A Transcendent Transterrestrial Musing on Who Really Makes the World Better
In an article counseling readers to cancel the pity party the Washington Post wants to throw for "Young Altruists In the Crowded Field of Public Interest," Rand Simberg at Transterrestrial Musings nails it, and in the process hammers home a reality that Old Media reporters and pundits never seem to comprehend (links were in original post):
..... Who is it that really changes the world, and for the better?
I would argue that it is the people like Bill Gates, or Henry Ford, or Thomas Edison, or the Wright brothers, who have a much larger and more beneficial effect on the world than people who "want to make a difference."
Who is more of a humanitarian, a Norman Borlaug, who through his technological efforts saved untold millions from hunger, and even starvation, and was reasonably compensated for it, or an Albert Schweitzer or Mother Theresa (sic), who labored to help a relatively few poor and ill, while living in relative poverty?
..... People are helped most by technological advances that make essential items--food, transportation, communication, shelter--more affordable and accessible to them, not by those who provide them with handouts and sympathy, and keep them in a state of perpetual dependency.
In many ways, Sam Walton was one of the great humanitarians of our time, in bringing our nation's poor closer to a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle, and he seemed to do pretty well by doing good.
In fact, it is fair to say that Wal-Mart and its low-cost imitators have done more to alleviate US poverty than the trillions of dollars spent on government antipoverty programs during the last 40-plus years. More recently, the chain's year-old $4 prescription drug program and its imitating competitors have certainly done more to enable those who need them to have affordable access to their meds than the Medicare and Medicaid bureaucracies and their legislating friends have done in the same period of time.
For all its imperfections, Wal-Mart and other American companies have also done a lot for much of the rest of the world. In fact, in a TCS Daily article I linked to last year, writer Michael Strong argued that Wal-Mart alone "might well be single-handedly responsible for bringing about 38,000 people out of poverty in China each month, about 460,000 per year." I'll be the first to admit that this may have the potential to be a mixed bag of benefits for US citizens and workers, at least in the short run, but with low unemployment and, despite Old Media punditry's claims to the contrary, objectively measured increasing living standards here at home (supporting examples here, here, here, and here), I would argue that the negatives for the most part have yet to appear.
Nobody would sanely argue that Schweitzer and Mother Teresa weren't great humanitarians of exceptional accomplishment. Over and above what they personally did, they were able to keep serious world problems visible that are all too easily kept out of mind. But let's not overlook the fact that the money and resources driving charitable efforts come not just from the generosity in people's hearts, but from the bounty of capitalism that enables charitably inclined people to substantively support their causes.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.