The way out of poverty is through capitalism, free enterprise, free markets, and free prices. But so many people who I believe honestly want to do good do not understand this. They believe that central planning and aid from “rich countries” will solve the world’s problems even though they have only worsened things in aggregate around the world for decades.
Where poor people can build wealth and enjoy property rights and honest pricing the tendency is toward prosperity. Where there is government intervention, where the government or connected cronies can just seize the limited wealth of the poor (often in the name of “justice”), where prices are obfuscated, there is poverty and misery.
We do not believe in free prices and free markets because we want to keep “what’s ours.” We believe in them because we know, and have seen, how much better capitalism is for everyday people than state intervention and its associated cronyism.
In order for a society to truly proper people need both personal liberty and economic liberty, which are actually one and the same. Capitalism allows for both and offers a path out of poverty. (Not that it is always easy.) But many people just refuse to see this. It fundamentally conflicts with everything they’ve been told, to date.
Access to capital and credit enable new markets to spring up where none existed before. Entrepreneurial activity is unleashed. Consider one of Prahalad’s case studies of Nirmal, a small Indian firm that sold detergent products designed for rural village uses, such as in rivers. The products came in small packages at low prices suitable for Indian villagers’ daily cash flow. The company soon found itself with a market share equal to that of consumer-goods giant Unilever’s Indian subsidiary. Unilever responded by introducing similar products, thereby growing this new market. In the process, more environmentally friendly products were invented and sold, too.
As Prahalad points out, over four billion people in the world lived on an annual income of $1,500 or less (in 2002 dollars), with one billion living on less than a dollar a day. Nevertheless, based on purchasing power parity, this market represents an economy of $13 trillion or more, not that far off from the entire developed world.
The underdeveloped world is ripe for capitalism. The “unemployed” protestors of the Arab Spring were, in fact, small businessmen who were pushed to the breaking point by continually having their capital and profits expropriated by corrupt government officials, as De Soto points out. So, while the Western media portrayed the protests as being mostly about politics and freedom of expression, they were as much — if not more — about the freedom to do business.