"To explain why I consider 1880 to be a golden era, especially for the poor, let's consider a modern-day example, one that a good liberal like John Sumner would consider to be a model society: the socialist paradise of North Korea. In that country, everyone is equal in terms of economic condition. The state owns everything, and everyone works for the state. There are no profits, speculators, or entrepreneurs. Greed and selfishness have been stamped out of society. Total government ownership and total government control. Everyone works for the benefit of the collective.
"In other words, a liberal dream!
"Oh, did I mention that there is also horrific poverty, famine, and starvation in North Korea? Let's assume, just for the sake of argumentation, that each year some 10 percent of the North Korean population is dying from malnutrition or illness.
"Now, suppose we asked Sumner to give us his recommendation for ending poverty in North Korea. What would he say? He would say: 'Adopt a welfare state and a controlled economy! Create bureaucratic departments, modeled on the IRS and U.S. welfare agencies, whose job it is to confiscate wealth from the rich and give it to the poor!'
"Do you see the problem though? Sumner would be doing what liberals always do: they assume that there is a pie of wealth to confiscate and redistribute. That's their solution to ending poverty. But he would be missing the obvious point: They already have total socialism in North Korea, which is precisely why there is no pie for Sumner to confiscate and redistribute. Everyone has nothing."