poverty infrequently. Look up World Bank figures on the Web, and you will find that there is no data in the last ten years for many African countries. But where there is evidence, the number of people below a fixed poverty line is usually found to have gone down. To be honest, it is increasingly recognized that this proposition that the poor are getting poorer is wrong in most of the world; but for a long time it was widely said, and it sounded right.
Not to go on too long, I will offer only one more example, the proposition that “China must innovate
Wherever you are going, one of your tasks is to be a thoughtful sceptic. And I trust you will find plenty of important truths, and enjoyable thoughts. There is more to life than prosperity. James Mirrlees Master, Morningside College May 2013 MA STER’S REPORT 2012-2013
My second example is the claim that atmospheric pollution kills. It has puzzled me for some time that the places with greatest life expectancy are quite seriously polluted – Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing. Maybe that is because they have had bad pollution only recently, but that does not sound right or convincing. No question, the pollution is nasty and very undesirable; and I can well believe that people with asthma suffer a great deal from it. But does it really have a big impact on death rates? You might expect me to leave it at that, but I recently read about a careful study of the effect of fumes from diesel engines, done by comparing populations with different amounts, and they did not find an adverse effect on death rates. There may be lots of other research that does support the proposition that pollution kills, but I have not been able to find it. I should add that some of those who repeat it do so because hospital admissions for relevant conditions go up when pollution gets worse, so they are using evidence. I’m not sure that it is enough to support the substantial impact that the proposition suggests.
if it is to go on growing”. Because I am an economist, I hear and see it frequently. The Chinese leadership has said it. It has the same character as the other two propositions: as soon as stated, it sounds right. It means that Chinese in China must do a lot of inventing now, because that is what the first industrializing countries did. I am not going to give you a lecture tonight explaining why it is not yet necessary for China to do a lot of innovation. And I always want to encourage people to invent and create, so perhaps it will do no harm if people believe the proposition. Encouraging research is part of encouraging thinking. But I do not like it being claimed without strong arguments behind it.