Magazine article The Spectator

Hothouse of Hate

Magazine article The Spectator

Hothouse of Hate

Article excerpt

IF ignorance was the state of man in the Garden of Eden, then the much hyped `Eden Project' in Cornwall is living up to its name. The Eden Project is a none too impressive botanical garden that advertises itself as an educational project and a `stage where science, art and technology blend to tell the story of our place in nature'. Instead of what's promised, visitors get a farrago of false statistics, economic gibberish and pseudo-science, all neatly contained in a second-rate terrarium.

The very first thing to greet visitors is a giant display of statistical ignorance drawn, I learnt, from a bit of Internet spam that's been doing the rounds for years. Virtually none of what it claims is true, and some of it is downright hateful. According to the display, `If we could shrink the Earth to a village with a population of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, there would be. . . ', followed by a set of absurd claims dressed up as facts, such as `21 would be European' (try 12), `70 would be unable to read' (actually about 16, off by only 54), '89 would be heterosexual, 11 would be homosexual' (reliable studies indicate between 2 and 4 per cent of males are homosexual), and so on.

Much more important, however, was the following: `Six people would possess 59 per cent of the entire world's wealth and would be from the United States'. Now that can't be true for several reasons. the first of which is that the United States has only about 4.6 per cent of the world's population, not 6 per cent. Second, not all Americans are rich and not all non-Americans are poor. Third, there is no reliable data available on shares of `the entire world's wealth'. (As the World Bank puts it, `Unfortunately we don't have a standard way of defining wealth. Wealth requires an evaluation of all productive assets, which accumulate and depreciate over years.') Fourth, the data that we do have on gross national income by country indicates that the United States produces a bit more than 31 per cent - not 59 per cent - of aggregate world income.

Two things are notable about those figures. First, gross national income represents the production of value, not control over natural resources. Americans are disproportionately wealthy compared with other countries because they are disproportionately productive. And they are so productive because their institutions courts, markets, property registries, and so on - work relatively well. The production of value is not a zero or negative sum game; increasing productivity in one country does not decrease it elsewhere. In fact, the evidence is overwhelming that increasing productivity for one group tends to increase it among its trading partners, as it means greater opportunities for the division of labour, greater reliance on comparative advantage, and richer consumers of imports from trading partners. Even more striking, there is a negative correlation between natural resource endowment and average income; countries richly endowed with natural resources (think oil, gold or diamonds) tend to have lower average incomes than less richly endowed countries, partly because parasitic thugs grab control of those resources and use the wealth to cement their dictatorial rule. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.