April 21, 2017
By Matthew Heldt
Blue Origin’s New Horizon rocket to offer rides  

Blue Origin will offer space tourists around five minutes of weightlessness above the “Karman Line,” the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. One rocket has already been landed and reused three times. The cost to refurbish each rocket before reuse is reported to be in the “tens of thousands”, saving space tourists a tremendous amount of money. Each rocket is designed to fly 100 times before retirement. Recent tests have proven that the rocket is capable of restarting its engine while descending at rapid speeds.  

Virgin Galactic is selling tickets to space for $250,000

Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two 60,000lb-force rocket will also bring passengers into suborbital space above the 62 mile Karman Line, providing competition for Blue Origin’s rocket described above. The astronaut tourists will float around the cabinet for several minutes before returning to their seats. Spaceship Two will then re-enter the atmosphere and glide down to the nearest runway. Virgin Galactic will begin a new round of test flights later this year. CEO Richard Branson plans to board the first commercial flight with friends and family later next year.  

Russian rocket finally getting private-sector competition  

After more than a decade of the United Launch Alliance using the Russian RD-180 to send men and women to the International Space Station and put payloads in orbit, they are turning to a private-sector alternative. Blue Origin’s privately-funded BE-4 rocket engines, used in pairs, will match the capabilities of the RD-180 at a substantially lower cost. Aerojet Rocketdyne is attempting to beat the capabilities and price of the BE-4 with their new AR-1.  

SpaceX will attempt to reuse every part of rocket

Space will recycle every part of their Falcon 9 rocket by late next year. The bulk of space launch costs lie in the rocketry, not the fuel, so this move could help SpaceX lower costs by 20 percent. The company and its customers could save up to five million dollars with the reuse of Falcon 9’s nose cone alone. SpaceX currently spends $62 million on each launch with fuel costing just $200,000-$300,000. The last reusable device capable of placing satellites in orbit was NASA’s space shuttle.
April 20, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
An alien beamed down to Earth, especially to such bastions of global capitalism as London and New York, might be forgiven for thinking that we are in the midst of some sort of a catastrophe. Emerging from the New York Subway or London’s Tube, our inter-planetary traveller would have to make it past an army of charity workers raising money to house the homeless, save the children, feed the hungry, etc. “Why,” the visitor might wonder, “are so many Earthlings in need of help?”

Logic dictates that, as societies become richer, social spending should decline. Not so in the contemporary West, where social spending increases alongside rising incomes.

According to Peter H Lindert, Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of California, Davis, social spending amounted to very little at the time when Western countries were, by modern standards, very poor. In his “Social Spending and Economic Growth since the Eighteenth Century”, Lindert found that social spending as a percentage of GDP in Great Britain, the United States, France and Germany, respectively, amounted to 0.86 per cent, 0.29 per cent, 0.46 per cent and 0.5 per cent in 1880. That year, GDP per capita in the above four countries came to $3,477, $3,184, $2,120 and $1,991 (all figures are in 1990 Geary-Khamis dollars as estimated by the Angus Maddison Project).
By 2010, incomes in the UK, US, France and Germany rose by 584 per cent, 858 per cent, 913 per cent and 938 per cent. What happened to social spending? Max Roser of Our World in Data updated Lindert’s figures and found that in our four countries, it rose by 2,549 per cent, 6,571 per cent, 6,566 per cent and 5,084 per cent respectively over the same time period. Except for Germany – which saw a tiny reduction in social spending between 1999 and 2016 – social spending as a share of the GDP is higher today than it was at the end of the last millennium. Strikingly, between 1880 and 2010, social spending rose, on average, 6.3 times faster than incomes. Social expenditure comprises cash benefits, direct in-kind provision of goods and services, and tax breaks with social purposes. Benefits may be targeted at low-income households, the elderly, disabled, sick, unemployed, or young persons. Convention holds that civilised societies take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. That, however, is not the same as poverty alleviation – especially when poverty is as liberally defined as it is in the West today.

Consider what it means to be poor in today’s America. According to Steven G Horwitz, Professor of Economics at St Lawrence University, “poor US households are more likely to have basic appliances than the average household of the 1970s, and those appliances are of much higher quality”. In his 2014 paper “Inequality, Mobility, and Being Poor in America”, Horwitz found that in 1984, 83 per cent of all households in the United States owned a refrigerator. By 2005, 99 per cent of poor American households owned a refrigerator. Surely, similar trends can be observed in Great Britain, France and Germany.
Moreover, the skyrocketing rise in social expenditure is surely unsustainable and, under certain circumstances, harmful to both individuals and society at large. For one thing, not all our fellow citizens aspire to rise above the relative poverty levels as set, subjectively, in our nations’ capitals.

Take Jason Greenslate, the 28-year-old resident of San Diego, whom Fox News profiled in 2013. Video clips, which went viral, showed Greenslate buying sushi and lobster with a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program debit card issued by the government. “Greenslate plays in a rock band and laughed at the idea of getting a normal job,” the report noted. “This is the way I want to live and I don’t really see anything changing,” Greenslate said. “It’s free food; it’s awesome,” he continued. Greenslate’s story is not typical, but it is difficult not to suspect that, on the margins, some have made similar life choices.

Some level of social spending, whether it is provided by government or by charities, is there to remain, but excessive generosity can be a disincentive to all those able-bodied men and women who see living off the state as a perfectly satisfactory way to survive. This state of affairs is bad for society, for it robs the nation of productive workers; it is bad for taxpayers, for it keeps their taxes artificially high; and it is bad for welfare recipients, for they cannot gain the kind of self-respect that only work can provide.

Each year, in almost all developed countries, average per capita incomes rise, thus alleviating the need for higher social expenditure. Our social spending should go down, not up!
April 19, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
A bizarre column in Australia’s Daily Telegraph last month argued that it should be illegal to be a stay-at-home mom. The piece was met with ridicule, and rightly so. Women should be free to make their own choices about family and career. Fortunately, no country actually bans a woman’s choice to be a homemaker. Unfortunately, in much of the world, a woman’s options to work outside the home are severely limited by government meddling.

One of the more frightening revelations in the UN’s recent Human Development Report concerns the state of women’s economic freedom around the world. In 100 countries the government forbids women from working in some professions. Argentinian women are barred from running distilleries, Russian women from becoming woodworkers or freight train conductors, and Emirati women from “managing and monitoring mechanical machines”.

For too many women around the world, economic freedom is a distant dream. Countries should adopt policies of economic freedom not only because women everywhere are capable of making their own choices, but because adopting such policies is a proven road out of poverty.

Consider Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries. Before the turn of the millennium, Ethiopian women lacked fundamental economic freedoms, including equal property rights and the freedom to seek paid employment. Husbands could maintain sole control over joint property and deny their wives permission to work outside the home.

One Ethiopian man who emigrated to the United States lamented the loss of that power:
“My wife and I came here together, but after a few short years my wife’s ideas and behaviours began to change … She discovered she could have her own job and money. That was something she could not do in Ethiopia. She then went out and got a job and earned money for herself. This new job and money gave her ideas about more freedom and more independence. She then decided to manage her own money, buy her own car, buy her own clothing and other items she wanted – like American women do. She became so independent that I could no longer control her.”
In 2000, a revision to Ethiopia’s family code law granted wives equal authority to conjointly administer common marital property and enshrined the right to work outside the home without spousal permission. The legal revision was rolled out in some regions and cities before others, allowing researchers to examine the law’s effect.

The early adopters of increased economic freedom for women saw women’s labour market participation rise. More women engaged in paid work and work with higher education requirements, as well as year-round employment. “In other words, the representation of women increased in occupations that are likely to have higher returns,” the study concluded. The change was most dramatic among young, single women whose life expectations and household dynamics had not yet been set.

Wife-beating, unfortunately, is still a “pervasive social problem”, and in rural areas women’s economic freedoms are sometimes ignored. Over 70 per cent of Ethiopia’s women have personally suffered domestic violence at some point in their lives, according to one survey taken five years after the legal revision. An overview of 10 such studies found that lifetime prevalence of domestic violence against women ranged from 20 to 78 per cent in Ethiopia.

Unlike Ethiopian immigrants to the United States, it is clear that many women in Ethiopia still lack the ability to earn and manage money without interference. Still, the legal change is a step in the right direction.

Even today, there remain 18 countries where husbands can legally deny their wives permission to work. They are Bahrain, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Congo (Kinshasa), Gabon, Guinea, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Mauritania, Niger, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Gaza, and Yemen. Perhaps their governments fear that economic freedom might give women “ideas about more freedom and more independence”. It’s time that women everywhere were free to make their own choices on whether to work in or outside the home.

This article first appeared in CapX.

Freezing Offers Solution to Electronic Waste

Despite advances in recycling, millions of tons of electronic waste still end up in landfills. Reusable materials go to waste for want of cost-effective ways to recover them. More than 46 million tons of e-waste were produced world-wide in 2014, but only 15% was formally collected for recycling and safe disposal. Now scientists have come up with technology aimed at improving the economics of reclaiming valuable metals and other materials used to make circuit boards. The scientists hope that their lab techniques can be scaled up commercially into an industrial process that makes e-waste recycling more profitable. The process essentially involved making metals extremely cold and then pulverizing them. The new technique is also flexible enough to work on any type of circuit board and still recover the reusable parts. This approach is very different from the techniques currently used for harvesting metals that mostly rely on chemicals or heat, requiring lots of energy.

Chinese Startup Emerges as Biotech Innovator

A new cancer drug, derived from the ovary cells of Chinese hamsters, was discovered by a six-year-old startup on the outskirts of Shanghai - Innovent Biologics. China is emerging as a major producer of important new medicines: biotech drugs. It now boasts the second-largest number of clinical trials involving biologic treatments after the United States. China is working to overcome a reputation for poor quality by becoming an innovator and global producer of complex products. Under pressure from a shrinking pool of patent-protected biotech drugs, global drug makers are increasingly turning outward to find new breakthroughs. As part of a push to transform the homegrown drug industry, Beijing has given vast sums of money to Chinese drug manufacturers. Some Chinese startups are advancing to the riskier business of creating biologics that haven’t been tested on humans before.

Plastic-Eating Fungus Helps Solve Garbage Problem

A recent study by Chinese researchers has identified a novel fungus capable of degrading polyurethane plastics. Aspergillus tubingensis fungus was isolated by a research team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has been found to break the chemical bonds between plastic molecules or polymers through activity of its enzymes. Plastic waste is difficult to decompose, pollutes soil and water, and poses risks to human health. Thus, this new source of fungal biodegradation is an important way to treat pollution caused by synthetic plastics. The efficiency of degradation is affected by various factors, including PH, temperature, and the types of the medium used. It will take researchers some time to figure out the ideal conditions for the rapid growth of the fungus to help solve the plastic garbage problem, but this new breakthrough is certainly an exciting start.

April 12, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Robert Colvile’s excellent article on Prince Charles’s misunderstanding of the causes of African poverty provides a good opportunity to take a closer look at Africa’s economic history.

African poverty was not caused by colonialism, capitalism or free trade. As I have noted before, many of Europe’s former dependencies became rich precisely because they maintained many of the colonial institutions and partook in global trade. African poverty preceded the continent’s contact with Europe and persists today. That is an outcome of unfortunate policy choices, most of which were freely chosen by Africa’s leaders after independence.

Like Europe, Africa started out desperately poor. The late Professor Angus Maddison of Groningen University has estimated that, at the start of the Common Era, average per capita income in Africa was $470 per year (in 1990 dollars). The global average was roughly equal to that of Africa. Western Europe and North Africa, which were parts of the Roman Empire, were slightly better off ($600). In contrast, North America lagged behind Africa ($400). All in all, the world was both fairly equal and very poor.

The origins of global inequality, which saw Western Europe and, later, North America, power ahead of the rest of the world, can be traced to the rise of the Northern Italian city states in the 14th century and the Renaissance in the 15th century. By 1500, a typical European was about twice as rich as a typical African. But the real gap in living standards opened only after the Industrial Revolution that started in England in the late 18th century and spread to Europe and North America in the 19th century. In 1870, when Europeans controlled no more than 10 per cent of the African continent (mostly North and South Africa), Western European incomes were already four times higher than those in Africa. Europe, in other words, did not need Africa in order to become prosperous. Europe colonised Africa because Europe was prosperous and, consequently, more powerful. Appreciation of the chronology of events does not justify or defend colonialism. But it does help explain it.

Africa’s fortunes under colonial rule varied. Much progress was made in terms of health and education. Maddison estimates that in 1870, there were 91 million Africans. By 1960, the year of independence, the African population grew more than threefold – to 285 million. The OECD estimates that over the same time period the share of the African population attending school rose from less than 5 per cent to over 20 per cent. On the down side, Europeans treated Africans with contempt, and subjected them to discrimination and, sometimes, violence.

That violence intensified during Africa’s struggle for independence, as the colonial powers tried to beat back African nationalists. As a result, African leaders took over countries where repression of political dissent was already firmly established. Instead of repealing censorship and detention laws, however, African leaders kept and expanded them.

It was precisely because colonial rule was so psychologically demeaning to Africans in general and nationalist leaders in particular that post-independence African governments were so determined to expunge many of the colonial institutions. Since rule of law, accountable government, property rights and free trade were European imports, they had to go. Instead, many African leaders chose to emulate the political arrangements and economic policies of a rising power that represented the exact opposite of Western free market and liberal democracy – the Soviet Union.

Emulating the USSR in the 1960s was not altogether irrational. During the 1930s, the country underwent speedy industrialisation, transforming a nation of peasants into a formidable power. Industrialisation came at the cost of some 20 million lives, but it allowed the USSR to triumph over Hitler’s Germany (at a cost of an additional 27 million lives). By the early 1960s, the country not only produced massive amounts of steel and armaments, but also seemed poised to win the scientific contest with the West, when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space on April 12, 1961.

The astonishing wastefulness and backwardness of the Soviet economy did not become apparent until the 1970s. By that time, unfortunately, the socialist bacillus infected much of Africa, which adopted one-party government that destroyed accountability and the rule of law, undermined property rights and, consequently, growth. Price and wage controls were imposed, and free trade gave way to import substitution and autarky. Africa’s love affair with socialism persisted until the 1990s, when, at long last, Africa started to reintegrate into the global economy. Trade relations with the rest of the world were somewhat liberalised and African nations started to deregulate their economies, thus climbing up the rankings in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report. That said, even today, Africa remains the least economically free and most protectionist continent in the world. That – and not free trade – is the problem.
Angus Maddison, the late professor of economics at the University of Groningen, never won a Nobel Prize for economics, but he did leave behind an enduring legacy in the form of his income estimates going back to the time of Christ (or, for the secularly-inclined, Caesar Augustus). On a previous occasion, I discussed the graph below, which shows the painfully slow (almost non-existent) growth in average per capita incomes prior to the Industrial Revolution and the extraordinary growth that humanity has experienced over the last two-and-half centuries. Adjusted for inflation, an average inhabitant of the planet is today roughly ten times as rich as she or he was just two centuries ago.
Considering that Homo sapiens only emerged as a unique species of hominids some 200,000 years ago, our experience with prosperity is incredibly short, amounting to no more than 0.1 percent of our time on Earth. The remarkable novelty of our present abundance may, perhaps, explain our unease with it ("all good things must come to an end") and our eschatological obsessions ranging from overpopulation to out-of-control global warming.

Continued human progress does, of course, depend on maintaining policies, institutions and ideas (intellectual enlightenment, classical liberalism and free exchange) that made it possible in the first place.

I was reminded of that fact on the death of my grandfather who, having been born in 1922, frequently mused about the relative prosperity of his native Czechoslovakia between the wars. A life-long anti-communist (for decades, he was prevented from practicing law, because he married the wrong kind of a girl; no, not a prostitute, but the daughter of a wealthy family), he always maintained that Czechoslovakia could have been as wealthy as Austria "if it hadn't been for the Bolshevik putsch of 1948."

Maddison's remarkable data allows us to see such "what ifs" very clearly. Czechoslovakia emerged as an independent nation from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following the conclusion of the Great War in 1918. In 1920, the country's per capita income was 80 percent of that of Austria (the industrialized Czech lands were probably as wealthy as Austria, but the average was brought down by rural and poorer Slovakia) and kept up with Austria until the early 1950s. During the communist period, Czechoslovakia fell far behind Austria. When communism fell, income in the former amounted to a mere 54 percent of the latter. Similar comparisons can be made between North and South Korea, East and West Germany, Argentina and Chile, or Zimbabwe and Botswana. The historical evidence in favor of "free minds and free markets," is there for everyone to see. Unfortunately, evidence does not appear to be sufficient to prevent socialism's continued appeal, as witnessed by the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Venezuela or periodic outbreaks of stupidity on American campuses.

This first appeared in Reason.
Synthetic Yeast DN

Designer biologists have nearly completed the first completely synthetic baker’s yeast to be used in products ranging from beer and biofuels to medicine. Researchers have now synthesized about 30% of the fungus’ genetic material. For decades, molecular biologists have been able to tailor individual genes to aid in the diagnosis of inherited diseases or synthesize medicines. Synthetic yeast is the latest example of genetic engineering’s ability to exercising mastery over the machinery of living cells. Researchers soon hope to design and build artificial life forms from scratch that would play important roles in drug discovery and bio-manufacturing. By the end of this year, scientists hope to finish synthetic versions of all 16 chromosomes in the yeast genome, raising the possibility of new antibiotics and better biofuels.

Scientists Discover New Matter

Scientists report that they have discovered a “time crystal”, opening new avenues of research and potentially paving the way to the development of quantum computers and sensors. Companies including Microsoft, Google, and International Business Machines are developing quantum computers for future applications in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. The team of scientists are the first to create and observe time crystals – quantum systems that spin independent of their environment, breaking the rules of normal timekeeping. The underlying physics and the technology used to probe such quantum systems could have long term applications in quantum computing. While the research is in its early stage, discovering a new phase of matter opens doors to new theories and potential applications.

Tech to Speed Emergency Room Care

The next frontier in digital health may happen in the emergency room. Given that the primary complaint about emergency rooms is wait time, the goal is to reduce waiting times and get patients with non-urgent cases in and out of the emergency room efficiently without compromising care. Using digital technology has reduced the total amount of time spent in the ER from over 2 hours to between 35 and 40 minutes. Those without life-threatening injuries or symptoms are given the option of Express Care, reducing congestion in the emergency room. Meanwhile, doctors can now treat patients from more than one hospital from their desks, and pivot to their administrative tasks more quickly in between visits. Telemedicine has become increasingly popular to serve patients in remote settings or tech-savvy regions. Just last year, twenty million people in the U.S. received medical care remotely and this number is expected to grow by 15% this year. 

New Vaccine to Cure Deadly Rotavirus Disease  

A new vaccine against a diarrheal disease that kills roughly 600 children a day has worked well in a large trial in Africa and appears to be a practical way to protect millions of children in the future. The new vaccine against rotavirus – the most common cause of death from diarrhea in children under age 5 –was tested in Niger by Doctors Without Borders. The vaccine is expected to be cheaper than current alternatives and can last for months without refrigeration, making it easier to use in remote villages without electricity. The new study found that the vaccine was 67 percent effective in preventing severe episodes of rotavirus-related diarrhea. It must be approved by the World Health Organization before it can be widely distributed, but experts hail the new vaccine as a huge leap forward.

'Brewed Blood’ To Combat Sickness

From patients suffering from aplastic anemia or sickle-cell to those who’ve been injured in an accident or are simply anemic, blood transfusions are necessary all the time across the globe. Using a small sample of a patient’s own blood, scientists can now reprogram red blood cells into master stem cells and then coax them back into their red blood cell form that is unique to each patient. They can then grow the red blood cells repeatedly in the lab. Personalized blood could meet patients’ transfusions demands and reduce the effects of disease. The process could assist millions of people worldwide who need blood products. While the process has yet to be perfected, stem cell derived blood might be available for transfusions in the general population relatively soon.   

Blood Test Detects Cancer  

Researchers have developed a blood test that detects cancer and identifies where it is in the body. The breakthrough could allow doctors to diagnose specific cancers much earlier and is simple enough to include in routine annual health checks. The CancerLocator test hunts for DNA from tumors circulating in the blood of cancer patients. Tumors which arise in different parts of the body hold a distinctive ‘footprint’ that a computer can spot. The technology requires further validation, but the potential benefits to patients are huge, for the earlier the cancer is caught, the higher chance a patient has of beating the disease. Around 350,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in Britain each year, but 90% of people survive most types for at least five years if it is spotted early. Only 5 to 15% survive five years if cancer is picked up late.

On March 29, the Supreme Court of Venezuela dissolved the country's elected legislature, allowing Venezuela's top court to write future laws. The court is filled with allies of Venezuela's socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, while the legislature is dominated by Maduro's opponents, and the court's ruling was seen as the latest step on Venezuela's descent into a full-fledged dictatorship. But following international outcry—as well as the appearance of cracks within Maduro's own party—the court reversed itself just a few days later, on April 1.

Thus, the uneasy standoff between Venezeula's legislature and executive is set to continue. Last week's episode is only the latest reminder of the tendency of socialism to lead to dictatorship, as identified by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom.

In 1944, when he wrote his book, Hayek noted that the crimes of the German National Socialists and Soviet Communists were, in great part, the result of growing state control over the economy. As he explained, growing state interference in the economy leads to massive inefficiencies and long queues outside empty shops. A state of perpetual economic crisis then leads to calls for more planning.
But economic planning is inimical to freedom. As there can be no agreement on a single plan in a free society, the centralization of economic decision-making has to be accompanied by centralization of political power in the hands of a small elite. When, in the end, the failure of central planning becomes undeniable, totalitarian regimes tend to silence the dissenters—sometimes through mass murder.

Hayek was fortunate enough to live to see the defeat of both the Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes. Unfortunately, there are still places where Hayek's most dire warnings remain relevant. Nicolas Maduro's Venezuela is one such place.

Beginning in 1999, when Maduro's predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, became President, the government has played an ever-increasing role in the Venezuelan economy. Price and wage controls were put in place, trade was restricted, and private property was expropriated—often without compensation. Partly as a result of those economically illiterate actions (the fall in the price of oil, which Venezuela depends on, did not have such dire consequences in any other oil-rich country), Venezuela's economy tanked and public opposition to the ruling regime increased. Thus, the 2015 parliamentary election saw the opposition to Maduro's leftist policies capture a super-majority in the country's National Assembly.

Unfortunately, socialism, in spite of its manifest failings and Hayek's warnings, refuses to go away. Wannabe socialists are thus destined to learn not from history, but from their own mistakes. In the meantime, ordinary people suffer. To give just one example, between 1999, when Hugo Chavez took over as President, and 2016, average per capita income in Venezuela rose by 2 percent. In the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, it rose by 41 percent. A similar story can be observed in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, Chavez's erstwhile friend, has been in charge of his unfortunate country since 1980. Since then, Africa's income per person rose by 48 percent. In Zimbabwe, a socialist dictatorship, it has declined by 25 percent. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. This first appeared in Reason.
The toilet is one of the most underrated inventions. In rich countries, most people take private restrooms for granted. However, billions of people do not have access to toilets or latrines. That has serious health consequences. Thankfully, fewer and fewer people lack access.

Restrooms come in all shapes and sizes, but people in wealthier nations enjoy the most improved facilities available. The definition of an “improved” sanitation facility, according to UNICEF, is “one that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact.” This includes flush toilets, piped sewer systems, septic tanks, facilities that flush to pit latrines, ventilated improved pit latrines, pit latrines with slabs, and composting toilets. “Unimproved” sanitation includes facilities that flush to or near a household environment, pit latrines without slabs, buckets, hanging toilets or latrines, shared sanitation facilities, and bushes or fields.

While essentially all Americans enjoy access to the most modern and improved sanitation facilities, over two billion people worldwide still lack access.

Lack of improved sanitation is connected to the transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. Diarrhea, for example, was responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million children under the age of 5 in 2012. On average, diarrhea kills over 800 children under the age of 5 die every day.

Thankfully, there is good news. Since 1990, about 2 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation, while those resorting to unhygienic practices dropped from 24 percent to 14 percent globally between 1990 and 2012.  Nearly half the human population in 1990 had no improved sanitation. That share dropped to about a third in 2015, as millions of people have risen out of poverty thanks to the beneficial effects of market exchange and innovation. There are more nations today that have 90 percent of the population using improved sanitation facilities and fewer nations where less than 50 percent of the populations use them. 

There is also a growing trend of companies and entrepreneurs creating innovative sanitation devices for use as improvised facilities. For instance, Mosan Mobile Sanitation provides sanitation services by offering households reusable dry toilets and a collector that takes the excreta for compost, anaerobic digestion, and fuel-briquettes. Another example is Peepoole, a company that has created a “personal, single-use, self-sanitizing, fully biodegradable toilet” bag that prevents contamination in the ecosystem. This improvised toilet not only is a cheap alternative to having a toilet in the home, but also turns out fertilizer.

As poverty continues to decline, more and more people will hopefully one day be able to take toilets for granted. In the meantime, entrepreneurs are offering cheap solutions to these problems to help poor communities transition to modern day restrooms.
March 30, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
The United Nations has just released a new report on international development, titled “Development for Everyone”. It focuses on equality, distinguishing between absolute inequality and relative inequality. It points out that in terms of the Gini coefficient, a statistical measure used to gauge a country’s income inequality, one kind of inequality is rising while the other is falling:

“Rising incomes around the world have been accompanied by widening inequality … Although income inequality … has narrowed across the world as a whole because the incomes of developing and developed regions have been converging. Relative global inequality has declined steadily over the past few decades … This happened despite an increasing trend towards inequality within countries.

By contrast, absolute inequality, measured by the absolute Gini coefficient, has increased dramatically. [For example, in] 2000 one person in a country earns $1 a day and another person $10 a day. With economic growth, in 2016 the first person earns $8 a day, and the second person $80 a day. The relative difference between the two remains the same (the second person has 10 times more than the first person), but the absolute difference has gone up from $7 to $72.”  
(Source: United Nations, 2016 Human Development Report: Development for Everyone)

Even though the difference between absolute and relative inequality is increasing, the key thing to take away is that the tremendous growth in developing countries has decreased relative inequality between states and diminished poverty. And, arguably, reducing deprivation and raising living standards are more important than lessening income inequality.

So why the focus on money? In many other vital areas inequality is declining across the globe. Here are five charts which pin-point where.

Life expectancy is one of the best measures of the overall standard of living. Even for Africa, the poorest continent, the life expectancy gap with North America has narrowed. North American life expectancies were about 29 years longer than Africans’ in 1960, but only 18 years longer in 2015. This progress occurred despite the catastrophic AIDS epidemic that slowed Africa’s life expectancy significantly. Asia and South America have gone even farther towards closing the life expectancy gap with North America, narrowing it to roughly 6 and 5 years, respectively.   Life expectancy gains are partly due to falling rates of infant mortality—another area in which poor countries are catching up with rich ones. In 1960, 144 out of 1,000 African children died before their first birthday, compared to 26 out of 1,000 North American children. In other words, 118 more African children than North American children died as infants out of every 1,000. By 2015, that number had shrunk to 43.   Better nourishment is also to thank for longer lives. In 1991, close to 30 per cent of Africa’s population was undernourished, compared with “5 per cent or less” of North America’s population. By 2015, fewer than 20 per cent of Africans were undernourished. The absolute inequality between the poorer areas of the globe and the richer ones shrank considerably, even as undernourishment became rarer worldwide.   The education gap between rich and poor countries has diminished as well. In 1950, Americans spent nearly seven more years learning than Chinese students on average, and nearly eight more years leaning than Indians. By 2015, average years of schooling in the United States exceeded the Chinese average by only five years and the Indian average by about six years.   Internet use tells a similar story. China, in particular, has rapidly narrowed the gap. In 2000, a little under 2 per cent of Chinese used the internet, compared to 43 per cent of Americans. That means a gap of 41 per cent. By 2015, that gap had shrunk to 24 per cent.   As these charts show, poor countries are actually making faster progress than rich ones in many areas. In some cases, this is simply because richer countries have “reached the finish line”: it’s impractical to school children past a certain number of years, for example, or levels of malnutrition might already be at zero.

In other cases, the rapid adoption of technologies and growth-friendly policies from a standing start is giving poorer countries a boost that enables them to progress at breakneck speed. Even bearing this in mind, why do some places develop more quickly than others? What explains the incredible pace of change in China, for example? The UN report nails it with this sentence:
“In China and India, opening up the economy to the world accelerated growth, which in turn helped address human development challenges — reducing poverty, improving health outcomes and extending access to basic social services.”
So rather than rush to complain about the increase in absolute inequality, we should stop and consider how globalisation and free exchange, though unpopular among those who think they only benefit the rich, are to thank for shrinking relative inequality and plummeting poverty across the world.

This piece first appeared in CapX.
March 28, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
On a number of previous occasions, I have written about the extent of human progress around the world, but the remarkable speed of improvements in the state of humanity should not go unnoticed. To that end, I have looked at some of the most important indicators of human wellbeing, especially in the poor countries, over the last decade (or, when the latest data is not available, ten years prior to the last data point). The results are encouraging and ought to give us reason for optimism.

1. GDP per capita in real 2010 dollars (2005-2015)
Global: $8,858 → $10,194 or a 15.1 percent increase
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA): $1,363 → $1,660 or a 21.8 percent increase
India: $982 → $1,751 or a 78.3 percent increase
China: $2,738 → $6,498 or a 137.3 percent increase

2. Infant mortality (i.e., children under age of 1) per 1,000 live births (2005-2015)

Global: 44.3 → 31.7 or a 28.4 percent decline

SSA: 80 → 56.4 or a 29.5 percent decline

India: 55.8 → 37.9 or a 32.1 percent decline
China: 20.3 → 9.2 or a 54.7 percent decline

3. Life expectancy (2004-2014)

Global: 69 → 71.5 or a 3.6 percent increase

SSA: 52 → 58.6 or a 12.7 percent increase

India: 64.2 → 68 or a 5.9 percent increase
China: 73.4 → 75.8 or a 3.3 percent increase

4. Depth of the food deficit, kilocalories per person per day (2006-2016)*

Global: 129 → 88.4 or a 31.5 percent decline

SSA: 172.4 → 130 or a 24.6 percent decline
India: 152 → 109 or a 28.3 percent decline
China: 128 → 74 or a 42.2 percent decline

5. Undernourished persons, millions (2005-2015)**
Global: 884 → 685 or a 22.5 percent decline

Africa (incl. North Africa): 159 → 149 or a 6.3 percent decline

India: 233 → 194 or a 16.7 percent decline
China: 212 → 140 or an 81.1 percent decline

6. Undernourishment as a percentage of population (2005-2015)

Global: 22.5 → 18 or a 20 percent decline

Africa (incl. North Africa): 26.2 → 22.3 or a 14.9 percent decline

India: 20.9 → 15.3 or a 26.8 percent decline
China: 15.8 → 9.8 or a 38 percent decline

Obviously, the world is not a perfect place. As long as there are people who go hungry or die from preventable diseases, there will always be room for improvement. But, a realistic picture of the human condition should compare the imperfect present with a much more imperfect past (rather than with an imagined utopia in the future) and acknowledge the progress that humanity has already made.

*The depth of the food deficit indicates how many calories would be needed to lift the undernourished from their status, everything else being constant. The average intensity of food deprivation of the undernourished, estimated as the difference between the average dietary energy requirement and the average dietary energy consumption of the undernourished population (food-deprived), is multiplied by the number of undernourished to provide an estimate of the total food deficit in the country, which is then normalized by the total population.

**These are total numbers, which do not take into account population growth.

This first appeared in Reason.
This Saturday, millions of people will abstain from using electricity during "Earth Hour" to raise awareness of environmental issues, while others will use and celebrate technology as part of the "Human Achievement Hour" counter-movement. Fortunately, there is news that participants in both Earth Hour and Human Achievement Hour can celebrate. The International Energy Agency has announced that global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for the third year in a row in 2016 even as the world economy grew, indicating a sustained decoupling of emissions and economic activity. Click here to read the full article in the Washington Examiner.

March 24, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Recently, I came across a report by Fritz Vahrenholt, Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Hamburg, entitled Germany's Energiewende: a disaster in the making. It made for interesting reading.

In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the German government decided to shut down its 19 nuclear power stations, which supply nearly 30 percent of the country's electrical power, by 2022. Driven by social pressure, the German government now plans to get rid of all fossil fuels, thus increasing the share of renewable energy to 95 percent of total energy supply by 2050.

To accomplish its goal, the government has introduced a "renewable" levy on power bills, thus doubling the price of electricity. This additional cost amounts to €25 billion ($26.8 billion) annually. In a nod to rationality, the government has exempted energy-intensive industries (steel, copper and chemicals) from the renewable levy, thus maintaining their competitiveness.

There have been no blackouts so far, Vahrenholt argues, because of "typical German over-engineering of its grid, which was set up with a very wide safety margin. Even if a power line or a power station fails, the power supply remains secure, at least for now."

Moreover, Germany has nine neighbors with whom power can be exchanged. Surplus can be sold to the neighbors' electricity grids on sunny or windy days. In return, Austrian oil-fired power stations, Polish coal plants, and French and Czech nuclear power stations, provide stability when German renewables fall short.

This is a situation unique to Germany. If the Energiewende were to happen in the UK, for example, the electricity system would have imploded already. As things stand, there is currently no political party in Germany that opposes the Energiewende in parliament.

Nevertheless, the report argues, a crisis is coming. The problem with German drive toward renewable energy is not capacity, but intermittency. If for example the capacity for wind energy were to triple, then there would be a huge oversupply of wind energy on windy days and an energy shortage when there is no wind.

One way to cope with this volatility is to establish a backup system based on fossil fuels with dramatic economic and environmental consequences. Alternatively, the government could dramatically expand the nation's energy storage capacity, but the needed technologies are still prohibitively expensive.

Furthermore, wind parks and other renewables sometimes oversupply energy so much that they have to be temporarily taken off the grid. Yet the producers still get paid under German law—even if they produce no energy whatsoever. The cost of this particular scheme amounts to €1 billion per year.

Even so, the oversupply sometimes becomes so large that the price for energy turns negative and Germany has to release its excess power onto the grids of neighboring countries and pay for them to take it!

Also, wind is more abundant in the north of Germany than in the south. As such, according to the report, a "total of 6100 km of cable will have to be built by the time the last nuclear power stations shut in 2022. 400 km have been given the go-ahead and 80 km have been built, just 1.3% of the intended total. The government underestimated the opposition that their plans would meet. Building power lines on this scale has brought protests like those against nuclear power in the past."

Renewables are also the most land-demanding form of energy generation, threatening biodiversity in Germany. Transforming grassland into corn monocultures to produce bio fuel and the increase of wind turbines has led to an appalling reduction of songbirds and bats in Germany.

If Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, wins this year's election, she might wish to continue on the current course towards economic disaster, because a serious move away from the Energiewende would be seen as an admission of a mistake. If she is defeated, the new government might find it convenient to opt for a policy correction. In either case, it will take a long time to repair the serious damage caused by the current German energy policy.

This first appeared in Reason.
A New Drug May Lower Heart Risks  

A new drug that radically lowers cholesterol levels has been found to significantly reduce the chance a heart attack or stroke. The drug, Repatha, can make cholesterol reach low levels almost never seen naturally or in adults taking cholesterol-lowering statins. This drug has the potential to improve the health and longevity of millions of Americans with heart disease. Researchers estimate that roughly 11 million Americans are eligible to take the drug. But the drug would need to be taken for life, and the bill for its widespread use could potentially be huge, so further cost-reductions are needed before it becomes a practical treatment. Based on a data analysis that was done independently by a team of academic researchers, it appears that the new drug can potentially reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 20 percent.     

Wind Power to Innovate Shipping  

More than a century after shifting away from wind power, the shipping industry is looking at ways to harness wind and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The latest effort by Denmark’s Maersk Tankers uses rotating cylinders nearly 100 feet tall, functioning as high-tech sails. The company will begin testing on one of its tankers and could add the technology to as many as four dozen ships. Previous efforts to harness wind didn’t catch on with shipping operators because of high technology costs or less than expected fuel savings. However, the lightweight and relatively cheap rotating sails show more promise, they claim. The cylinders are made with lightweight composite materials that take advantage of the Magnus effect, in which a spinning object drags air faster around one side than the other, creating a difference in pressure. Maersk Tankers doesn’t yet have a cost estimate for the project, but believes the technology could cut its fuel consumption by as much as 10 percent.   

Medical Selfies Now A Reality  

An Israeli firm has created an app that uses mobile-phone cameras for clinical-grade urine analysis. The patient follows the instructions, waits for the colors on the dipstick to develop and then takes a picture of it against the background of a proprietary color card. The app analyzes the results and suggests whether a consultation or prescription is needed. The firm has been working with doctors in Israel to let pregnant women at risk of pre-eclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure signaled by protein in the urine) use the app to monitor themselves at home. In Britain, meanwhile, multiple sclerosis patients whose bladders are affected by the disease are beginning to use the app to detect symptoms that can prevent severe urine infections. The app’s function may soon be applied to chronic kidney disease as well. If the illness is detected early by screening the urine of those at risk, sufferers can receive treatment to slow the disease’s progress. Soon, the app may be able to employ spectroscopy to help analyze wounds and surface infections.   

Insect Eye Inspires New Camera for Smartphones  

A group of researchers working for the Fraunhofer Society in Germany are now studying the way many insect eyes work as the basis of a new miniature camera for smartphones. Insects have compound eyes wherein the eye is a bulbous structure composed of many lenses arrayed together. Compound eyes generally have worse resolutions than single-lens eyes, but their shape provides a wider field of vision. Researchers have been able to pair these components, resulting in both high resolution and a wider camera view. Currently, smartphones often have what is known as a “camera bump”—a bulge in the case to house the optics. The researchers have succeeded in making a 2mm thick camera with 135 facets and resolution of one megapixel. The group believes that they will soon be able to boost this resolution to four megapixels. At that resolution, the camera would be good for leisure use and a number of industrial and medical applications. The new device might also be fitted into probes, small sensors, and robots to give them vision. The new camera is too expensive for mass-production however, so researchers are trying to adapt the process to be more economical.  
Startup Grows Chicken Strips From Cells  

A Bay Area food-technology startup has developed the world’s first chicken strips grown from self-reproducing cells. Scientists, startups, and animal-welfare activists believe the new product could revolutionize the U.S. meat industry. The startup’s goal is to replace billions of cattle, hogs, and chickens with animal meat grown efficiently and humanely. Startups based in the Netherlands - including Memphis Meats and Mosa Meat – assert “clean meat” would help the food industry avoid grain, water, and waste-disposal costs. And big meat companies are taking notice: Tyson Foods Inc. – the largest U.S. meat company by sales – launched a venture-capital fund to invest in cell grown meat. American consumers ate an average of 90.9 pounds of chicken apiece in 2016 – nearly as much as beef and pork combined. Further, about 61 billion chickens are raised for meat annually world-wide. The cell-cultured meat startups are far from replacing the meat industry’s thousands of hatcheries, chicken barns, feed mills, and processing plants, but they are making progress and hope to soon be cost-competitive with conventional meat products. Memphis Meats hopes to begin selling its meat commercially by 2021.   

Will AI Transform the Workplace?  

Technology that allows navigation apps to find the most efficient route to a destination is on the verge of transforming the office by redesigning how to search for job candidates and maximize productivity. AI applications aim to analyze vast amounts of data and identify patterns to learn from experience and deliver better results. A company can provide a job description, and AI will collect and crunch data from a variety of sources to find people with desired talents and experience. Companies worried about turnover can use AI to identify employees likely to leave based on variables such as job length, distance from co-workers, or number of managers they have worked under. The software aims largely to spot promising resumes and widen the net to a more diverse pool of candidates than would have been selected otherwise. AI’s relentless focus on facts could eliminate prejudice, such as bias against a candidate’s race or appearance, from the hiring process. The system is still new and therefore it is not yet clear whether AI makes decisions that are as good as or better than those of human managers. While much testing remains to be done, AI technology could one day help managers select workers without overlooking deserving candidates.  

More people could benefit from BRCA breast cancer drugs  

A study in the UK found that up to a fifth of women with breast cancer may benefit from drugs that are currently reserved for less common cases caused by faulty genes. Researchers found that thousands of breast cancers share biochemical similarities to cases caused by BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Faulty BRCA genes account for roughly 1-5% of the 55,000 breast cancer cases diagnosed in the UK each year. PARP inhibitors designed to target tumors with defects in the genes can be used to treat these cancers. The drug blocks the action of an enzyme that helps cancer cells with faulty BRCA genes survive. The study suggests that 8,000 more people with breast cancer may also respond to these drugs. And because they specifically target cancer cells, PARP inhibitors have relatively few side effects. The study opens the door for trials to assess whether other patients might benefit from PARP inhibitors.   

Snus Helps Sweden Nearly Eliminate Smoking  

The Swedish government recently released data indicating that the proportion of men between 30 and 44 years old that smoke fell to 5% in 2016, making Sweden the first country to hit a tobacco “end game” target proposed by health professionals. Overall, only 8%of Swedish men smoke on a daily basis compared with the European Union average of over 25%. The proportion of Swedish women who smoke also continues to fall, and is now 10%. Since the 1970s, Swedes have been switching their cigarettes for snus – pouches of pasteurized and purified tobacco. While using snus is still less optimal  from a health standpoint than forgoing  tobacco altogether, Sweden has seen huge health gains made by people switching to snus or e-cigarettes. Research shows that if the Swedish success with snus is repeated in the UK, lung cancer rates would decrease more than 50%. The lung cancer death rate in Sweden is less than half the EU average, and it has the lowest rates of oral and pancreatic cancers in Europe. Allowing people to buy cigarette substitutes like snus and e-cigarettes holds the potential to improve the health of many countries.

March 16, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Prevailing wisdom holds that this is a time of stagnating incomes and economic struggle for American families. That is indeed a reality in many homes. But as economist and HumanProgress.org advisory board member Mark Perry recently pointed out, most American families are doing better than the prevailing wisdom might have them believe. 

After adjusting for inflation, it turns out that median income for families reached a record high in 2015, the last year for which the U.S. Census Bureau has data. Families that include married couples, particularly those where both spouses participate in the labor force, did even better and also saw their incomes break records in 2015. The Census Bureau defines a family as “a group of two people or more … related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together.”
  Please note that median family income is not the same thing as median household income, as the latter includes non-family households.  Median household income has been more stagnant. It was 56,516 dollars in 2015, around 14,000 dollars less than median income for family households. Interestingly, 65 percent of U.S. households were family households in 2016, the most recent year of data.

All family types saw a somewhat notable median income uptick in 2015, allowing each type to outperform pre-Great Recession income levels. Of course, some families have done better than others. Families headed by single women (simplified to “single mothers” in the above graph) have seen their incomes rise only slowly, while families headed by single men (“single fathers” in the graph) have seen their incomes essentially stagnate since the 1970s.

However, most families fall into the categories that have made impressive real income gains. 73 percent of family households include married couples, while 19 percent are headed by single women and only 8 percent are headed by single men. Moreover, both spouses now work in over 60 percent of married couple families, placing them in the highest-earning category of family.

The median income for all U.S. families was only 28,144 dollars in 1947, compared to 70,697 dollars in 2015. That is an increase of 151 percent. Again, that is after adjusting for inflation.

So despite the popular narrative of economic decline pushed by some politicians and newspeople, the American family is earning more than ever before recorded.

March 15, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
The Overall Best Country Ranking is a fascinating new list from US News & World Report that ranks 80 countries in relation to one another. A set of 65 country attributes—including great food, rich history, fun and a pleasant climate—were identified by researchers at BAV Consulting and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Those "attributes" were then presented in a survey of more than 21,000 people from around the world. Participants then assessed how closely they associated each attribute with a particular nation. Interestingly, freer countries did very well. Freedom, it turns out, makes countries, in the eyes of the public, better.

A country's position in the Overall Best Country Ranking correlates strongly with its score on the Human Freedom Index, which is the most thorough measure of personal, civil and economic freedom yet created for a large set of countries. In fact, a quick look at both the Overall Best Country Ranking and the Human Freedom Index shows that eleven of the top fifteen countries in each ranking are identical. Switzerland, for example, ranks number one on the Overall Best Country Ranking and comes in second place on the Human Freedom Index. Canada takes second place on the Overall Best Country Ranking and ties for sixth place on the Human Freedom Index, and so on.
Human ProgressHuman Progress
In fact, 40 percent of the variation in a country's place on the Overall Best Country Ranking can actually be explained by its Human Freedom Index score, according to an analysis using statistical software. Moreover, my colleague Chelsea Follett and I have found that there was less than a 0.001 percent likelihood of our analysis results occurring if there were no relationship between the two. Put differently, a country may move up in the Overall Best Country Ranking by offering more freedom to its people.

That makes for a nice talking point, but, as libertarians know, freedom is good for more than simply improving a particular country's position in an inconsequential ranking list. The benefits of freedom are manifold: higher incomes, longer lifespans and lower rates of infant mortality, etc. You can explore the incredible progress that ordinary people have created wherever they have been given the freedom to do so on HumanProgress.org.

This first appeared in Reason.
March 14, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Angus Deaton, the Nobel-prize winning economist (who also sits on the advisory board of HumanProgress.org), recently reiterated his belief that on the whole the world is getting better – if not, as he accepted, everywhere or for everyone at once. Perhaps that comes as no surprise, but the idea that the world is getting better in regards to poverty is actually a deeply unpopular view.

Ask most people about global poverty, and chances are that they’ll say it is unchanged or getting worse. A survey released late last year found that 92 per cent of Americans believe the share of the world population in extreme poverty has either increased or stayed the same over the last two decades.

Americans aren’t alone in that belief. Across all surveyed countries, an only slightly smaller majority – 87 per cent – believe that extreme poverty has risen or remained an intractable problem.

There are a number of cultural and psychological explanations for the persistence of such pessimism. Bad news makes for good headlines, and tends to dominate media coverage. Psychologically, people tend to idealize the past, and recall dramatic and unusual events more easily than steady long-term trends. They may also use pessimism as a means of virtue signalling.

Indeed, of those rare people who realize that extreme poverty has declined, almost all underestimate the extent of that decline. In fact, global poverty has halved over the past 20 years – but only one person in 100 gets it right.

Unsurprisingly, people in areas that have seen the most dramatic reductions in poverty are the most likely to be more aware of what’s really going on. But even in China, where hundreds of millions of people have risen out of destitution over the last four decades, half of the population remains ignorant of the broader collapse in world poverty that has occurred within their lifetimes.
Source: Glocalities Global Poverty Survey by Dutch research firm Motivaction To help bridge the gap between public perceptions and reality, here are five charts, based on data we’ve collected at HumanProgress.org, that illustrate the extraordinary progress humanity has made.

Throughout most of human history, extreme poverty has been the norm. This famous hockey-stick chart, arguably the most important graph in the world, illustrates what happened when the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution caused income to skyrocket – forever changing the way we live, and perhaps even the way we think. Humanity, as this chart shows, produced more economic output over the last two centuries than in all of the previous centuries combined. And this explosion of wealth-creation led to a massive decrease in the rate of poverty. In 1820, more than 90 per cent of the world population lived on less than $2 a day and more than 80 per cent lived on less than $1 a day (adjusted for inflation and differences in purchasing power). By 2015, less than 10 per cent of people lived on less than $1.90 a day, the World Bank’s current official definition of extreme poverty. Not only has the percentage of people living in poverty declined, but the number of people in poverty has fallen as well – despite massive population growth. There are also more people alive who are not in penury than there have ever been. From 1820 to 2015, the number of people in extreme poverty fell from over a billion to 700 million, while the number of people better off than that rose from a mere 60 million to 6.6 billion. (Extreme poverty is again defined here as living on $1.90 a day, adjusted for inflation and differences in purchasing power.) Globally, poverty is about a quarter of what it was in 1990. And the graph below from Johan Norberg’s excellent book, Progress: 10 Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, illustrates how the decline of extreme poverty has raised living standards and brought about other tangible improvements. As poverty has lessened, so have child mortality, illiteracy, and even pollution in wealthy countries – all are now less than half of what they were in 1990. Hunger has also become much rarer. You can learn more about how increased prosperity has led to progress in other areas by watching this video from a forum inspired by Norberg’s book. If progress continues on its current trajectory, the Brookings Institution estimated in 2013 that extreme poverty (this time defined as living on $1.25 a day, again adjusted for inflation and differences in purchasing power) will all but vanish by 2030, affecting only 5 per cent of the global population. This is what they considered to be the “baseline” or most likely scenario. In the best-case scenario, they predicted that by 2030 poverty will decrease to a truly negligible level, affecting only 1.4 per cent of the planet’s population. The facts are unambiguous: despite public perceptions to the contrary, extreme poverty has declined significantly, to the point where its end may actually be in sight. So next time you hear someone bemoaning a supposed rise in world poverty, encourage them to have a look at the evidence for themselves.

This first appeared in CapX.
March 10, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
On March 6, Tristan Voorspuy, a former British army officer and founder of luxury safari company Offbeat Safaris, was shot and killed by pastoral herders in Kenya, while inspecting some of his lodges. His murder was only the latest in a spate of killings, land invasions and destruction of private property that are, apparently, being incited by local political leaders in the country.

Three days earlier, Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, called for confiscation of farmland without compensation. These assaults on land rights in both countries are taking place while Zimbabwe’s catastrophic experiment with land expropriation and redistribution is reaching an apparent denouement in the form of widespread starvation. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The issue of land rights in Africa is a complex one. In many African nations, the farmland was stolen, or purchased under suspiciously generous conditions, by the settlers after the European colonial adventurism revved up toward the end of the 19th century.

On the other hand, the Europeans have become Africa’s most productive farmers, introducing to the continent large-scale farming, better fertilizers and higher yields, and more scientific ways of raising animals. By producing greater quantities of food more cheaply, they have benefited the local population as well as the national exchequer.

Professor Rondo Cameron wrote in his 1993 book, The Concise Economic History of the World, that Africa was home to 120 million people in 1900. Today, it is home to 1.2 billion Africans. Only Latin America experienced comparable population growth during the course of the 20th century.

Moreover, Angus Maddison’s data shows that Africa’s gross domestic product grew by over 1,600 per cent – not a far cry from the GDP growth of over 1,700 per cent in China. Of course, Africa was starting from a very low base, which explains why Africans remain the world’s poorest people.

Speaking of the original inhabitants of the continent, there is very little evidence that Africans are desperate to farm. The idea of having a plot of land may be compelling for a variety of reasons – including the satisfaction of seeing an act of ancient injustice rectified – but land redistribution does not solve a number of practical problems.

First, most Africans desire to live in the cities, where they want to become accountants, managers and traders. Like people elsewhere, they abhor the drudgery and monotony of agricultural life.

Second, reversion from large-scale to small-scale and subsistence farming can undermine farm efficiency and, consequently, food production.

Third, experience shows that newly-landed small-scale and subsistence farmers are often in need of state subsidies, which puts further pressure on the exchequer.

Finally, assaults on land rights can have catastrophic knock-on effects on the overall economy.

Take the example of Zimbabwe. In 2000, Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old dictator who has run Zimbabwe as his private fiefdom since 1980, gave the green light to his supporters to invade commercial farms, many of them held by white Zimbabweans. The private property rights of commercial farmers were revoked and the state resettled the confiscated lands with small-scale and subsistence producers – many with no previous farming experience. Agricultural production plummeted.

The farm invasions had ripple effects throughout the rest of the economy. The banking sector, which used farm land as collateral, was hit by bad debt and curtailed the issuing of new loans. The manufacturing sector, which relied heavily on processing agricultural goods, went into a tailspin.

Declining domestic production deprived Zimbabwe of the ability to earn foreign currency and buy food overseas. Famine and hyperinflation, which peaked at 89 sextillion percent in 2008, ensued and communicable diseases spread. That year, Zimbabwe’s GDP per capita collapsed to a level last seen in 1952.

In fact, the results of a poll conducted by the South African based Helen Suzman Foundation, in September to October 2000, indicated that only 6 per cent of Zimbabweans rated the land question as the country’s most important issue. Most were concerned with a lack of jobs and falling living standards.

I suspect that Mugabe fanned the flames of anti-white resentment and green-lighted the farm invasions in 2000 for the same reason that Jacob Zuma has started to talk about land expropriations in 2017.

Back in 1999, Mugabe lost a referendum on the new Zimbabwean Constitution and his party, the ZANU-PF, appeared poised to suffer an electoral defeat at the hands of the movement for Democratic Change in 2000. Similarly, in 2016, Zuma’s African National Congress suffered major electoral setbacks in the local elections and is poised to lose its parliamentary majority at the next general election scheduled for 2019.

After 23 years of ANC rule, South Africans are disgusted by high unemployment, failing public services and widespread corruption. Better to change the subject and pick on a small and defenseless minority. As I said, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

This first appeared in CapX.