Friday, April 13, 2012

Money For Nothing

"The Defense Ministry in rival South Korea released figures this week saying that North Korea could afford to feed its population for a year with the money it is spending on the missile launch."
North Korea rocket launch reportedly fails 
Unsurprisingly, the Internet has wasted no time in a) condemning the North Korean leadership for not being a working welfare state b) pointing out that in the United States, the National Aeronautics and Space Agency and Department of Defense also spend large amounts of money that could go to feeding hungry people at home and abroad.

I don't think that the primary problem in North Korea is its failure to be a proper welfare state. While there are nations that do reasonably well for themselves through maintaining a system of transfer payments, I have yet to come across any nation, present or past, where you couldn't make the point that people's lives could be made better if only the state were willing to move just a little more money their way. And besides, if you're reading this, it's likely that I could come to your home and point out something that you've "wasted" money on and lecture you about some poor African child who doesn't have shoes while you spend money on frivolities. Give someone enough time, and they'll be able to find a myriad of uses for your money in the service of poverty reduction.

If we're going to fault North Korea, it should first for not allowing it's people to do what they can to care for themselves, in the name of making them dependent on a regime that is primarily about keeping itself in power. While I've never been to North Korea, I have it on fairly trustworthy authority that the place isn't a desert. It's people could likely do much better for themselves than they are, if they were allowed to do so by the regime that's in power.

Granted, it's not like the United States ensures that each of its citizens has the opportunity to be all that they can be, but we're not in effect manufacturing grinding poverty for little reason than to claim "anything you can do, I can do better" on the international stage. It's fashionable to claim that our government is in the business of fostering dependence, but it's more accurate to note that they're in the business of buying votes with public money - machine politics at its finest.

Likewise, if we're going to fault the United States for spending billions of dollars every year on things that don't do anything to alleviate poverty here at home (although by the standards of much of the world, being poor in the United States is still a pretty sweet gig), the knock should be that the government gets too caught up in attempting to artificially create a society in which everyone wins, even when it would likely do better to focus on expanding opportunities, rather than seeking to level outcomes.

1 comment:

Keifus said...

Yeah man, here we have "only" fifteen percent of the population as food-insecure. I think they call that Winning!

Seriously, if it's considered wrong to level the outcome (to some extent, and if we can't level the outome to the extent of non-hunger, I wonder what the hell's wrong with us), then we can at least use the existing outcome as a measure of how well the existing strategies work.