The great hero Robin Hood took from the rich to give to the poor. Fixing inequality within the local surrounds of Nottinghamshire was clearly achievable. All it took was a straightforward system of mandatory redistribution enforced by a band of merry men. But today it is often said that foreign aid programmes take from the poor in rich countries, to give to the rich in poor countries. Inequality between countries is therefore a complex thing to fix. Poor people in poor countries are increasingly better off as they close the global inequality gap, but poor people in rich countries (so, not poor poor in a global sense but poor by rich-country standards) are falling further behind their wealthy neighbours in the local inequality stakes.
That's because there are two kinds of inequality:
Now, the point here is that although there seems to be evidence that local inequality is increasing over time, on the whole global inequality has been rapidly and consistently falling since the industrial revolution, a trend which is expected to continue. Despite the fact that your annoying billionaire neighbour is increasing the gap between you and him, which is admittedly quite vexing, the world is becoming ever more equal.
With the effects of globalization, and especially the free internet where anybody can learn anything, poor people in poor countries are increasingly better skilled, better educated, and better able to increase their earnings, at least as compared to what they were earning before which was pretty much zero dollars. This explains why global poverty has fallen so dramatically:
This is important for countries like Nigeria and India, where vast numbers of poor people live (with a few billionaires speckled here and there amongst them):
But the 0.7 million poor people in Europe are in a more difficult position than the 707 million poor people in Africa and Asia, because of first world problems associated with local inequalities. For example, having to contend with living next door to corporate CEOs in European cities. Every morning as you walk to your minimum wage job, you have to see their fancy cars parked in the street which is so aggravating. There's no avoiding them. In London, you could literally live next door to, or even in the same building as, a billionaire when you're on the poverty line yourself (European poverty line, not third world poverty line). This would never happen in Nigeria or India, where poor people are cordoned off in slums so they never have to suffer the ignominy of meeting billionaires in the lobby every morning as they wait for the lift, or standing next to wealthy CEOs on the tube as they all head to the City to earn their different livings.
Moreover, in Europe with public healthcare you could very easily encounter a billionaire in your GP's surgery, sitting right next to you in the waiting room. Or at the school gates, as you both turn up to pick your children from publicly funded schools, where you discover that your poor urchin sits in the same classroom as a rich kid who torments him with his fancy pencil case and his fancy Clark's shoes. I know, it's intolerable.
You don't have such problems in Africa or Asia because if you're poor you don't have any access to any schools or hospitals, so life is simpler and more carefree. If you're sick you just have to die at home or on the street where you won't inconvenience anybody. Also your barefoot children run wild on the streets in their rags, and nobody cares whether they go to school or not which is good because you can't afford school uniforms and shoes and whatnot. With your children not in school you don't have to worry about meeting investment bankers' wives on the school run, perched on their posh stilettos and dripping with diamonds.
In poor countries everyone around you is poor, so there are no rich people nearby to aggravate you. They are locked in their gated communities and it's fine, you never encounter them and you don't have to look at them if you don't want to.
These third-world advantages associated with widespread poverty ensure that the poor person in the poor country is always happy: he is better off than he was before and that's great.
But the poor person in the rich country is not happy: although he is better off than he was before, he is surrounded by billionaires in close proximity, which is infuriating. Every day, he has to wonder why that money can't be collected up by the government and redistributed equally, so that it's fair.
Thus globalisation has reconfigured the map of inequality:
This being the case, it's difficult to see any justification for redistributing wealth through foreign aid. Foreign aid doesn't achieve its intended goals. It's no wonder that poor people in rich countries would like all that nice money to be repatriated. Scrapping foreign aid programmes would make it possible to revert to a genuine Robin Hoodian redistribution service, i.e. stealing from the rich to give to the poor people in the same country, so that it's fair. This would solve the local inequality problem within rich countries. After all, Robin Hood wouldn't have stolen money from the rich to send abroad to foreigners, would he. He's probably turning in his grave, witnessing the shenanigans of development artists like Oxfam while the poor of Nottingham are just left to get on with it. Charity should begin at home!
Although poor westerners are not really poor compared to poor people in poor countries, they're certainly poorer than the rich government officials in the poor countries who have made their fortunes by stealing all the foreign-aid money out of the treasury, requisitioning farms from white farmers, etc. So poor westerners are at least more deserving than corrupt third world kleptocrats when it comes to choosing the most deserving beneficiary of mandatory redistributive exercises.
Wealth redistribution is quite a challenge for governments in rich countries, as they've raised all that lovely money through taxes, and now what. Huge problem! It's not as easy as you'd think, distributing other people's money to the most worthy recipients. Robin Hood had the advantage of knowing all the local players, so he never accidentally robbed the poor to give to the rich. But on the global scale, nobody knows what's going on so Robin Hood's efficiencies are not that easy to replicate. It would be better to keep it local, and leave every country to fend for themselves, just as Prof. Deaton proposed. Instead of 'help' by way of free money donated by the poor in the first world to the rich in the third world, free trade and cooperation would leave everyone better off.
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