June 22, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
A wealthy Manhattan woman died after her clothes caught fire while cooking last week. Her tragic death was unusual, but there was a time when cooking was far more dangerous and time-consuming. Even today, more than 4 million people lacking modern stoves die prematurely each year from breathing in cooking fumes. Not only was cooking once unsafe, it left time for little else.

As Professor Deirdre McCloskey once noted, “[in] 1900 a typical American household of the middle class would spend 44 hours [a week] in food preparation,” and most of that work fell to women. In other words, back in the days of churning one’s own butter and baking one’s own bread, food preparation took up the same hours as a full-time job. That estimate includes time spent on purchasing, cooking and serving food as well as dishwashing. Keep in mind that in addition to cooking, women were also often responsible for cleaning the home, laundry, mending clothes, and tending to children.


Things started changing quickly. In 1910, U.S. households spent approximately six hours daily cooking meals, including cleanup; by the mid-1960s (when more reliable estimates began), that fell to one and a half hours. By 2008, the average low-income American spent just over an hour on food preparation each day and the average high-income American spent slightly less than an hour on food preparation daily.
Disaggregating the data by gender reveals even more progress for women. In the United States, from the mid-1960s to 2008, women more than halved the amount of time they spent on food preparation (whereas men nearly doubled the time they spent on that activity, as household labor distributions became more equitable between the genders).

Mass production of everyday foodstuffs helped transform how women spent their time. In 1890, 90 percent of American women baked their own bread. Factory-baked, pre-sliced bread debuted in 1928. By 1965, 78 out of every 100 pounds of flour a U.S. woman brought into her kitchen came in the form of baked bread or some other ready-prepared good. Today, baking bread is an amusement for foodies, rather than a necessary chore for all women.

Over time, markets brought about and lowered the cost of such innovations as microwaves, convection ovens, ranges, grills, toasters, blenders, food processors, slow-cookers and other labor-saving kitchen devices. Markets have even produced grocery delivery services that bring food to one’s door with the touch of an application on a smartphone. Market processes also lowered the cost of dining out, and today Americans spend more dining out than eating in.

The liberation of women from the kitchen is ongoing, as technological devices and mass-produced goods spread to new parts of the world. Globally, as many as 55 percent of households still cook entirely from raw ingredients at least once a week. A 2015 survey found that average hours spent cooking among those who regularly cook are as high as 13.2 hours per week in India, and 8.3 in Indonesia, compared to 5.9 in the United States.

The gap in time spent on food preparation between rich and poor countries remains wide. But even in India — the poorest country surveyed, and the one with the highest reported average food preparation hours — women devote almost 31 fewer hours to food preparation per week than U.S. households did in 1900. Even allowing for compatibility problems when comparing those figures (the estimate for 1900 was for the household and included meal cleanup time), the sheer size of this difference suggests some improvement.

Much room for progress remains. In 2016, only 0.6 percent of Chinese households and 0.1 percent of Indian households had a dishwasher, compared to 67 percent of U.S. households, according to Euromonitor data. In 2016, microwave market penetration was just 23.4 of Chinese households and 3.1 percent of Indian households, compared to 91.3 percent of U.S. households. Only 15 percent of Indian households owned a refrigerator in 2006.

If prosperity continues to spread and poverty to decline globally, kitchen appliances and ready-made goods will free up more and more hours of women’s food preparation time around the world. There may always be freak accidents like the one in Manhattan, but there is no reason why innovation cannot lessen the risk by liberating women everywhere from kitchen chores.

This first appeared in the American Spectator.
The Free Market is Moving toward Renewable Energy  

President Trump’s rolling back of the Clean Power Plan and pulling out of the Paris Accords seems to have little bearing on the private sector’s march toward clean energy. A UtilityDrive and PA Consulting survey asked 600 utility professionals how they plan to prepare for the future – only four percent plan on increasing coal usage moderately or severely. In fact, 52 percent of respondents expect to decrease coal usage significantly in the next 10 years and 70 percent expect to see at least a moderate increase in solar power. The free market is embracing renewable energy without the government forcing the issue.
 

New Blood Test Could Detect Cancer up to 10 Years before it Becomes Dangerous  

A simple blood test that can detect cancer symptoms long before they become harmful was unveiled recently at an oncology conference in Chicago. This technology could become available as early as 2019 and can increase survival rates by a whopping 90 percent. The project, which is partially funded by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, proved successful for 120 patients in an initial trial. The blood test also reports a false positive rate of just 0.5 percent, indicating its high reliability. Researchers hope to be able to use this new detection method to help patients manage cancer as early as possible.
 

SpaceX Successfully Launches Reused Missile  

SpaceX successfully launched a Dragon spacecraft Saturday to resupply the International Space Station. The missile carries 6,000 pounds of supplies and was last used in September 2014 for a similar mission. Currently the largest inhibitor to space travel is its staggering cost and SpaceX hopes that using recycled spacecraft will lead to more affordable transportation. The company is also developing a Dragon 2 missile with the aim of transporting people, not just supplies, to space.
 

Researchers Developing “Instantly Rechargeable” Car Battery  

Scientists at Purdue University want to bring a new battery to market that could be recharged almost instantaneously. John Cushman, Purdue professor and co-founder of Ifbattery LLC, envisions a future where consumers can charge their car battery much like they refill a gas-powered car at a gas station today. Cushman is optimistic about the growth of battery-powered vehicles, but believes that both battery technology and recharging infrastructure will have to improve before rechargeable cars become the norm. If successful, this development could mean that battery fluids will be processed and recycled rather than being thrown away after they’re spent.  


June 08, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Dystopian visions of the future are as old as humanity itself. As I noted in a previous column, one of our most consistent concerns is the interplay between population growth and the supposed finality of natural resources. According to conventional wisdom, a rising population – there will be 10 billion of us by 2050 – must result in poverty and famine.

Yet, human beings, unlike other animals, can innovate their way out of scarcity by increasing the supply of natural resources or developing substitutes for overused resources. Human ingenuity, in other words, is “the ultimate resource” that makes all other resources more plentiful. Now is a good time to look at one concrete example: the water supply.

A brief search on Amazon.com yields a veritable smorgasbord of books and videos concerning the supposed impending shortage of the vital liquid. The “problem” is not new. As an undergraduate student of international relations, I was taught that water was “liquid gold” and future wars would be fought over it.

Twenty years later, the BBC has published an article entitled, “Is this the real liquid gold? Why tapping into Earth’s most precious resource could be the next big thing.” According to the BBC, “The problem isn’t that there’s too little water on the planet, it’s that there’s not enough clean fresh water to go around. Only 1 per cent is consumable by humans, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Desalinisation plants, which convert salt water … to clean water, are still expensive to build.” Well, that’s rapidly changing.

Before proceeding: a bit of physics and chemistry. Reverse osmosis is a water purification technology that uses a semipermeable membrane to remove larger particles from drinking water. During the process:
“…water from a pressurized saline solution is separated from the dissolved salts. The permeate (ie, the liquid flowing through the membrane) is encouraged to flow through the membrane by the pressure differential created between the pressurized feed water and the product water, which is at near-atmospheric pressure. The remaining feed water continues through the pressurized side of the reactor as brine. No heating or phase change takes place. The major energy requirement is for the initial pressurization of the feed water.”
Put differently, the supply of fresh water depends on the availability of cheap and environmentally-friendly energy.

When reverse osmosis desalination started being commercialised in the late 1970s, scientists faced the problem of low energy recovery systems and inefficient membranes. The energy consumption to generate the pressure needed to overcome osmotic pressure was as high as 10 kilowatt hours of electricity per cubic metre of fresh water (10kWhr/m3). The average energy consumption rate of today’s desalination plants is 4.5kWh/m3.


Trouble is that some sources of energy are more preferable than others. One of the main problems concerning desalination is the emission of CO2. That is especially true of the large desalination plants in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, for example, it is estimated that nearly 300 thousand barrels of oil are used daily to generate electricity needed to power desalination plants. But, what if you could replace burning of fossil fuels with solar power?

According to a 2011 study in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, the first solar-powered reverse osmosis desalination test took place in Saudi Arabia in 1981. The results were not encouraging. The Saudis were only able to produce 3.2 cubic meters of desalinated water per day and the energy needed was enormous – between 16 and 19kWh/m3.


But things have changed. A 2016 Renewable Energy Market Analysis: The GCC Region notes that the cost of solar energy has decreased so much that it is competitive even in the oil-rich Middle East. As an example, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai produces solar energy at US 5.85 cents per kWh.

The same report states that the combination of solar power and reverse osmosis can be competitive with fossil fuel-based desalination at oil prices as low as US$20 per barrel. Estimates also indicate that using off-grid systems, such as solar-diesel hybrids can get prices as low as US$2 per m3. In contrast, systems powered entirely by diesel cost, on average, US$2.2 per m3.

Today, solar-powered reverse osmosis plants account for only 0.8 per cent of global desalination capacity. If solar panels satisfied 44 per cent of the annual energy load of each reverse osmosis desalination plant, however, solar power could reduce the use of diesel fuel by 2 billion barrels annually. It could also reduce CO2 emissions by 832 million tons per year.

Happily, the world’s largest solar-powered desalination plant is under construction in the city of Al Khafji, Saudi Arabia. This project, which was launched by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in cooperation with IBM, is expected to be fully functional later this year. The plant will cost US$130 million and be capable of producing 60,000m3 per day. As such, it will pay for itself in less than six years.

Solar power will not work as efficiently everywhere on Earth. Luckily, places that need fresh water most are also places with abundant sunshine. Humanity will face many challenges in the future, and solar-powered desalination is a testament to human ability to solve one of them.

Not bad, ape descendants! Turns out that our Latin moniker Homo Sapiens (wise man) may be well earned after all.

May 30, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Yesterday was Memorial Day, a federal holiday remembering all those who have died while serving in the United States armed forces. So, in today's column, I take a brief look at the declining share of men and women worldwide who can expect to be exposed to the horrors of war. Looking at armed forces personnel as a percent of the total labor force, we can observe a sustained decline since the end of the Cold War. Globally, it has dropped from 1.08 percent in 1990 to 0.8 percent in 2014. That's a 26 percent reduction.

In Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, it has declined by 27 percent, 54 percent, 43 percent and 40 percent respectively. Even in the Middle East and North Africa, armed forces personnel as a share of the total labor force declined by 58 percentage points—though, admittedly, some of the conflicts in the region have become more serious since 2014.

A similar trend can be observed in the United States and also in our two most important geopolitical competitors, China and Russia. The three countries saw reductions of 50 percent, 32 percent and 34 percent respectively. (The figure for Russia reflects the period between 1992 and 2014.)
The end of the Cold War turned out to be beneficial for another reason. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was born before World War 2, explained in 2014 that the world is "in greater turmoil than at any time in my lifetime." But is that really true?

The number of armed conflicts and wars rose steadily until the collapse of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Then they started to decline. Empirical evidence suggests that those who remember the bipolar world dominated by the United States and the USSR as a period of stability, are mistaken.

Consider the following astonishing fact. According to the Council on Foreign Relations' Global Conflict Tracker, the Western Hemisphere is, with the exception of the drug-war in Mexico, free of conflict. No person alive can remember our Hemisphere to be as peaceful as it is today. That is something to be grateful for as we look back on this past Memorial Day.

This first appeared in Reason.

May 26, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Antibodies found that stop spread of Ebola

A study published in the journal Cell found that the antibodies from an Ebola survivor are effective in stopping the spread of all five of the virus’ strains when injected. The antibodies prevent Ebola from binding to proteins within the body, stopping its ability to replicate. Lab tests using mice and ferrets found that the vaccine effectively halted the spread of Ebola in test subjects. One of the study’s senior authors, Kartik Chandran, says he sees the vaccine not as a preventative measure but as a remedy for people who have been recently exposed to Ebola.


MIT researchers design living, ventilated workout suit


Humidity causes microbial cells in new high-tech clothing designed by MIT to expand and contract while worn. As an athlete’s workout intensifies, the clothing’s series of vents will open up and generate airflow. These cells are safe enough to consume and pose no risk to the athlete wearing the life-infused clothing. The MIT team also designed a pair of ventilated shoes and is hoping to work with sportswear companies to bring a product to market.


NASA uses GPS to detect tsunamis in real-time


Scientists from Sapienza University in Rome, Italy and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have come together to increase tsunami detection using global navigation satellite systems. The Variometric Approach for Real-time Ionosphere Observation (VARION) system monitors gravitational waves given off as tsunamis roll though the ocean to detect them as they develop. Researchers ultimately hope that this discovery will help inform people of incoming tsunamis sooner than previously possible by monitoring the effects of earthquakes to accurately predict the likelihood of a subsequent tsunami.


Biggest aircraft in the world completes 180-minute test flight


Airlander 10, the largest aircraft in the world with a staggering length of 302 feet, completed a test flight on May 10th. The aircraft combines airplane, blimp and helicopter technology and aims to stay 20,000 feet in the air for up to five days. Hybrid Air Vehicles, the creator of Airlander 10, plans to use the aircraft for search and rescue, security, filming and premium passenger flight once more rigorous testing has been completed.
May 25, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
How do you stimulate economic growth in poor countries with faulty institutions? In the past, some thought foreign aid was the answer. But, as we have found out over the past 60 years or so, foreign aid cannot spur growth in countries lacking the rule of law, property rights and accountable government.

In many places, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a prime example, billions of dollars in aid have stolen by rapacious government officials. Meanwhile, ordinary people are just as poor, if not poorer, as they were in colonial times.   Since institutions, such as the rule of law, are an important component of economic development, faulty ones must be fixed. The problem is how.

Professors Daron Acemoglu from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and James Robinson from the University of Chicago wrote what many consider a definitive account of the importance of good institutions in their 2012 book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty.

The authors note that good, or “inclusive”, institutions allow ordinary citizens to participate in the political and economic life of the country. That leads to greater equality before the law, which, in turn, provides an incentive structure that rewards talent and creativity.

The rule of law, in turn, reduces the likelihood of corruption and abuse of power, by substituting discretionary power with general rules. Moreover, a functioning rule of law necessitates separation of powers. It removes legislative and judicial functions from the executive, such as the Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (which translates as: the warrior who knows no defeat because of his endurance and inflexible will and is all powerful, leaving fire in his wake as he goes from conquest to conquest), and returns them to elected legislators and independent judiciary.

But are good institutions sufficient for growth? Professor Deirdre McCloskey of the University of Illinois at Chicago disagrees and argues in a trilogy of books on “The Bourgeois Era” that ideas and rhetoric (holding innovators and entrepreneurs in high esteem, for example) are also key to enrichment.  As she explains:

“A big change in the common opinion about markets and innovation, I claim, caused the Industrial Revolution, and then the modern world. The change occurred during the 17th and 18th centuries in northwestern Europe. More or less suddenly the Dutch and British and then the Americans and the French began talking about the middle class, high or low — the ‘bourgeoisie’ — as though it were dignified and free. The result was modern economic growth.”
Whatever the case may be, no one would argue that a corrupt dictatorship with arbitrary enforcement of laws and regulations, and shaky property rights, is a good candidate for growth. So a country’s institutions must be changed from bad to good.

But this is a tricky business, and there is no effective blueprint for the creation of good institutions. Parts of the world, Africa comes to mind, have actually experienced profound institutional deterioration after independence and are finding it very difficult to change course.

Paul Romer, Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank thinks “charter cities” might provide an answer. Under Romer’s plan, a developing country would set “aside a tract of land for a new charter city. This charter city would be administered by a developed third-party guarantor government, and citizens from the host country (and maybe other countries) could move in and out as they please. The point of the charter cities idea is to give citizens the choice about where they want to live and to provide the basic rules and amenities required for economic growth.”


The government of the notoriously corrupt Honduras has attempted to follow a similar idea, but the effort has stalled in the Honduran Supreme Court. Another option would be to “outsource” parts of the judiciary in a developing country to another country which has a well-developed rule of law, or even private arbitration. Such an arrangement can be effective in convincing foreign and domestic investors that a particular place is safe for investment. It might have echoes of a bygone era, but a number of British overseas territories and former colonies have retained Britain’s Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as their court of last resort. To be fair, appeals to the Privy Council have worked better in some countries, such as St Lucia, than others, such as Jamaica. After all, decisions of the Privy Council still need to be enforced by the local, often corrupt or dysfunctional, government. But, the impact of changes to legal arrangements, such as the one mentioned above, can be dramatic. Consider Belize, which permitted appeals to the Privy Council in the past, but then replaced its highest legal authority with the Caribbean Court of Justice in 2003. Its rule of law score has suffered as a result. Since the rule of law took thousands of years to evolve in the West, it is hardly surprising it is yet to blossom in those developing countries whose history and traditions have been very different. That’s why if they cannot transpose the rule of law from abroad, they should consider outsourcing it to independent parties elsewhere. Yes, national pride may end up a little dented, but surely it’s far more shameful to remain mired in perpetual poverty.

This first appeared in CapX.
May 22, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
China experienced the greatest advancement out of poverty of all time, partly thanks to the manufacturing boom which followed economic liberalization in the 1980s. But there is a common misconception regarding the consequent working conditions: many imagine all Chinese factories to be “sweatshops” in which workers toil to serve the “greed” of capitalists.

That, however, is to overlook the workers’ own experiences.

“This simple narrative equating Western demand and Chinese suffering is appealing,” says the writer Leslie T. Chang. “But it’s also inaccurate and disrespectful.”

“Chinese workers are not forced into factories because of our insatiable desire for iPods,” Chang explains in a TED talk. “They choose to leave their homes [in rural China] in order to earn money, to learn new skills and to see the world.”

A few years ago, Chang, formerly a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, spent two years in China getting to know factory workers in order to make their stories known.


“In the ongoing debate about globalization, what’s been missing is the voice of the workers themselves,” Chang says. “Certainly the factory conditions are really tough, and it’s nothing you or I would want to do, but from their perspective, where they’re coming from is much worse … I just wanted to give that context of what’s going on in their minds, not what necessarily is going on in yours.”

The book Chang wrote as a result of her research, Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, presents an intimate picture of how global capitalism changed the lives of women in her ancestral country.  The portraits that emerge of independent, ambitious young women contrast sharply with the widespread narrative of victimhood.


Women make up a third of China’s internal economic migrants, but accounted for 70 per cent of rural transplants to the factory city that Chang visited. Women travel farther from home and stay longer in urban areas than their male counterparts.

Women “are more likely to value migration for its life-changing possibilities” than men, since gender roles are less restrictive in cities than in the traditional countryside. Even though it was initially considered risky, or shameful, for a single woman to go out on her own, today migration to cities is practically a rite of passage for rural Chinese.

In the city, Chang was surprised to find that social mobility was strong, with many assembly-line women moving into administrative roles or other fields. Factory turnover was high, as women frequently moved from one job to another in search of better prospects. Chang observed that some evening classes in business etiquette, English, or computer skills could catapult an ambitious woman into white-collar work.

The book neatly illustrates how urbanization not only offers an escape from poverty, but has the knock-on effect of improving migrants’ home villages. And it demolishes the idea that being poor in the city is just as bad if not worse than being poor in the countryside.

“When you’ve lived in the city for a while, your thinking changes,” remarked one female economic migrant, “You’re constantly thinking about how to improve the countryside. The village is home, but I don’t feel comfortable there anymore.”

When Min, a handbag factory employee accustomed to modern city life, visited her home in the countryside, she found herself faced with this scene:

“Electricity was used sparingly to save money, and most dinners were eaten in near-darkness. There was no plumbing and no heating. In the wet chill of the Hubei winter, the whole family wore their coats and gloves indoors, and the cement walls and floors soaked up the cold like a sponge. If you sat too long, your toes went numb, and your fingers too…”

Min made it her mission to modernize the farm home where she grew up.

“Min walked through the house pointing out improvements she wanted: a hot-water dispenser, a washing machine, a walk of poured concrete across the muddy yard.” She plans on eventually paying for the construction of an indoor bathroom and an electric hot-water heater so that her family might bathe in the winter without being cold.

Migrants like Min act as the chief source of village income by sending earnings home. That year, Min and her older sister Guimin sent home more than double the amount of money that the small family farm brought in through the sale of pigs and cotton. The sisters’ money paid for the schooling of their younger siblings.

The money also gave the two women a voice in family affairs, letting them insist their younger sisters attend school longer than was usual for girls. While the oldest sister only received a middle-school education, the family expects the youngest two will even be able to afford to go to college if they choose.

As Chang says, most migrants never return permanently to the countryside. “The ones who do well will likely buy apartments and settle in their adopted cities; the others may eventually move to towns and cities near their home villages and set up stores, restaurants and small businesses like hairdressing salons or tailoring shops.” Very few go back to farming.

But urban life does more than simply raise a woman’s expectations with regard to social status and influence. According to Chang, migration makes rural women more likely to seek equality in marriage. And this is one example of how, in the factory towns of the south, young women “came to believe that they mattered, despite their humble origins”.

So as economic opportunity swept across China, it also brought with it a sense of self-worth. As Chang says, the older and more rural Chinese she interviewed did not believe their stories were worth telling, but the young women in the city deemed themselves to be worthy subjects.

It is thanks to economic liberalisation and so-called capitalist greed that a generation of women, as Chang’s book shows, were given the opportunity to change their fate, take hold of their own destinies and make their own decisions. Globalization didn’t imprison them in sweatshops, it set them free.

This first appeared in CapX.
May 15, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Does capitalism help or hurt women? A fascinating book from Cambridge University Press, Capitalism, For and Against: a Feminist Debateseeks to answer that question.

Philosophy professors Ann Cudd of Boston University and Nancy Holmstrom of Rutgers University both want more freedom and higher material living standards for women. But they disagree on how to achieve that goal.

One thinks capitalism is the answer; the other socialism. Their differences boil down to two points: how capitalism has affected women to date, and the viability of alternative systems to improve a woman’s lot.

The professors may disagree – yet the data sides overwhelmingly with capitalism.

When it comes to material living standards, Cudd presents page after page of evidence to demonstrate “that capitalism has brought about a massive improvement in life for human beings” by reducing poverty and spurring technological innovations in, for example, healthcare. Death in infancy or childbirth is much rarer that it once was. Family sizes are smaller, since children generally survive into adulthood. And women’s options have multiplied as a result.


Holmstrom, however, claims that capitalism has lessened women’s material well-being; it has, she says, exacerbated inequality, which she conflates with poverty. Cudd counters that those who care about women’s welfare should focus on poverty, which is at a historic low.


But giving women the freedom to flee rural penury in order to work in factories, counters Holmstrum, has made them worse off. “The lives of subsistence peasants may be limited, but materially adequate and stable,” she writes. She thinks factory jobs “seldom provide a way out of poverty”.

Cudd answers that the world’s poorest people are overwhelmingly rural, performing informal subsistence agricultural labour: “Global capitalism has not changed their lives very much; they live much as their ancestors did.”

As the data shows, factory work has, indeed, helped women escape both poverty and the stricter gender roles of rural areas. And while Holmstrom implies that the world’s poor prefer agricultural drudgery to urban work, the ongoing global migration from rural areas to cities provides evidence to the contrary.

Capitalism, says Cudd, has not just liberated women from the fields but helped society to see them as individuals. It promotes not only material progress, but also social innovation, which has helped break down those old prejudices such as sexism. “Capitalism derives its primary justification from the maximisation of individual liberty,” she says, “and capitalist societies promulgate the ideology of individualism, which helps to break down … sexist norms and practices.”

Indeed, the capitalist worldview subverts sexism and other forms of collective prejudice – just look at how it eroded India’s caste system.

“Capitalism reduces the oppression of traditional societies that impose hierarchies of gender and caste,” writes Cudd, because embedded within market exchange itself is the idea that each individual should be free to pursue her self-interest. Market participation also increases women’s bargaining power within society, empowering them to lobby for legal equality and greater freedom.

Holmstrom, on the other hand, defines freedom as negative liberty (freedom from interference) and what some philosophers call positive liberty (the means to act). To be free, Holmstrom contends, a woman needs adequate material resources and an environment of social tolerance.

But capitalism has actually increased freedom as Holmstrom conceives it – by reducing poverty and encouraging social tolerance. As the philosopher Jason Brennan noted, “as a matter of historical fact, protecting negative liberties is the most important and effective way of promoting positive liberty”.


Holmstrom is resistant to this view, observing that some capitalist states deny their citizens freedom outside the economic realm. But then, aren’t dictatorships that at least allow their citizens economic freedom (Chile under Pinochet) better than anti-capitalist dictatorships (modern Venezuela)? After all, capitalism fosters the conditions for people to escape poverty and ultimately demand more personal and political freedoms.


The debate is complicated by the fact that the professors disagree over how to define a capitalist state. For example, Cudd and Holmstrom both denote Sweden and similar states with high social spending as capitalist, but Cudd does not count oligarchic states such as Saudi Arabia as such. And Holmstrom insists that the exclusion of such states makes for a biased “persuasive definition” of capitalism.
Yet Holmstrom does not want to count any past socialist system as truly socialist – which in turn shows her bias.

Cudd notes that capitalism compares favourably on practically every indicator of human wellbeing to the socialism practised by the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and Cuba today. Holmstrom, bizarrely, alleges that the Soviet and Maoist systems helped women, and praises the Soviet Union for offering “free” childcare and laundry services.


One might respond that if a woman resorts to cannibalising her own children to survive a manmade famine (as thousands did while millions of others died starving), endures rape in a gulag (“rape was so common as to be considered routine”), or faces execution for political dissent, then laundry services do not meaningfully improve her situation.


While Holmstrom thinks those states helped women, she believes no society has ever truly given “the people” (rather than a bureaucracy) control over the means of production. She does admit she is comparing capitalism to an imagined ideal of socialism. And anticipating charges of Utopianism, she points out that many major social changes such as women’s suffrage once seemed unreachable.

Yet ultimately, she offers little in the way of evidence that her vision wouldn’t fail like all of the other socialist experiments throughout history. There, is after all, ample data on where that road leads – and it is hardly a paradise for workers, women or anyone else.

This first appeared in CapX.
May 12, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Stumble Suit to Prevent Falls

A new invention could improve the lives of elderly persons at risk of dangerous falls. The “stumble suit,” a lightweight carbon fiber exoskeleton that supports the hips and legs, helps its wearer regain balance after a slip, preventing a harmful or even deadly fall. The system uses a built-in algorithm to detect anomalies in the wearer’s gait that might signal an oncoming stumble, and quickly works to reestablish stability. The inventors hope their invention will prevent bone fractures and dislocated hips, and believe it even holds the potential to save lives.

Anti-HIV Drugs Lengthen Lifespans

Medical science has come a long way since the days when an HIV diagnosis was widely considered a death sentence. Today, thanks to new drugs, HIV-positive young people enjoy a near-normal life expectancy. “Twenty-year-olds who started antiretroviral therapy in 2010 are projected to live 10 years longer than those first using it in 1996,” according to the BBC’s report on new research in the medical journal The Lancet. The virus cannot adapt and build up a resistance against the new drugs as easily as it could against the old ones. In addition to being more effective at fighting HIV, newer drugs also have fewer negative side-effects.

Cyborg Eyes Restore Vision

Scientists have developed the first-ever artificial retina. This ‘cyborg eye’ could restore sight in the blind. The double-layered device is made out of soft biological cell protein membranes and hydrogels. Just like regular retinas, the artificial ones react to light and generate electrical signals to send visual information to the cells at the back of the eye—enabling sight. Unfortunately, right now, the artificial retinas can only produce greyscale images (colorblind sight). The technology is fully biodegradable, and because it is natural it is less likely to cause scarring like current metal retinal implants sometimes do.
May 11, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
If you’re a fan of Your Life in Numbers, our web app visualizing how much the world has improved in your lifetime, then you should also check out Poverty Clock.

Poverty Clock visualizes the approximate state of world poverty in real time, showing one person escaping from extreme poverty every second. It estimates where each person moving out of poverty lives (Indonesia, India, Algeria…) and what their gender might be, using statistical averages.


The visualization also shows the rate at which people fall into extreme poverty. Happily, the number escaping poverty dwarfs the number falling into it.


The team behind Poverty Clock—World Data Lab in Austria—describes their methodology this way:
“The World Poverty Clock uses publicly available data on income distribution, production, and consumption, provided by various international organizations, most notably the UN, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund … We use models to estimate poverty in … countries [missing data]. Our data covers 99.7% of the world’s population. We also model how individual incomes might change over time, using IMF growth forecasts for the medium-term complemented by long-term ‘shared socio-economic pathways’ developed by the Institute of International Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria.”
Perhaps my favorite part of this website is that it tracks how many people have escaped poverty since you opened Poverty Clock in your browser. Literally thousands of people have left poverty behind them since I opened it in mine.
Harnessing the Power of Volcanoes

Do volcanoes represent an untapped source of environmentally-friendly energy? An experiment in Iceland is testing out the idea. A team of scientists and engineers is trying to harness geothermal energy from within a volcano. They drilled three miles into the volcano, completing the well earlier this year. Scientists working on the “Iceland Deep Drilling Project,” nicknamed the "Thor" drill project, will give a verdict in two years on whether geothermal wells in volcanoes offer an economically viable form of energy.

Yeast Rises Up Against Disease

Humanity has experimented with yeast for millennia, using it to do everything from brewing beer to baking bread. British scientists have now re-engineered the cells of baker’s yeast to produce the valuable antibiotic penicillin. Ordinarily, scientists obtain penicillin from bacteria and fungi, not from yeast. The new antibiotics could prove important to combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, against which conventional antibiotics are no longer effective. While the research is still in an early phase, one of the scientists on the team stressed that yeast could yield a “largely untapped treasure trove of compounds” leading to a "new generation of antibiotics."

Gene Editing Takes on HIV

A U.S. research team has successfully removed human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from animals using the highly precise gene-editing technology called CRISPR. The researchers experimented on “transgenic” mice and rats, which contained HIV-infected human genetic material in their bodies. To determine whether CRISPR gene-editing eliminated the virus, the team used a new “bioluminescence” imaging system that lights up HIV-infected cells. "The imaging system … pinpoints the spatial and temporal location of HIV-1-infected cells in the body,” explained one of the scientists involved, “allowing us to observe HIV-1 replication in real time.” The researchers hope to advance to human clinical trials.
May 04, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Compared to the post-industrial prosperity Americans enjoy today, “sweatshops” seem inhuman.

But there is another side to the story. Strange as it sounds, there are places “where sweatshops are a dream” offering life-transforming wages. Particularly for women.

Factory work has historically offered women an escape hatch from traditional gender roles. During the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States, young women fled the impoverished countryside to work at factories in cities where they could earn and spend their own money. Most ceased work after marriage, but for a time they enjoyed a level of independence that disturbed Victorian sensibilities.

Many complained that factory conditions were too dangerous for women. Others feared women living apart from the protection of a father or husband would ruin their reputations—even if they did not actually transgress the mores of the day, they still risked the appearance of impropriety. In 1840, the Boston Quarterly Review’s editor remarked, “‘She has worked in a factory,’ is sufficient to damn to infamy the most worthy and virtuous girl.”

Female factory workers themselves did not all share the view that they were victims of capitalist exploitation and insufficient male protection. That remark about infamy, and others about mistreatment, prompted this response from a textile mill operative named Harriet in Lowell, Massachusetts:
We are under restraints, but they are voluntarily assumed; and we are at liberty to withdraw from them, whenever they become galling or irksome … we are [here] to get money, as much of it and as fast as we can ... It is these wages which, in spite of toil, restraint, discomfort, and prejudice, have drawn so many … girls to … factories … one of the most lucrative female employments should [not] be rejected because it is toilsome, or because some people are prejudiced against it. Yankee girls have too much independence for that. . .
Today, the story of the “factory girls” is repeating itself in new settings across the world—both the story of young women gaining economic independence through risk and toil, and the story of widespread panic over their possible exploitation. Consider Asia.

China saw the largest migration in history from rural poverty to urban factories, starting in the 1980s after economic liberalization put an end to communist experimentation. Nearly all of these migrants are under 30, and many factories are majority-female.

Initially, Chinese society viewed factory work as shameful to a woman’s reputation and dangerous, echoing Victorian concerns for the Industrial Revolution’s “factory girls.” But over time, migration became a rite of passage for rural Chinese. Today, urban life affords factory workers—particularly women—freedom from rural areas’ more traditional and restrictive social norms.


Compared to their Industrial Revolution predecessors, China’s “factory girls” enjoy more opportunities for social mobility and long-term labor force participation. They often aspire to white-collar work by learning new skills during off-hours. In fact, as China’s human capital and wages have soared, more workers have moved into the services sector, and many factories have relocated southwards to poorer countries.

Fears of exploitation now often center on South and Southeast Asia. Human Rights Watch recently published a piece condemning Cambodia’s garment factories. True, factory work is difficult and sometimes deadly—just as it was in the Industrial Revolution.

“But ask the woman,” economist Deirdre McCloskey suggests, “if she would rather that the shoe company not make her the offer … Look at the length of queue that forms when Nike opens a new plant in Indonesia. And ask her if she’d rather not have any market opportunities at all, and be left home instead entirely to her father or husband.”


Factory work, though arduous, often represents an improvement for women. Research from Yale University suggests the rise of the garment industry, dominated by female factory workers, helps explain the falling rate of child marriage and rapid increase in girls’ educational attainment in Bangladesh.


Regrettably, well-intentioned calls for export restrictions and boycotts can harm the very women they seek to help, many of whom fear the loss of factory work and a return to rural penury and stricter gender roles. Already, automation threatens the jobs of nine million, mostly young and female, garment factory workers. Boycotts worsen this situation.


Harriet’s arguments still apply today. As long as work is “voluntarily assumed” and laborers maintain the “liberty to withdraw” from it, we should not reject a potential force for women’s empowerment in developing countries in an attempt to protect them. Women everywhere have too much independence for that.

This piece originally appeared in The Hill.

May 03, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
A couple of weeks ago, I visited New Orleans, where I gave a talk on human progress. My talk centered on improvements in standards of living across the world over the last 200 years – a period of historically unprecedented growth in prosperity caused by the industrial revolution and global trade. One of the questions from the audience concerned the morality of capitalism. “You have shown that capitalism creates more wealth than socialism,” a young man conceded. “But is it moral?” he asked.

In response, I dwelt on the voluntary and socially beneficial aspects of capitalism. In order to make money, capitalists need to perform tasks or produce goods that other people want. (Yes, there are exceptions. Capitalists protected from market forces by corrupt public officials, for example, gain monopolistic rents that they are not entitled to. That is what is meant by the phrase “crony capitalism.”)

Similarly, transactions between capitalists and consumers are typically voluntary. Capitalists cannot force their customers to buy private sector goods and services. (Again, there are exceptions. Under Obamacare, for example, the US government can force people to purchase private-sector health insurance.)

Defending capitalism as a morally sound economic system is certainly important, not least because, as I have previously noted, “In so far as capitalism is only the latest iteration of an economic set up based on commerce, private property and profit making, there have always been those who found those three [morally] unpalatable.”


Socialism, as my New Orleans questioner implied, is often assumed to be moral. Is that assumption justified? Socialism is a utopian ideal intended to solve all of humanity’s problems including, above all, poverty and inequality. The theory and practice, alas, have tended to be at odds with one another.

Here is how Karl Marx outlined the future benefits of a socialist society, “If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people.”

Leon Trotsky, the Soviet revolutionary, wrote that in a socialist society “Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser, and subtler; his body will become more harmonious, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above these heights, new peaks will rise.”

Fidel Castro declared that the Cuban Revolution was “of the humble, with the humble and for the humble” and that his struggle for socialism was “for the lives of all children in the world.” Che Guevara, Castro’s number two, mused that “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”

These, to many people lofty sentiments, are echoed to this day by the platform of the Socialist Party of the United States, which avers that “We are committed to the transformation of capitalism through the creation of a democratic socialist society based on compassion, empathy, and respect…”

Applying socialist ideas in practice turned out to be much more problematic. One of the most obvious shortcomings of socialism in real life is its tendency to lead toward dictatorship. This relationship, clearly visible in Venezuela today, was first 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.

Political dissent under socialism is difficult, because the state is the only employer. To quote Trotsky again, “In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.” A free economy, in other words, is a necessary, though not a sufficient condition, for political freedom.


Obviously, not everyone feels that dictatorship and mass murder are too high a price to pay for equality. Eric Hobsbawm, the British Marxist historian, for example, was once asked whether, if Communism had achieved its aims, but at the cost of, say, 15 to 20 million people – as opposed to the 100 million it actually killed in Russia and China – would he have supported it? His answer was a single word: Yes. Even today, many people, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau among them, fawn over Cuban dictatorship, because of its delivery of supposedly free health and education to the masses.


I wrote “supposedly”, because under socialism, bribes (cash payments, for example, or favors) are ubiquitous. Medical practitioners, who don’t feel that they are being paid enough by the state, demand bribes in order to look after their patients. Teachers, who feel the same, promote the children of doctors in order to get better access to health care. This process goes all the way down the food chain.

Often, bribery and theft go hand in hand. In socialist countries, the state owns all production facilities, such as factories, shops and farms. In order to have something to trade with one another, people first have to “steal” from the state. A butcher, for example, steals meat in order to exchange it for vegetables that the greengrocer stole and so on.

Under socialism, favors can be obtained in other ways as well. In East Germany, for example, people often spied on their neighbours and, even, spouses. The full-time employees of the secret police and their unofficial collaborators amounted to some two per cent of the entire population. Once occasional informers are accounted for, one in six East Germans were at one point or another involved in spying on their fellow citizens.

Socialism, in other words, is not only underpinned by force, but it is also morally corrupting. Lying, stealing and spying are widely used and trust between people disappears. Far from fostering brotherhood between people, socialism makes everyone suspicious and resentful.


I have long held that the greatest harm that socialism caused was not economic. It was spiritual. Many of the countries that abandoned socialism rebuilt their economies and became prosperous. The same cannot be said about their institutions, such as the rule of law, and the behavior of their citizens, such as the prevalence of corruption. Prosperity is a consequence of removal of barriers to exchange between free people. But how does one make a society less corrupt and more law-abiding?

The true legacy of socialism, in other words, is not equality, but immorality.

April 28, 2017
By Maximilian Wirth
Frozen brains could be woken up within the next few years

Hundreds of people have their brains and bodies preserved under sub-zero temperatures in the hope that science will advance to a point where doctors can bring them back to life and cure them from disease. What sounds like science fiction today, could become reality in the next few years. Professor Sergio Canavero, Director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, is about to carry out the first human head transplant on a Russian patient in the next months, who suffers from a muscle wasting condition. If the operation is successful, according to Canavero, brain transplants could follow soon. Professor Canavero is already assembling a team for the procedure, which could take place in the next few years. In an interview with the magazine Ooom he claimed: ‘A brain transplant may become reality in as little as three years. It has many advantages. There are practically no immune reactions or rejections. As soon as the first human head transplant has taken place, i.e., no later than in 2018, we will be able to attempt to reawaken the first frozen head.’


First artificial brain created in dish


As the Daily Mail reports, scientists have grown the first working ‘mini-brain’ from human stem cells. In the procedure, human skin cells are transformed into pluripotent stem cells, capable of becoming any part of the body. The result is like [the] 60-day old forebrain of a baby, which can be used to test drugs and conduct in depth studies on brain functions. The new technology could be used to develop treatments for epilepsy, Alzheimer, and autism. Even parts of the brain could be grown and then implanted into people with brain damage at some point.

April 28, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Has anything changed the world more than the internet? South Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang thinks so. He would argue that one invention – an engine of liberation – has had a far more powerful effect on daily lives. He means the washing machine, of course, which the late Hans Rosling called the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. It freed women from the chore of laundry – or at least from spending one full day a week every week doing it.

As a result, Americans now lose less than two hours a week to the task, and today a greater proportion of poor US households own washing machines than average American households did back in the 1970s. While washing machines are far from being the only reason that women’s options have multiplied in the West, they have certainly helped. “Without the washing machine,” claims Chang, “the scale of change in the role of women in society and in family dynamics would not have been nearly as dramatic.”
Source: Econweb and BLS

The change is ongoing. Thanks to economic growth and rapidly declining global poverty, more women own or have access to washing machines than ever before. Even so, one 2013 study estimated that, in 2010, 46.9 per cent of households worldwide owned one. That means the market for washing machines has significant room to grow – and that there is a vast amount of latent human potential still out there, yet to be unleashed.


Take China, home to the greatest escape from poverty of all time, when economic liberalization freed hundreds of millions from penury. The economy (measured in 2014 US  dollars and adjusted for differences in purchasing power) grew 31-fold between 1978, when the country abandoned communist economic policies, and 2016.


In 1981, less than 10 per cent of urban Chinese households had a washing machine (as approximated by the number of sets per hundred households). But by 2011, 97.05 per cent did. In 1985, less than 5 per cent of rural Chinese households had a washing machine, partly because of the expense, but also because they lacked access to electricity. By 2011, 62.57 per cent owned a machine. Thus possession of a washing machine is a useful indicator, not only of China’s tremendous progress, but of the narrowing gap between rural and urban areas. Source: Laili Wang, Xuemei Ding, Rui Huang and Xiongying Wu, “Choices and using of washing machines in Chinese households,” International Journal of Consumer Studies (38) 2014, pp. 104-109.

It’s a slightly different story in India, where liberalizing economic reforms didn’t begin until 1992, rather later than in China. From 1992 to 2016, India’s economy grew four-fold. Only 11 per cent of Indian households owned a washing machine in 2016.

As with China, urban households are better off, with machine ownership now topping 20 per cent in the most populous cities. That means many women still do the laundry by hand, pounding and scrubbing for hours, in some cases with no running water. Nonetheless, movement is in the right direction. As India’s economy grows and poverty declines, more women will be able to ditch the dirty washing.

We have come a long way since Bendix Home Appliances patented the first automatic washing machine for domestic use in 1937. As a Bendix ad in Life magazine put it in 1950, “washday slavery became obsolete in just 13 years” for American women. In 2007, Panasonic launched laundry machines with a sterilization mechanism designed specifically to address Chinese consumers’ priorities and successfully increased its market share in the country.

It is important to note what is at the root of this progress. Not only has competition and the profit motive incentivized the washing machine’s invention, it is the capitalist drive that is ensuring ongoing marketing to new customers in developing countries. Innovation stagnates under socialist systems, but capitalism has created more life-transforming innovations than any other economic system and sown the greatest rise in living standards in history.

Africa remains the continent with the worst record on economic freedom, as well as being the poorest continent with the least access to time-saving technologies. But even in Africa, the vicious cycle is breaking and capitalism is slowly helping to alleviate poverty. Washing machine ownership might be low, but most Africans are optimistic about their economic future and possibilities.


Thus today, washing machines are still doing the work they were doing 80 years ago – which isn’t just cleaning clothes. These juddering boxes are life-transforming technologies that allow women to put their time and labor to more constructive use. And as ownership sweeps across the world, we can also track the progress of economic freedom.

This first appeared in CapX.
April 27, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
In recent years, income inequality has become a major political and economic issue in America. Income inequality, the argument goes, was caused not only by the growth of incomes among the wealthy, but also by wage stagnation among middle-class Americans. According to a 2015 report issued by the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labour think tank based in Washington, DC, “ever since 1979, the vast majority of American workers have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline”.

The blame, predictably, fell on President Ronald Reagan and his free-market reforms, even though economic liberalisation started under his Democratic predecessor, Jimmy Carter. But, income is an imperfect measure of overall living standards, which are much better than they used to be.

It is true that, adjusted for inflation, average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees in the private sector (the closest approximation for the quintessential blue-collar worker that I could find) have barely changed between 1979 and 2015. In October 1979, average hourly earnings stood at $6.51, or $21.20 in 2015 dollars. In October 2015, average hourly earnings stood at $21.18 – slightly below the inflation-adjusted 1979 level. But wages do not provide the full picture of workers’ earnings.

In recent decades, for example, non-wage benefits have exploded. Today they include relocation assistance, medical and prescription coverage, vision and dental coverage, health and dependent care, flexible spending accounts, retirement benefit plans, group-term life and long-term care insurance plans, legal and adoption assistance plans, childcare and transportation benefits, paid vacation and sick leave, and employee discount programs from a variety of vendors, etc. These could amount to between 30 and 40 per cent of the workers’ earnings.

Moreover, prices of many important consumer goods have declined dramatically. Comparing the prices of everyday items in the 1979 Sears Catalogue with similar products on Walmart.com at the end of 2015, I found that the inflation-adjusted prices of bicycles, blenders, coffee makers, convection ovens, dishwashers, food processors, refrigerators, gas grills, home entertainment systems, gas stoves, microwaves, slow cookers, toasters, treadmills, television sets and vacuum cleaners fell by an average of 76 per cent.


This is not a fluke. Writing in 2015, Professor Steven Horwitz of St. Lawrence University found a similar trend. According to Horwitz, whose data I represent in graph form below, retail prices of common household appliances fell by 81 per cent between 1959 and 2013 in terms of hours of labour needed to purchase those items.
More recently, Bruce Sacerdote from the Department of Economics at Dartmouth College found that “the pessimistic narrative on real wages is somewhat at odds with casual empiricism about material goods consumption”, and that “consumption for below median income families has seen steady progress since 1960”.

According to Sacerdote, house size inhabited by families below the 50th percentile increased from 1,200 square feet to 1,300 square feet between 1993 and 2009 alone. The number of bathrooms rose by 50 per cent between 1986 and 2015. Families below the 25th percentile owned 0.75 cars in 1970, but 1.4 cars in 2015. In 1960, 35 per cent of those families enjoyed no indoor plumbing. By 2015, virtually all had it. Both groups saw the number of bedrooms per family increase by 10 per cent since 1960. All the above improvements happened, while the average size of the American family declined.


Why is there such a disparity between the reality and perception? Sacerdote claims that improvements in standards of living are underestimated because of “new goods bias” or failure to quickly account for the spread of new goods; “product quality bias” or failure to account for growth in product and service quality; “outlet bias” or failure to incorporate availability of new less expensive outlets such as Walmart; and “substitution bias” or failure to account for consumers’ ability to substitute away from goods and services that have become relatively more expensive.

However, Sacerdote also found some demographic sub-groups, such as less than high school-educated men, might have actually become poorer over the last half-century and noted that many Americans can nevertheless feel poorer, due to more information about the living standards of other Americans.

Social dysfunction among less than high school-educated Americans, misinformation and, unfortunately, envy, contribute toward underestimation of gains that Americans have made in recent decades. Thankfully, none of that diminishes the real progress that ordinary Americans have made thanks to free trade and free markets.

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 Russian RD-180 sending men and women to the International Space Station and putting payloads in orbit, a private-sector alternative has arisen. Blue Origin’s privately-funded BE-4 rocket engines, used in pairs, will match the reliability of the RD-180 at a substantially lower cost. Aerojet Rocketdyne is attempting to beat the reliability and price of the BE-4 with their new AR-1.  

SpaceX will attempt to reuse every part of rocket
 

Space will try to 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 equivalent 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.