Edwards on Poverty

I’ve tried to limit my Edwards bashing, but on occasion he does something so profoundly stupid that I feel the need to attack it. Take this, for instance:

Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards on Thursday outlined his plan to tackle global poverty that calls for educating 23 million children in poor countries and creating a Cabinet-level position to oversee other initiatives.
Seeking to link poverty in other countries to U.S. national security, Edwards argued that militant extremists in nations torn apart by poverty and civil war have replaced government educational systems and are teaching young people to hate the United States.
“When you understand that, it suddenly becomes clear: global poverty is not just a moral issue for the United States — it is a national security issue for the United States,” he said at Saint Anselm College.
“If we tackle it, we have the chance to change a generation of potential extremists and enemies into a generation of friends,” Edwards said.

Neil – he of the ethical werewolfery – calls this “The Best Idea In The World.” Er, no. For one thing, it isn’t even an idea. Edwards does not propose any policy to reduce global poverty – he just calls for a new cabinet department. This is a cop-out, and a smart one. If Edwards actually gave a damn about reducing world poverty, he would propose opening up trade to poorer nations by pushing the Doha round forward and being more open to eliminating farm subsidies. Hell, if he actually wants to make this the crux of his campaign, he should propose a unilateral elimination of all tariffs and farm subsidies. But he won’t, because he doesn’t care about global poverty, he cares about winning in Iowa and he cares about the union vote. He isn’t serious about this in the slightest, and I hope that Neil and the rest of Edwards’ supporters realize that.
But I’ve covered all of that already. What’s new in this statement is Edwards’ conviction that poverty causes terrorism, and that we should, for the sake of our national security, seek to reduce it. Ignoring the fact that terrorism isn’t a major national security problem, this is just wrong. Mohamed Atta was a college-educated urban planner. Ramzi Yousef is a college-educated engineer. The London and Madrid bombings were committed by upper-middle-class kids born in the West – not only were the attackers not poor, they weren’t even in the third world. The notion that poverty causes terrorism is rubbish, and Edwards should know that if he read anything on the subject. What causes terrorism is foreign occupation; if we stay out of Saudi Arabia and get out of Iraq, we’ll be fine.

9 thoughts on “Edwards on Poverty

  1. Robert Pape makes a good case that foreign occupation provokes terrorism. But another question is what social forces foster or shelter terrorism. I would argue that historical poverty does help foster terrorism; and that contemporary poverty does help shelter it. That is, Saudi Arabia may not be poor now, but it was quite poor for centuries until recently. On the second point, I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that Osama bin Laden chose to hide in one of the world’s poorest countries.
    Besides, if Edwards proposes to use terrorism as a pretext to fight poverty, what’s wrong with that?

  2. The fact of the matter is that there is no empirical correlation between poverty and terrorism.
    No, there is no empirical evidence that poverty instigates terrorism. “No correlation” is a much stronger statement that is pretty much untenable.
    But Edwards’ record on trade shows that he really doesn’t give a damn about fighting poverty.
    No, Edwards does not want to fight poverty by expanding free trade. I certainly support free trade; I think that it does fight poverty. But saying that Edwards doesn’t want to fight poverty at all isn’t reasonable.

  3. But saying that Edwards doesn’t want to fight poverty at all isn’t reasonable.
    Why not? He opposes the most effective tool for fighting it. One can infer two things from that: that he’s an idiot, or that he doesn’t care about fighting poverty.

  4. He opposes the most effective tool for fighting it.
    It’s an oversimplification to call free trade the most effective tool to fight poverty. In my view, it is a necessary tool, maybe even the most necessary. But that is not the same as most effective. Even if it is the most necessary, that does not necessarily mean that more is always better.
    Edwards does not want more free trade. I do not agree with him, but that does not mean that he doesn’t want any trade. It’s not possible to eliminate America’s foreign trade, or even to keep it from growing. The world already has enough foreign trade to eradicate poverty entirely, in principle. But just like everything else, foreign trade is not equally or equitably distributed.
    In principle, Edwards could do the most that any president has ever done for world poverty without necessarily signing any new trade agreements. I don’t know that he will, but even so, you shouldn’t say that he doesn’t care at all just because he doesn’t want to do it your way. (Or my way, for that matter.)

  5. I’m sorry, but there is one, and only one, consistently reliable means of reducing global poverty through government policy, and that’s increased trade. If Edwards rejects it, it’s fair to state that he doesn’t take the issue seriously. See William Easterly for more.

  6. There is one, and only one, consistently reliable means of reducing global poverty through government policy, and that’s increased trade.
    Only one reliable means? I see no reason to believe that! If it were so, then Western-sponsored programs for contraception, vitamin distribution, and vaccination in the developing world would be a waste of time. But they aren’t; they are quite effective.

  7. If it were so, then Western-sponsored programs for contraception, vitamin distribution, and vaccination in the developing world would be a waste of time. But they aren’t; they are quite effective.
    Those are excellent public health programs. They are not poverty reduction programs.
    Let me put it this way. One can name plenty of third world countries that have gone from poverty to prosperity through trade: South Korea, Taiwan, Mainland China, India, etc. I can’t name a third world country that went from poverty to propserity through international aid. As I said, see William Easterly.

  8. I can’t name a third world country that went from poverty to propserity through international aid.
    Going from poverty to prosperity is not something that happens only for one reason. A country cannot make the transition without certain public health and population control steps, which certainly can be assisted with foreign aid. India is a case in point.
    Nor is foreign trade enough by itself, or more precisely the opportunity of foreign trade. The Philippines has long had fantastic trade opportunities with the United States, but it is poorer than Poland. If you argue instead that actual foreign trade is what reduces poverty, then you are commingling cause and effect.
    I am as much in favor of free trade as anyone. Poverty reduction is one good reason for it. You seem to equate the two outright, but that is a gross oversimplification.

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