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer, and the
concentration of wealth is greater than ever before. Marxists have
been repeating this since the Industrial Revolution. One can
imagine, if this trend had actually been in effect for two
centuries, that the entire planet would be on the verge of dying of
starvation, with just two or three billionaires controlling all
On the contrary, the
reality is that prosperity has not stopped spreading, to the extent
that capitalism and the free market have spread across the world.
Barely a few decades ago, only some twenty Western nations made up
the "rich" world and possessed a substantial middle class. Today,
there are dozens of them, in every region of the world except Africa.
Not only is wealth not more and more concentrated in a few hands, it
is in fact more and more widely distributed across the planet. And
this, as I mentioned on the show, is thanks not to left-wing
policies but to capitalism and globalization.
In the January 13 edition
of La Presse,
a series of articles about India shows us the magnitude of these
changes. "India produces more new millionaires each year than any
other country in the world. The official count last year was 83,000,
up from 70,000 in 2005." A terrible thing, according to
economically illiterate leftists: wealth is being concentrated! Yes,
it was certainly preferable when almost all Indians were poor, since
they were more equal in their poverty!
This series of articles
also informs us that the Communist Party still holds the reins in
Calcutta. But as in China, these "communists" have completely
abandoned their outmoded ideas and become converts to market
economics (no doubt strongly tempered by constant State
intervention, like here, but still):
In the 1980s, driven off by ultra-militant unionism, the
multinationals Bata, Philips and Dunlop all left this city that
long epitomized Indian misery and still attracts the most
But today, Calcutta is no
longer missing out on the rapid economic growth that led to the
metamorphosis of Bombay, Bangalore and Delhi. "Our priority is
to develop Calcutta and the entire State of Western Bengal; to
help the poor, not to establish socialism," says Mridul De [a
To arrive at these goals,
the Communist Party is opening wide its arms to large,
capitalist businesses it was shunning only yesterday, promising
favourable conditions, tax reductions, subsidized electricity,
quasi-free land and affordable labour.
The same story could be reported from China, Vietnam, Brazil, Poland,
and lots of other places. Once again, in the face of this global
phenomenon, the left has nothing to say, besides shutting their eyes
and denying that these countries are in fact becoming wealthier, as
my opponents did during a
debate on globalization on the same
television show last year. Or perhaps by adopting the reactionary
Malthusian discourse (as Amir Khadir did
in this January's debate) that admits there is increasing wealth,
but claims that the planet does not have sufficient resources to
satisfy the needs of Asia's (and the world's) poor if they start to
consume as much as we do. This assertion is not only false, it goes
against the Marxist objective of allowing the poor to get richer, on
top of being contemptuous coming from a citizen of a Western nation
who himself benefits from all of that wealth but wants it to be
inaccessible to others. But what's one more intellectual
contradiction for the left-wing?
We have entered an era in
which absolute poverty and famines are rapidly disappearing from the
surface of the planet, for the first time in the history of humanity.
In a few years, barring some catastrophe, this lingering scourge
will be nothing but an unpleasant memory. The Marxist left will seem
as archaic, as disconnected from reality, and as ridiculous as
astrologers and witch hunters. We will then be able to relegate them
to the curiosities of history and ignore them completely.