Third World poverty has proved an intractable problem. You can sense the frustration in European development theorist Ignacio Ramonet’s saying that satisfying all the world’s sanitation and food requirements would cost “hardly as much as the people of the United States and the European Union spend each year on perfume.” [Le Monde Diplomatique, November 1998]. Nor is it only Leftist egalitarians who would like to see conditions improve for the world’s poor. Immigration patriots realize that a higher quality of life in the Third World would do more than just about anything else to ease the pressure of immigration to the affluent West.
But are fundamental improvements even possible? Development aid has been jokingly described, for example by the great dissenting development economist Peter Bauer, as “financial assistance which the poor people in rich countries provide to the rich people in poor countries.” Even where the money is not appropriated by the parasitic Third World ruling class, it is generally consumed to meet immediate needs rather than capitalized in order to build for the future.
Part of the debate which rages around Third World poverty concerns its causes. In his new book, Global Inequality as a Consequence of Human Diversity, Finnish political scientist Tatu Vanhanen divides common explanations into “cultural theories, modernization theories, dependency and world-system theories, [and] political and institutional theories.”
• Dependency theory is a quasi-Marxist model centered on the history of European colonialism; it holds that existing differences in national wealth result from the exploitation of poor nations by wealthy nations.
There are two major difficulties with this claim: it presupposes that African and Asian nations were better off before European colonialism began, something for which there is no empirical evidence; and it cannot explain why Europe colonized Africa and Asia rather than the other way around.
• Modernization theory, in the form given it by economist W. Rostow, holds that countries pass through four stages on the way to modernity: 1) traditional stage, 2) take-off stage, 3) technological maturity stage, and 4) high mass consumption stage.
This model seems to have held true for those East Asian economies that have traveled a path similar to the West, though at a later date. Yet it cannot explain the failure of sub-Saharan Africa to develop following decolonization. Indeed, that region has by some measures deteriorated in recent decades, so that continued talk of the “developing nations of Africa” is beginning to smack of dishonest euphemism.
• Institutional theories of development, which emphasize the rule of law, free markets and the enforcement of contracts are clearly on to something important. But they have no explanation for why some peoples develop such institutions while others do not.
• Cultural theories are similarly question-begging in failing to explain why some regions stubbornly maintain a “culture of poverty” while others do not.
What all these theories have in common is a failure to consider natural human differences. Some authors explicitly assert that abilities are equal across populations; more often this assumption is left implicit. Yet poverty and wealth are “phenotypic phenomena,” as Vanhanen points out, and as such are likely to have some genetic basis. The production and accumulation of wealth requires such human traits as the ability to plan ahead, to delay gratification, and to cooperate with others. These are difficult to measure, but all of them are likely to correlate to some extent with intelligence, which does have a convenient measure in IQ.
(V Dare, December 27, 2014).
For a short obituary notice of professor Vanhanen, see “In Memoriam: Tatu Vanhanen.”