Ask Not…

     …why there is poverty, saith John Wilder:

     I find it sort of hilarious that economists spend a lot of time fretting about what causes poverty. I love economics, but often think that they create pocket universes to study that have no real connection to the here and now. I think that’s called sniffing their own . . . uh . . . emissions.

     But sometimes it’s not just economists who ask the wrong question. As bad as they are, the worst offenders are politicians. Let’s start with the dumbest question that has been asked in my lifetime (at least in the United States):

     “What causes poverty?”

     That’s letting Whoopi Goldberg loose in a chocolate factory stupid. It doesn’t help the chocolate and leaves Whoopi sticky and needing an insulin shot.

     Wilder is entirely correct about this. But then, the professional economist of our time is usually incapable of dealing with unpleasant facts and factors…often because he’s been paid not to notice them.

     Please read the whole piece, taking care to avoid the entirely gratuitous, worse-than-usual puns. Then return here for a few fruits from four decades’ economic lucubrations.


     No one knows with high confidence what causes general prosperity. Some nations have attained it, though nowhere to the height achieved in these United States. Flacks toting assorted axes will insist it’s because of:

  • Economic freedom,
  • Low taxes,
  • Favorable climate,
  • Natural resources,
  • High intelligence,
  • Strong work ethic,
  • Respect for learning,
  • Civic virtue,
  • Christianity,
  • Greed,

     …or some other factor dear to their hearts. Yet there have been nations that exhibited the majority of those characteristics but never rose to a First World economic status. There have been a couple of small nations that possessed only one or two of them, but became as prosperous as any European nation. Wilder notes this in his essay. So the matter remains open to discussion.

     One thing that cannot be measured, though it may be inferred a posteriori, is the priority the people of a country place on material gain. I’d venture to guess that the accumulation of wealth to any degree requires a high priority on becoming affluent. After all, there have been plenty of geniuses who never became affluent. In the usual case, they’ve shown a complete indifference to wealth. So putting some emphasis on it would appear to be a necessary component.

     There are a couple of countervailing factors whose absence might be equally necessary. Consider a prevalence of envy, for one. If envy is not checked socially and politically, they who rise above the general level will be pulled down by those around them. Given that there have been societies in which the dominant religious convictions have actually sanctified envy and the depredations it motivates, we may infer that letting it have its way is “bad for business.”

     Still, there are uncertainties. Envy is growing to previously unobserved and unhallowed heights here in America. Popular culture abounds with the symptoms. Yet our general prosperity hasn’t suffered…so far.


     I’d like to suggest that we consider a factor that’s seldom addressed, but which might be more important than previously thought. It’s been weakening these past few decades, though it’s not entirely gone. While it’s become weak in America’s coastal regions, it persists in the heartland states. I find it fascinating that trends in personal affluence have not yet followed it where it remains in force.

     The factor is strong families and respect for them.

     Families have been the principal aggregators of wealth throughout human history. Accumulations of money and property passing vertically through families tend to increase. There are exceptions, of course; everyone knows one or more cases of a family whose heir squandered what was left to him. But the pattern appears to favor the strong family as a significant factor in the appreciation of wealth.

     It’s worth specifying what I mean by a strong family:

  • It exhibits continuity over the generations.
  • It grows in number over time, by reproduction.
  • It features a specialty of which its members are proud.
  • It also features intergenerational loyalty and mutual defense.
  • It encourages “drones” to separate themselves from the mass.
  • At a certain size, it may “fission” but retain the specialty in one branch.

     Needless to say, even the strongest family won’t “grow to the sky.” It only takes one weak generation to destroy the progress of its ancestors. But the great families that have remained great exhibit nearly all of the characteristics above.

     The attack on families and on human fertility correlates rather strongly with the deceleration of American general prosperity.


     This is not a hortatory essay. I’m not suggesting that if you want to get rich, you should get married, stay married despite all counter-incentives, and breed like crazy so you’ll have progeny to take over the family business when you get old and feeble. (Women have been making all of that a lot harder than it once was.) But the correlation between social approbation for strong, numerous families and a high degree of general prosperity deserves some attention.

     Let’s not forget that governments have been at the forefront of the attack on families in these United States. When politics and law become averse to the family, families face difficulties that can be impossible to overcome. The incentives to family dissolution have risen to a height that suggests actual hostility to the strong family. That correlates unpleasantly with the rise of the death cults to cultural ascendancy in what was once known, justifiably, as Christendom.


  1. I keep seeing this post on Gab keep popping up about the loss of human capital. Everything that you list as characteristics of strong families could also be characterized about the human capital that has been dwindling in the USA.

  2. Some of wealth accumulation may be the willingness to put aside ones immediate gratification for future benefit. Otherwise known as “not eating the seed corn”.

    Stable families seem to do that organically. Might, in part, be due to the practice gained from not suffocating their colicky or temperamental children when sleep deprived.

Comments have been disabled.