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Bill Gates is completely wrong about free-market capitalism solving the poverty crisis — here’s why

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Anthropologist and author Jason Hickel swiftly disabused readers of a narrative offered by Microsoft founder Bill Gates this week, rejecting the billionaire’s statement on Twitter that “people underestimate just how much life has improved over the last two centuries.”

The idea that the free-market capitalism has grown while solving the crisis of extreme poverty around the world may be tempting for some to embrace, Hickel wrote in the Guardian—but it is “completely wrong.”

Ahead of his appearance at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Gates shared an infographic on Twitter claiming to show that extreme global poverty has plummeted since 1820, with 94 percent living in poverty 200 years ago compared with just 10 percent today.

In reality, Hickel wrote, people simply needed relatively little money to survive and thrive in 1820.

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The global population as a whole hasn’t gained more wealth in the last 200 years, he wrote—instead, “the world went from a situation where most of humanity had no need of money at all to one where today most of humanity struggles to survive on extremely small amounts of money,” with much of the world having endured “a process of dispossession that bulldozed people into the capitalist labor system.”

As European colonizers invaded the global south, Hickel added, millions lost control of their land and were forced “into European-owned mines, factories, and plantations, where they were paid paltry wages for work they never wanted to do in the first place”—all for the benefit of the rich.

Roser and Gates also promote what Hickel sees as an unrealistic view of true poverty, basing the infographic on an understanding of the global poverty line as living on $1.90 per day.

This poverty line is “obscenely low by any standard, and we now have piles of evidence that people living just above this line have terrible levels of malnutrition and mortality,” wrote Hickel, leading many economists to recommend a poverty line of at least $7.40 per day.

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On Twitter, Hickel suggested Gates would likely show less enthusiasm for the number of people subsisting on $1.90 per day if he had experienced such poverty in today’s economy—or anything close to it—himself.

Hickel’s analysis is far more in line with recent findings on poverty than the graphic shared by Gates and developed by Max Roser of Our World in Data. In recent months U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty Philip Alston has found that even in wealthy countries like the U.S. and Great Britain, “punitive” neoliberal policies have driven rising income inequality and pushed the poor to near “ruination.”

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Still, the notion that poverty levels have plummeted under free-market capitalism—the same economic system which has allowed just 26 billionaires to amass as much wealth as the 3.8 billion poorest people in the world—has also been promoted by other wealthy frequent Davos attendees including the musician Bono and author Steven Pinker. On Twitter, Hickel accused Bono of latching on to a convenient theory for those who have benefited immensely from capitalism while much of the world is left behind.

“Our world is richer than ever before, but virtually all of it is being captured by a small elite,” Hickel wrote. “Only five percent of all new income from global growth trickles down to the poorest 60 percent—and yet they are the people who produce most of the food and goods that the world consumes, toiling away in those factories, plantations and mines to which they were condemned 200 years ago. It is madness—and no amount of mansplaining from billionaires will be adequate to justify it.”

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We have to prepare for this Trump nightmare scenario as Republican power-grabbers grow bolder

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Polls currently show that all the major Democratic presidential candidates are pulling way ahead of Donald Trump, and while Democrats should take nothing for granted — Trump will run a campaign so nasty it will likely put 2016 to shame — there is at least some reason hope that Americans will turn out in large numbers and that Trump will be soundly defeated in 2020. That victory would be both exciting and an enormous relief, a moment when we all collectively begin to believe that the national nightmare is ending.

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Jon Stewart’s journey from satirist to political advocate is no laughing matter

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When Jon Stewart quit the Daily Show, the satirical news and comedy show he hosted for 16 years until August 2015, he explained to his replacement, Trevor Noah, that he was tired – and angry at the state of politics and political discourse in the US. As Noah reported:

He said ‘I’m leaving because I’m tired.’ And he said, ‘I’m tired of being angry.’ And he said, ’I’m angry all the time. I don’t find any of this funny. I do not know how to make it funny right now, and I don’t think the host of the show, I don’t think the show deserves a host who does not feel that it is funny.‘

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Here are 4 ways unrestrained crony capitalism is making Americans’ lives miserable

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Although Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, both running for president in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, have similar economic views, they part company when it comes to the use of the words “socialism” and “capitalism.” Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” while Warren has declared, “I’m a capitalist to my bones.” But truth be told, Sanders and Warren are both disciples of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society — and both of them are campaigning on the fact that unrestrained crony capitalism has been a source of misery for the American working class.

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