Edward Crane on the virtues of selfishness
Question: Do the rich have an obligation to the poor?
Edward Crane: I think the obligation the rich have to the poor is to make sure that we live in a society where people have an opportunity to advance economically. Bill Gates is a wealthy guy, and he gives money, particularly in Africa, to alleviate suffering in that horrible part of the world where people do suffer so terribly. But if I were him-- and you can’t blame him for wanting to give immediate medical aid to people who are sick. But I’d spend much more money trying to develop the idea of the importance of the rule of law, of private property, respect for contract, because that will bring capital into those countries, and that will alleviate poverty.
We do an annual economic freedom index with the Fraser Institute in Canada, and it’s remarkable when you look at the correlation between clean water and lower infant mortality and longer longevity to economic freedom. And so you can throw money at problems and say, “Well, the rich need to give more to the poor,” but there are institutional constraints to the poor getting wealthier. I mean, globalization has led to hundreds of millions of people getting out of poverty. And where has that happened most in the world? It’s been in India, in China, in Vietnam, in Chile, where the institutional changes have done so much more to bring people out of poverty than charity could.