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Imagine if President Obama appointed radical Noam Chomsky, who has denounced capitalism as a “murderously destructive catastrophe,” to head up a committee on economic growth. That’s less of a stretch than it may seem, considering Obama’s nominee to head the World Bank, current Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim.
Kim’s expertise is in health policy, so little is known about his views on economic development, the World Bank’s primary purpose. What is on the public record, however, is deeply troubling. A case in point is a collection of studies that Kim co-edited in 2000, Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor. The grim title accurately reflects the book’s radical central premise, namely that capitalism and economic growth is bad for the poor across the world. The introduction, which Kim co-authored with several other academics, states the point bluntly: “The studies in this book present evidence that the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men.”
In this vein, the authors go on to dismiss “neoliberalism” – the preferred left-wing academic pejorative for free trade and free markets – as a failure, particularly for the world’s poor. “Even where neoliberal policy measures have succeeded in stimulating economic growth, growth’s benefits have not gone to those living in ‘dire poverty,’ one-fourth of the world’s population,” the authors assert.
If economic growth hurts the poor, especially in the Third World, what helps their cause? The book answers that question with a chapter touting what it considers a true success: communist Cuba’s health-care system. As the chapter’s author tells it, Cuba’s health care is supposedly on par with that of the United States, an achievement made “possible because of a governmental commitment not only to health in the narrow sense but to social equality and social justice.” Relying on bogus statistics from the Cuban government and distorting the extreme inequities of Cuban health care, where few of Cuba’s poor can either afford or obtain either medicine or doctors’ treatment, the study is revealing mostly of the ideological extremism of its author. Indeed, it might well have been written by Chomsky, which in fact it was: the author is Aviva Chomsky, Noam Chomsky’s eldest daughter. Noam Chomsky himself is quoted in the book’s conclusion, which cites his dismissal of economic growth as “efforts to make people feel helpless.” The book’s authors, including Jim Yong Kim, seem to agree.
They could hardly be more wrong. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that economic growth raises income levels, which in turn reduces poverty and improves the lot of the global poor. Much of that evidence has been documented by the World Bank, the very institution that Kim has been tapped to lead. Earlier this month, for instance, the World Bank released a report documenting a decline in the poverty rate of the poor in all the regions of the developing world. The finding is especially striking because it comes amidst a global downturn. Economic growth accounts for much of this astounding progress.
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