Ron Bailey, Terrible Simplificateur

Reason Science Editor Ron Bailey (“Overpopulation Scaremongering Never Gets Old,” June 19) takes Eugene Linden to task for blaming Lesotho’s poverty on overpopulation. “That’s far too simple a story,” Bailey says — whereupon he hands his beer to Linden and demonstrates how a real pro oversimplifies things.

Lesotho couldn’t be overpopulated, Bailey says, because it’s got a far lower population density per square mile than a long string of European countries he reels off. Nope, it’s not overpopulation — after all, Britain doubled its population from 1861 to 1901, while increasing real per capita GDP 70%. The real problem: Lesotho is poor because it doesn’t have as much capitalism as those European countries he listed.

Never mind that Great Britain was a colonial power that was sucking wealth out of African countries like a black hole during that time period, continued doing so for decades more afterward, and that British capital continues doing so to this day. Never mind that the colonial authorities in British Africa (along with French, Portuguese, Belgian, etc., etc. Africa) looted the mineral resources of the continent and worked the mines with forced labor, or gave much of Africa’s arable land to settlers who then turned the evicted peasants into hired labor on their own land. Never mind that much of these looted resources are still in the hands of Western capital, and that in the post-colonial era, the West props up authoritarian regimes that make sure all that Western capital remains securely in control of all that looted wealth. Never mind that Western capital continues to extract $2 trillion every single year from the Global South over and above what it contributes in aid (“Same Colonial Wealth Extraction, Different Name,” C4SS, Feb. 17).

Holy fallacy of composition, Batman! Next Bailey will be arguing that what mugging victims need is more robbery — just look at how well those robbers are doing!

The article is filled with other standard Ron Bailey nonsense. He makes a great deal of the Heritage Foundation’s economic freedom index and its correlation with per capita GDP. The index is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from a right-wing hack outfit like the Heritage Foundation, and hence exactly the kind of thing whose authority you’d expect Bailey to appeal to. For Heritage, “economic freedom” means the freedom of the propertied and employing class to extract rent from everybody else — period. “Intellectual property” rights — which are nothing but the right to restrict other people from doing things unless they pay you tribute — figure highly in their index of security of property. So does legal protection of landed oligarchies and Western mining companies in title to the resources they stole from conquered, colonized and enslaved populations. Its standards of “labor freedom” entirely concern the freedom of employers relative to employees, and not vice versa. The more “flexible” labor is — i.e. the more absolutely it’s stripped of bargaining power — the better.

The correlation of this “economic freedom” [sic] with per capita GDP becomes more meaningless still when you subject per capita GDP itself to critical scrutiny. Despite all his fetishizing of the concept, Bailey has never addressed the role of colonial and neo-colonial expropriation in increasing nominal GDP in the Global South, by evicting subsistence cultivators who were previously supporting their families on their own land, and turning them into wage laborers forced to earn the money to buy food in the cash nexus. Per capita measures of income and wealth are meaningless without reference to distribution; put Bill Gates in a room with seventy other people, and on average they’re all billionaires.

Put all this together, and you’ve got neoliberal apologetics on the level of a second-rate Thomas Friedman— but without the big travel budget.

To be charitable, I don’t think Bailey himself realizes what twaddle this all is. He’s a guy who thinks in cliches but means well. But regardless of his intent, he’s an advocate, not for freedom, but for power.

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