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Titanic Growth in Living Standards

Here’s a letter to The Daily Beast (HT Lucy Steigerwald):

Simon Schama ends his Titanic essay, inevitably, with a metaphor – one in which we denizens of the early 21st century are said to be passengers on a hubris-fueled massive ship called “global capitalism”: “But as we sail on into that dark ocean of the future where who knows what perils lurk in the darkness, is it too much to ask that there be at least enough bloody lifeboats for everyone – for us in third class as well as the ladies and gents living it up in the state rooms?” (“Titanic’s Wake: Shipwreck of the Century Retains Its Grip,” April 2).

There’s plenty wrong with this metaphor.  But given that Mr. Schama invokes it, let’s go along.

The good ship Global Capitalism in fact does carry “enough bloody lifeboats for everyone.”  With the ‘wreck’ of this ship on the housing-bubble-and-Lehman-Bros. ‘iceberg,’ many people were indeed tossed from their state-of-the-art comfortable quarters into what appeared to be icy waters.  But lifeboats were on hand for everyone.  Unlike for most of human history – before local economies became global, and traditional economies became capitalist – no passenger on Global Capitalism died of exposure or starvation when this ship took a big hit.  Hardships there were and are: mortgage defaults, bankruptcies, delayed retirements, and such.  But so, too, are there hardships on board lifeboats in comparison with life on board a buoyant ship.

Indeed, it is far better to be aboard even the mere lifeboats of Global Capitalism than to be a passenger in the most luxurious cabins of any of her predecessors.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030


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