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Poverty Kills

The recent tragic fire in India that killed 90 school children is a lesson in the advantages of wealth.

According to the Associated Press, the fire “appeared to have been sparked by dry coconut leaves used as firewood in a makeshift kitchen.” And it spread so quickly and so catastrophically because the roof of the schoolhouse was thatched.

Until the industrial revolution, even in Europe the typical roofing material for all but the nobility was thatch. While romantics might shed a tear of longing for the good old days when life was simpler and more ‘natural’ than it is today – with all of our modern composite materials and thick commercial culture – few of these people would really want to live for any length of time under a genuine thatched roof.

Here is a telling account of thatched roofs from Frances and Joseph Gies, Life in a Medieval Village (Harper & Row, 1990), page 34:

Roofs were thatched, as from ancient times, with straw, broom or heather, or in marsh country reeds or rushes . . . . Thatched roofs had formidable drawbacks; they rotted from alternations of wet and dry, and harbored a menagerie of mice, rats, hornets, wasps, spiders, and birds; and above all they caught fire. Yet even in London they prevailed.

It’s vital to understand that capitalism not only delivers greater conveniences. It delivers much greater sanitation and safety and, hence, health and longevity.


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