Challenging the candidates

A group called “ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History” placed a full-page ad in Monday’s Review-Journal, urging Nevadans to visit the organization’s Web site and sign an online petition urging the current crop of presidential candidates to “go on the record on where you stand on fighting extreme poverty and global disease that affect the one billion people around the world.”

“Alleviating suffering and tackling the root causes of global poverty will be defining issues for the next president of the United States and deserve your full attention,” the group states in the petition they urge visitors to sign. “I hope you will respond to this letter with your plans to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, eradicate malaria, improve child and maternal health, achieve universal primary education, and provide access to clean water and food, as well as a personal message about how you plan to lead on the fight to make poverty history.”

It’s doubtful the petitioners will find many candidates hesitant to endorse child and maternal health, universal literacy, adequate food and clean water and the “eradication of malaria.”

The question is whether the real solutions will turn out to lie along the lines that these well-meaning lobbyists expect.

In a report released last month, World Bank scholars took two years to confirm what any free-market economist should have been able to tell them: so-called “natural capital” — minerals, cropland and the like — account for only a minor share of any nation’s measurable wealth. Even when you add “produced capital” — buildings, machinery, equipment — you’ve still accounted for less than half of a nation’s real wealth and income.

To account for the disparity in personal incomes, the World Bank’s analyst’s found, you have to factor in a value for “intangible wealth” — the degree to which a nation is governed by an efficient judiciary and predictable rule of law that, together, protect property rights.

This explains why the “send them lots of money” prescriptions for the Third World have over and over again proved so fruitless.

Using regression analysis, the World Bank economists determine that the rule of law explains 57 percent of a country’s “intangible capital.” Establishing a “rule-of-law index,” the analysts scored Switzerland at the top with 99.5 on a scale of 100, while placing the United States at 91.8.

Ethiopia, by comparison, scores a pathetic 16.4. Nigeria — 5.8 … and dropping.

The bottom line? Whether you choose to look at food supplies, medical care or literacy rates, “Rich countries are largely rich because of the skills of their populations and the quality of the institutions supporting economic activity,” the World Bank concludes.

The “ONE” group has shown wisdom in asking the candidates for their own, specific plans, rather than merely asking them to embrace the failed solutions of yesteryear.

It will be interesting to see which candidates respond — and which prove thoughtful enough to consult the World Bank before simply parroting back the top-down, statist solutions of yesterday.

For starters, we know how to “eradicate malaria,” thus saving hundreds of thousands of lives in the Third World. Capitalism gave us the answer almost 70 years ago. It’s called “DDT.”

After all, the “Campaign to Make Poverty History” didn’t ask about saving mosquitoes, did they?

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