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Lucas on Redistribution

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Finally got around to reading this essay [2] by Robert Lucas on growth.  (Don posted these thoughts [3] earlier.)  I was struck most by his concluding paragraph:

Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most
seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on
questions of distribution. In this very minute, a child is being born
to an American family and another child, equally valued by God, is
being born to a family in India. The resources of all kinds that will
be at the disposal of this new American will be on the order of 15
times the resources available to his Indian brother. This seems to us a
terrible wrong, justifying direct corrective action, and perhaps some
actions of this kind can and should be taken. But of the vast increase
in the well-being of hundreds of millions of people that has occurred
in the 200-year course of the industrial revolution to date, virtually
none of it can be attributed to the direct redistribution of resources
from rich to poor. The potential for improving the lives of poor people
by finding different ways of distributing current production is nothing compared to the apparently limitless potential of increasing production.

In America, at least, many people feel that the improvement in the
well-being of the poor comes from government programs that protect the
poor from greedy businesses.  Without such protections, the dog-eat-dog
world of ruthless capitalism would grind the poor to dust.
It is worth reading this sentence one more time:

But of the vast increase
in the well-being of hundreds of millions of people that has occurred
in the 200-year course of the industrial revolution to date, virtually
none of it can be attributed to the direct redistribution of resources
from rich to poor.

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