Ending Poverty

Did you see yesterday’s Albuquerque Journal Op-Ed by Rosabeth Moss Kanter entitled “Poverty:
Capitalism’s Powder Keg?” In the Miami Herald it was entitled “Why Socialism is back in vogue in some places.” Excerpt”

Socialism is back in vogue in Latin America. Whatever one thinks about Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s outrageous politics, he enjoys support from poor barrios because he has expanded access to educational and social services. Chávez called Mexican President Vincente Fox a ”lapdog” of U.S. imperialism for backing Washington’s trade policies at the summit. Perhaps Chávez’s example reinforced Cuba’s socialist stubbornness, as the government raided farmers’ markets in what Reuters called an “anti-capitalist crackdown.”
Some large companies in the region are rising to the challenge of finding solutions to poverty. ABN AMRO Banco Real in Brazil is offering micro-finance to poor entrepreneurs in urban shanty-towns. Cemex in Mexico created an innovative program to finance housing materials in rural areas, bringing jobs as well as better housing to poor villages.
Believers in a free-market economy (and I’m among them) had better be prepared to do even more to help lift the poor out of misery. Otherwise, markets will not be free enough or our cities safe enough, for any of us.

Capitalists themselves often do not “believe” in the free-market. But one thing is for sure: they have every incentive to help the more poverty stricken nations as long as those nations have reasonable regulatory and tax regimes, they enforce property rights and they enforce the rule of law. Captitalists help by engaging in trade with the people and businesses of those nations. When trade occurs everyone is better off.
Be careful, though, because there is one thing that will not work: foreign aid. New Mexico itself is proof of that. If foreign aid does not work why not encourage dictators to try some economic freedom? That really does work!
Update 11/29/05: MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY in Friday’s WSJ(subscription):

…despite persistent claims that the region has tried the “free-market” model and found it wanting, Latin America is stubbornly stuck in a statist time warp.
When it comes to burdensome government and weak property rights, Latins don’t fare as badly as Africans but their freedoms lag behind those in much of Asia and the former Soviet satellites of Europe.

She concludes:

Rich-country bureaucrats also often tie their handouts to objectives favored by rich-country pressure groups, such as environmental and labor “protections” that in the name of “social justice” add more red tape and further destroy individual initiative. All the while, Godzilla government is leaving Latin America’s underclass living in the shantytowns and favelas with little opportunity or hope.

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