Noah Smith smacks down Bryan Caplan on the causes of poverty in the US with some simple comparative analysis:
Or perhaps Caplan is just dead wrong. Perhaps his preconceived notions about poverty, developed in self-imposed isolation from the actual phenomenon, are simply not an accurate guide to extant reality.
As it happens, I have had a fair bit of contact with the Japanese poor. In general, although they do engage in more bad behavior than other Japanese people, they engage in less bad behavior than middle-class people in America. In general, they work very hard, abstain from drugs, don't have children out of wedlock, and obey the law. Every day they get up, slave away diligently and conscientiously for 8 or 10 hours at a mind-numbing menial job at pittance wages, and every night they return to sleep on the floor of tiny bare rabbit-hutch studio apartments barely larger than my bathroom. They were born well-behaving and hard-working and poor, and they will die well-behaving and hard-working and poor. Every day, even as people like Bryan Caplan inadvertently mock their struggles, the Japanese poor make a mockery of Caplan's prejudices and stereotypes.
If I had never seen the Japanese poor - if my only contact with poverty had been with the American poor, who tend to bully and rob people like myself at alarming rates - then I expect I would find Bryan Caplan's thesis quite reasonable, and even obvious. But that is why, if you want to know what is actually going on in reality, you have to get outside your bubble.