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 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

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, 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, 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.
"Chatbots” Soon to Diagnose Disease

A private company could soon provide patients with a full diagnosis by smartphone, without the need to see a General Practitioner. It has already have created a system where patients type in their symptoms and artificially intelligent “chatbots” assess the urgency of each case to determine whether users should go to the ER, pharmacy, or simply rest at home. The company just revealed a more sophisticated model that will allow individuals to receive diagnoses by smartphone. The system would allow doctors to work in tandem with chatbots so that medics can focus on treating rather than diagnosing illness. The chatbot model is an exciting new advancement in artificial intelligence that has been shown to produce faster, safer, and more accurate results than human diagnoses on average. By turning the technology into a mobile app that can be accessed more quickly than the online version, the company could greatly increase the availability of medial prognoses. These robots are not meant to replace doctors, but can provide doctors with valuable support.

Alphabet artificial intelligence to diagnose cancer

Determining whether a patient has cancer requires professionals to scan tissue samples over weeks and months, often dangerously allowing the disease to further develop during this period. But an artificial intelligence program owned by Alphabet, Google's parent company, may be able to flag cancer much faster. The program automatically detects and localizes tumors from images as small as 100 ×100 pixels. The program uses high-level image recognition technology that was first developed for Google’s driverless car program, in order to help the vehicles scan for road obstructions. The program is more accurate than regular human doctors, detecting 92.4% of the tumors, relative to 73.2% detected by human specialists. While the program appears to have a promising future, it is unlikely to replace human pathologists any time soon. The software currently only looks for cancerous tissue and is not able to pick up any irregularities that a human doctor could spot.

Breath Monitor Detects Flu

A University of Texas Professor has invented a flu breathalyzer that makes it possible to diagnose flu cases at home. The device will save people money and unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office. Currently nurses use nasal swabs to detect the flu in all ages, a process which can be uncomfortable and take up to half an hour. With the breathalyzer, sensors can zero in on a chemical in the breath, and can pinpoint the virus in milliseconds. Earlier detection could mean a shorter flu cycle, and the breathalyzer will eventually be available in drugstores, if it is able to overcome government regulatory hurdles.

Teenager's sickle cell reversed with world-first therapy

Humanity has successfully reversed sickle cell disease for the first time, curing a teenaged boy in Paris. Scientists altered the genetic instructions in the patient’s bone marrow to produce healthy red blood cells. The therapy has worked for 15 months and the teen is no longer on any medication. Doctors removed the patient’s bone marrow and genetically altered it in a lab to compensate for the defect in his DNA. After infecting the bone marrow with a “good” virus carrying new, correct instructions, the bone marrow was put back into the patient. Since receiving the treatment, the patient has no sign of the disease, no pain, and no longer requires transfusions. The study shows the potential power of gene therapy to transform the lives of people with sickle cell disease. Researchers hope that after more clinical trials, this procedure may be adopted as a cure for sickle cell disease. Currently the expensive procedure can only be carried out in cutting-edge hospitals and laboratories, but with further development may one day become available in poor areas of Africa, where most sickle cell disease sufferers live. 
March 07, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
The Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg's New Energy Finance have recently released their 2017 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, which looks, among other things, at the benefits of rising natural gas use across the United States. According to the report, Americans now devote less than four percent of their total annual household spending to energy—the lowest since government record-keeping begun. That welcome development is, in part, a result of the fracking revolution and of the declining prices of natural gas. Lower energy prices have also helped to reduce manufacturing costs, thus reviving the U.S. economy. Today, the United States generates very cheap electricity for industrial use, outranking China, India and Mexico. In spite of those low energy costs, American producers have been growing more efficient. The United States, the report notes, "has decoupled economic growth and energy demand." Since 2007, American GDP grew by 12 percent, while overall energy consumption fell by 3.7 percent.

The use of natural gas, which is now the top fuel source for electrical generation, has also been good for the environment. The burning of natural gas emits between 50 and 60 percent less carbon dioxide than the burning of coal. As such, the carbon footprint of the power-generating industry has actually shrunk by 24 percent since 2005. Rounding off a set of positive numbers, after many decades of use, we now have greater proven reserves of natural gas than ever before. Market forces fueled a rise in domestic natural gas production, providing the economy with a cheap, cleaner burning source of fuel. However, the report notes that development of necessary natural gas infrastructure is not keeping pace with demand and should be improved going forward. The report provides proof of natural gas' many positives. Americans are saving more on energy bills than ever before, the economy is growing and the United States is the only major country reducing its green house gas emissions. Happily, as infrastructure expands and improves, the benefits will only increase.

This first appeared in Reason.
FDA Approves Genetically Engineered Potatoes  

Three types of potatoes genetically engineered to resist the pathogen responsible for the Irish potato famine have just overcome a huge regulatory hurdle. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have given permission to companies to plant and sell these potatoes. The potatoes do not contain genes from any other species, but are resistant to “late blight” disease. The three varieties are the Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet, and Atlantic, and all have the same taste, texture, and nutritional qualities as conventional potatoes. Potatoes are the world’s fourth food staple crop, thus it is not insignificant that late blight continues to plague potato growers. The genetically engineered potatoes greatly reduce the fungi, bruising, and black spots and enhance storage capacity. Companies are not sure yet how they will market these new potatoes, but it seems the new product will benefit growers and consumers. 

Denmark’s Shifting Social Policies  

Denmark is often considered the “poster child” of democratic socialism, but the Danes themselves are moving away from socialist policies. Denmark is raising the pension age and making cuts to welfare programs in an effort to finance major income tax cuts. The Danish government seeks to promote a society in which it is easier to support a family before handing over a large share of income to fund the costs of society. Last year's plan included cutting the top rate of income tax by 5 percent and boosting the after-tax salaries of the lowest earners by 7 percent. To fund the tax cuts, the government looks to get more people into the workforce. But since Denmark is already close to full employment, more young and old people are being encouraged to work. The government seeks to raise the retirement age to 67.5 and more quickly add students to the workforce by increasing the use of school loans. Overall, it seems that Denmark is abandoning the Nordic welfare state model.  

New Gene Therapy to Help Cure Cancer  

A groundbreaking gene therapy treatment called CAR-T cell therapy has been shown to boost patients’ own immune cells, ridding disease from one third of terminal cancer patients. The treatment works by filtering the patient's blood to remove key immune system T-cells, which scientists then genetically engineer to recognize cancer cells. The genetically enhanced T-cells are then reintroduced into the body to fight cancer. While the trials have seen incredible success, there are still concerns about the treatment’s significant side effects, as it puts the immune system into a state of over-drive. Some patients undergoing treatment developed anemia or other blood-count-related problems, and a number reported sleepiness, confusion, tremors, or difficulty speaking that lasted for a few days. Still, the new treatment offers hope and a brighter future for those suffering from terminal illness.

One of the biggest and most pernicious myths about economic development is that capitalism or, as I prefer to call it, economic freedom, benefits the few, while impoverishing the many. The origins of this myth go back to Karl Marx, who thought that, under capitalism, competition would drive down profits, thus necessitating greater exploitation of the workers.

The mistaken theorizing of the German economist – in fact, real average global income per person rose by factor of 10 over the last 200 hundred years – was then updated by Vladimir Lenin.

The update was necessary because by Lenin’s time, the workers in the western industrialized countries were unambiguously better off than in Marx’s time. And so, in his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, the first dictator of the Soviet Union invented a new thesis. Contra Marx, the living standards of the western workers continued to improve because of the riches that flowed to the West from the exploited colonies. Lenin’s thesis had a profound effect on generations of African nationalists, who rejected capitalism and embraced Soviet socialism instead.

But economic freedom not only continued to improve the lives of the workers in capitalist countries, it also improved the lives of the workers under socialism. Freedom, in other words, benefits everyone – even people who don’t have it.

Here is how the Nobel Prize-winning Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek put it in his 1960 magnum opus, The Constitution of Liberty:

“What is important is not what freedom I personally would like to exercise but what freedom some person may need in order to do things beneficial to society. This freedom we can assure to the unknown person only by giving it to all. The benefits of freedom are, therefore, not confined to the free-or, at least, a man does not benefit mainly from those aspects of freedom which he himself takes advantage of.
There can be no doubt that in history unfree majorities have benefited from the existence of free minorities and that today unfree societies benefit from what they obtain and learn from free societies. Of course, the benefits we derive from the freedom of others become greater as the number of those who can exercise freedom increases. The argument for the freedom of some therefore applies to the freedom of all.”

When Hayek wrote those words, the struggle between the communist and capitalist worlds was at its height, and the developing “third” world was caught in the middle of that contest.

Let us now look at a concrete example of what Hayek meant when he wrote that “unfree societies benefit from what they obtain and learn from free societies.”

In 2002, Stephen Van Dulken, an expert curator in the Patents Information Service of the British Library, published a well-reviewed book called Inventing the 20th Century: 100 inventions that shaped the world. The Wall Street Journal described it as “remarkable”, while the Boston Globe credited the author with assembling “a panoramic snapshot of the century”. In his book, Van Dulken identified the 100 most important inventions of the 20th century. One per year. Almost all have originated in the free countries.

Looking at the birthplace of the inventor, I counted 47 Americans, 30 Britons, 4 French citizens, 3 Canadians, 3 Germans and 2 Swedes. Argentina, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Soviet Union and Switzerland produced one inventor each.

Looking at the jurisdiction where these inventors decided to patent their inventions, the picture changes somewhat, but not too much. The United States has patented 46 inventions, Great Britain 29 and World Intellectual Property Organisation patented 11. Germany patented 5, France 2 and the European Union as a whole patented 2. Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Japan and Switzerland patented one each.

Some readers might object that Van Dulken’s choices were, by necessity, subjective. True, but I suspect that the airplane, air conditioning, the electric washing machine, tarmac road surfacing, the vacuum cleaner, neon lighting, stainless steel, rapid freezing of food, television, traffic lights, Nylon, Radar, Teflon, bar codes, the computer, the ballpoint pen, the microwave oven, the microchip, Kevlar and so on would have made anyone’s list.

In other words, it is unlikely that, looking back at the 20th century, others would pick a dramatically different list of the most important inventions. Needless to say, Van Dulken’s innovators did not only benefit their native countries. The benefits of their inventions spread across the globe and improved the lives of all people – including many of those who live or lived under tyranny. Once again, consider a concrete example. Between 1960, the year of African independence, and 2015, the income gap between sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and the United States has actually widened. In 1960, average GDP per person in SSA amounted to 6.31 per cent of the same in the United States. Conversely, an average GDP per person in the United States amounted to 1,586 per cent of that in SSA.

Over the next 55 years, incomes in SSA adjusted for inflation grew by 55 per cent. But, they grew by 203 per cent in America. That meant that in 2015, SSA amounted to 3.21 per cent of American income and American income amounted to 3,111 percent of SSA income. Or, to put it in terms of dollars and cents, SSA income rose from $1,075 to $1,660. American income rose from $17,037 to $51,638 (all figures are in 2010 dollars).

However, the gap in life expectancy, which is the best indicator of the overall standard of living, between the two has shrunk! In 1960, SSA life expectancy was 58 per cent that of the United States. The converse percentage is 174. Over the next 55 years, SSA life expectancy grew by 47 per cent, while American life expectancy grew by 14 per cent. So, in 2015, SSA life expectancy rose to 75 per cent that of the United States, while American life expectancy fell to 134 per cent that of SSA. To put it in terms of years, SSA life expectancy rose from 40.17 years to 59 years, while US life expectancy rose “only” from 69.77 years to 79.16 years. Africans, in other words, did not have to become rich in order to start experiencing longer and better lives. Indeed, it would be surprising if they did get wealthier, considering that since independence, many African countries have experimented with socialism and other forms of protectionism. Some, like Zimbabwe, still do.

Instead, all of Africa benefited from the technological advances that occurred in free, which is to say, capitalist countries. The airplane, an American invention, flies life-saving medicines into the deepest Congo. Synthetic insulin, a Canadian invention, saves lives in South Africa. The photocopier, another American discovery, is making it easy for poor kids to learn how to read in Angola.

Over the last few years, signs have emerged of a small, but ominous, decline in political and economic freedom in the world. Was Francis Fukuyama wrong when he predicted the triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism in his thesis, The End of History? I certainly did not think so, when I defended it in 2014.

I am still hopeful that Fukuyama is right and that the recent negative trends will be reversed. That said, what matters most for the continued progress of humanity is, as Hayek put it, that at least a minority of people on this planet remain free. And that, I think, remains a pretty safe bet.

This first appeared in CapX.
March 02, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
No two drugs have arguably defined human civilization the way alcohol and caffeine have.

Nature created both to kill creatures much smaller than us — plants evolved caffeine to poison insect predators, and yeasts produce ethanol to destroy competing microbes.

True to its toxic origins, alcohol kills 3.3 million people each year, causing 5.9% of all deaths and 25% of deaths among people aged 20 to 39. Alcohol also causes liver disease, many cancers, and other devastating health and social problems.

On the other hand, research suggests that alcohol may have helped create civilization itself. Alcohol consumption could have given early homo sapiens a survival edge. Before we could properly purify water or prepare food, the risk of ingesting hazardous microbes was so great that the antiseptic qualities of alcohol made it safer to consume than non-alcoholic alternatives — despite alcohol’s own risks.

Even our primate ancestors may have consumed ethanol in decomposing fruit. Robert Dudley, who created the “drunken monkey” hypothesis, believes that modern alcohol abuse “arises from a mismatch between prehistoric and contemporary environments.”

At first, humans obtained alcohol from wild plants. Palm wine, still popular in parts of Africa and Asia today, may have originated in 16,000 BC. A Chilean alcoholic drink made from wild potatoes may date to 13,000 BC.

Researchers now believe the desire for a stable supply of alcohol could have motivated the beginnings of agriculture and non-nomadic civilization.
Residue on pottery at an archeological site in Jiahu, China, strongly suggests that humanity has drunk rice wine since at least 7,000 BC. Rice was domesticated in 8,000 BC, but the people of Jiahu made the transition to farming later, around the time we know that they drank rice wine.

“The domestication of plants [was] driven by the desire to have greater quantities of alcoholic beverages,” claims archeologist Patrick McGovern. It used to be thought that humanity domesticated wheat for bread, and beer was a byproduct. Today, some researchers, like McGovern, think it might be the other way around.

Alcohol has been with us since the early days, but caffeine use is more recent. Chinese consumption of caffeinated tea dates back to at least 3,000 BC. But the discovery of coffee, with its generally far stronger caffeine content, seems to have occurred in 15th century Yemen.

Before the Enlightenment, Europeans drank alcohol throughout the day. Then, through trade with the Arab world, a transformation occurred: coffee, rich with caffeine, a stimulant, swept across the continent and replaced alcohol, a depressant.

As writer Tom Standage put it,

“The impact of the introduction of coffee into Europe during the seventeenth century was particularly noticeable since the most common beverages of the time, even at breakfast, were weak ‘small beer’ and wine. Both were far safer than water, which was liable to be contaminated … Coffee … provided a new and safe alternative to alcoholic drinks. Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and stimulated, rather than relaxed and mildly inebriated, and the quality and quantity of their work improved … Western Europe began to emerge from an alcoholic haze that had lasted for centuries.”
Coffeehouses quickly became important social hubs, where patrons debated politics and philosophy. Adam Smith, the father of economics, frequented a coffeehouse called Cockspur Street and another called the Turk’s Head, while working on The Wealth of Nations.

After the Boston Tea Party, many Americans opted for coffee over tea, raising their caffeine intake. Thomas Jefferson called coffee, “the favorite drink of the civilized world.” Even today, Americans consume three times more coffee than tea. In the words of historian Mark Pendergrast, “The French Revolution and the American Revolution were planned in coffeehouses.”

The Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution saw an explosion of innovation and new ideas. Living standards skyrocketed. New forms of government arose. More recently, globalization took the classical liberal ideal of peaceful exchange to new heights and reduced worldwide inequality.

Today, despite population growth, fewer people live in poverty than ever before. People live longer lives, are better educated, and many more enjoy the blessings of liberal democracy than was the case decades ago.

Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug worldwide. Alcohol gave civilization its start, and it certainly helped the species drown its sorrows during the grinding poverty of much of human history. But it was caffeine that gave us the Enlightenment and helped us achieve prosperity.

A version of this first appeared in USA Today.
Scientists Freeze Multiple Sclerosis Progression

A new multiple sclerosis treatment seems to stop the progression of the disease in nearly half of patients. A study found that 46% of patients who underwent the treatment did not suffer a worsening of their condition for 5 years. The treatment could give hope to the estimated 100,000 people in the UK affected by MS, for which there is currently no cure. The treatment – autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT) – was given to patients with advanced MS who failed to respond to other medications. Similar approaches have been trialed on people with certain cancers, with encouraging early results. The treatment, however, involving aggressive chemotherapy, still carries “significant risks.” The treatment worked for 1/3 of patients with severe, progressive MS. 

Life Expectancy to Rise Globally through 2030

Studies predict that in 2030 South Korean women will be the first in the world to have an average life expectancy above 90 and that the gap between men and women will start to close in most countries. Japan currently has the highest life expectancy for women, but researchers predict South Korea and France will soon do even better. Men have traditionally had unhealthier lifestyles and therefore shorter life expectancies, but as lifestyles become more similar, the gap closes. The study takes account of different factors like smoking rates, medical advances and obesity patterns. 

Scientists Crack A 50-Year-Old Mystery About The Measles Vaccine

Vaccines may be even  more beneficial than previously thought. When the measles vaccine came out, scientists noticed that childhood deaths from all infectious diseases plummeted – deaths from pneumonia and even diarrhea, for example, were cut by half. Scientists observed the same phenomenon when the vaccine reached developing countries. Previously, it was unknown why children cease dying at high rates from infections following introduction of the measles vaccine. Scientists may have  unraveled the mystery: they hypothesize that measles predisposes children to all other infectious diseases by suppressing the immune system for a number of years. Measles does this by causing the body to “forget” diseases it has already faced and formed antibodies to fight, forcing the body to build up those defenses again from scratch. Another reason to celebrate the spread of the measles vaccine!
February 23, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
A shocking statistic has come to light: Venezuelans lost 19 pounds on average over the past year because of food shortages.

There was a time when hunger was a near-universal experience. As Kevin D. Williamson put it, “Not long ago, the great dream and aspiration of most of the people walking this Earth was to have enough to eat, for themselves and for their children, and to be liberated from worrying about whether they would eat again tomorrow or the next day.”

Then, something changed. Exchange and specialization helped bring down food prices. A burst of innovations called the Green Revolution led to higher agricultural productivity and decreased food prices even further. Even as the world’s population grew, the market ensured that the supply of food rose to meet growing demand.

The global numbers are heartening. The share of the world’s population suffering from hunger is shrinking. Despite population growth, the total number of undernourished persons is lower as well. Even those who are food-deprived are less severely malnourished than in the past. Humanity now produces more than enough food to theoretically feed everyone on Earth the recommended 2,000 calories per day.

Hunger was declining in Venezuela too until recently. The percentage of Venezuela’s population suffering from undernourishment fell from 14% in 1991 to “5% or lower” in 2015, the latest year for which the United Nations has data. Since then, the situation has rapidly deteriorated. In a single year, the number of cases of severely undernourished children in Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, doubled.

The reason? Venezuela’s socialist economic policies, briefly sustained by fleeting high oil prices, led to hyperinflation and a societal collapse. If Venezuela continues on its present course, hunger is likely to become more widespread.

We can all be thankful that undernourishment has become rarer globally. But the case of Venezuela demonstrates that progress is not inevitable—suicidal economic policies, like socialism, can rapidly extinguish the prosperity we enjoy.

February 22, 2017
By Grace Carr
Computers and Phones Solve Skin Cancer Cases

Early detection of melanoma can be a matter of life and death. Skin cancer afflicts 1 in 5 Americans and is also a widespread global problem. But many people around the world lack ready access to a dermatologist. There may be a solution however, for researchers at Stanford University have discovered a way to get a computer to identify skin cancer, and the hope is that soon smartphones will be able to do the same. The researchers started out with a Google-supplied algorithm specially designed to learn from experience. The scientists fed 127,463 images of skin lesions, from 2,032 different diseases to the algorithm, which learned which patterns were associated with certain disorders. It can now distinguishbetween  harmless moles and the most common and curable cancers to the deadliest skin cancers. As the number of smartphones grows, this project could have a huge impact.

Virtual Reality Headset Eyes For the Blind

The company eSight has developed a visor, weighing less than a quarter pound and operated by hand-held remote, that captures the world through a camera system and displays it on OLED screens that sit close to the eyes. The visor dramatically amplifies sight for legally blind persons and those with impaired vision caused by ailments like Stargardt disease. ESight is taking advantage of tech that is cheaper, smaller, and faster than before and has been used to create smartphones and virtual-reality headsets. The eSight visor has been in development for 10 years but has now reached a level of functional maturity.  Using a hand-held controller, users can zoom and pan. The device can also be useful for the people with low vision who benefit from magnification. Persons using eSight report immediately seeing a boost in quality of life. The biggest remaining hurdle is lowering the cost of production so that the visors can be sold at an affordable price.

Smartphones Repurposed as Pocket Doctors

Smartphones will soon be able to monitor bone density, calculate red blood cell levels, and even predict asthma attacks. Scientists are repurposing technology to develop an app that can detect red blood cell levels and therefore quickly spot anemia. Researchers also believe future users will be able to tap phones over their bones to check for osteoporosis and use the microphone to test lung function. Researchers have also been working on using smartphones and computers to help support patients who are dealing with chronic conditions like diabetes or cancer, reminding them of which symptoms to expect on specific days and how to prepare. It seems highly likely that remote disease management via smartphone is in our near future.

Miracle Face Transplants Now Possible

The first full face transplant was just performed, giving a man a nose, cheeks, mouth, lips, jaw, chin, and teeth from a donor. The man had attempted suicide, putting a rifle beneath his chin and pulling the trigger. He survived but suffered a shattered mouth and nose, and had only two remaining teeth as well as little vision. A medical team reconstructed his upper and lower jaw with bone, muscle, and skin from the hip and a leg. They reconnected facial bones with titanium plates and screws. But that was not enough, and so he was added to the face transplant list. A medical team that had rehearsed the procedure for three and a half years successfully performed the surgery in 56-hours. It took about 24 hours to procure the donor’s face – which involved taking bone, muscle, skin, and nerves – and roughly 32 hours to rebuild the patient’s face. Today, his face looks and functions normally: the man has been given a second chance at life. 

February 16, 2017
By Grace Carr
Human Gene Editing Receives Science Panel’s Support  

The National Science and Medical Academies has given approval to clinical efforts to prevent horrific diseases through gene editing. Procedures include altering human eggs, sperm, and embryos to prevent babies from inheriting genes known to cause serious diseases and disability. To ease the fears of those who are worried that these gene editing techniques could be used to select desirable traits and create designer children, there are strict limitations on who would qualify for gene modification – e.g., individuals carrying two copies of the genetic mutation that causes Huntington’s disease. Crispr-Cas9, the gene-editing tool that allows researchers to snip, insert, and delete genetic material, is extremely precise, but it will be several years before the technology can be perfected and shown to work on humans. Scientists are currently testing the technology on mice.

Possibilities for Bionic Bodies Keep Expanding 

Bionic technology is transforming lives. Robotic exoskeletons now allow paraplegics to walk again. A bionic eye, Argus II, partially restores vision: the detection of light, shapes, obstacles, and movement. A brain implant called the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) reads brainwaves to let wheelchair-bound patients move bionic hands. Mobile prosthetic arms that connect electrodes to nerves and muscles are now possible, restoring not only hand use but sensory experience. Bionic legs free patients from wheelchairs, helping them stand, walk slowly and exercise. An artificial pancreas that can monitor blood sugar and accurately pump insulin now provides an alternative to insulin injections for people with diabetes. The possibilities continue expanding.  

Uber Hires Veteran NASA Engineer to Develop Flying Cars  

In 2010, NASA aircraft engineer Mark Moore outlined the possibility of creating small electric aircraft that would provide a quicker and more interesting way to get to work than most commuters currently enjoy. Moore has left NASA to join Uber as the Director of Engineering for “Uber Elevate.” Uber isn’t constructing a flying car yet though, and many obstacles (not all technical) stand in the way. Uber Elevate must negotiate with suppliers to get prices down as well as lobby regulators to certify the new aircraft and reduce air-traffic restrictions. Uber envisions pairing conventional Ubers with “vertiports” that will fly commuters to work. Moore predicts that we will see several flying cars in the next few years and enthusiastically turns to the private industry to most efficiently develop promising new aviation markets.  

Biologists help deaf mice hear again by inserting healthy genes into their ears  

Deafness affects millions of people, and genetics cause roughly half of these cases. Now, medical researchers have been able to restore hearing in mice by inserting mutated genes into their bodies. In their experiments, scientists administered Usher syndrome type IC (which causes deafness, balance dysfunction, and blindness in human children) into mice. To improve and eliminate hearing loss, the research team injected a synthetic virus with a curative gene into the mice’s ears. It was the first time scientists have been able to identify a virus that can enter the inner ear and deliver genes to the inner and outer hair cells required for normal hearing ability. They can now effectively restore hearing by gene transfer. Researchers tested the gene transfer method with human tissue with promising results.   
February 15, 2017
By Maximilian Wirth
As the BBC recently pointed out, our prehistoric ancestors needed to gather and chop “wood 10 hours a day for six days… [in order to] produce 1,000 lumen hours of light… That is the equivalent of one modern light bulb shining for just 54 minutes, although what you would actually get is many more hours of dim, flickering light instead.”

Even when better alternatives, such as candles, became available, it was still prohibitively expensive to light the house for the common person. Further, the first candles were produced from animal fat and not from the clean burning paraffin wax we use today, producing a flickering smelly flame.

It wasn’t until the 18th century that spermaceti candles, which were made from a waxy substance found in the head cavities of sperm whales, and were much less time-consuming to produce, became more readily available. But even then, reading light remained very expensive (not to mention terminal for the whales). George Washington calculated that five hours of reading per night cost him £8 yearly - well over $1,000 in today's dollars.

The light bulb changed everything.

By 1900, 60 hours of work could provide 10 days of light. The light bulbs would burn 100 times as bright as a candle, steadily, and inodorously. By 1920, 60 hours of work could already pay for 5 months of stable light. By 1990, that increased to 10 years of light. Today? 52 years.

And progress has not stopped yet. LED lights continue to become cheaper and cheaper.

The amount of labor that once bought 54 minutes of light now buys 52 years of light. The cost has fallen by a factor of 500,000 and the quality of that light has transformed from unstable and risky to clean, safe, and controllable.

Like a myriad of other products we take for granted today, light has turned from something too precious to use into something everyone can afford.

It’s been a busy time for nuclear weapons-related news—between President Trump’s alleged confusion about and denouncement of the New START arms reduction treaty with Russia on Friday, the White House’s subsequent assurances that the president understands the treaty, and North Korea’s missile launch test over the weekend.

The people behind the “Doomsday Clock,” have declared that the world is “two and a half minutes to midnight.” That’s the closest we’ve allegedly been to Armageddon since 1953, when both the U.S. and Soviet Union first possessed thermonuclear weapons.

A graph from might help put the current fearful commotion in perspective.

The U.S. has 4,000 nuclear warheads stockpiled and Russia has 4,490, according to the Federation of American Scientists, a group devoted to arms reduction, as of their latest data update on January 31st of this year. 
How dangerous is a single warhead? That varies. The most powerful one ever made, the Soviet Tsar Bomba, detonated in a remote area in 1961, created a fireball with a radius of nearly two miles, and a thermal radiation blast able to cause third-degree burns within a radius of almost 50 miles. North Korea’s most powerful warhead tested to date, in contrast, would cause third-degree burns within a radius of less than 2 miles. (If you’re curious about exactly how much of your hometown a warhead would destroy, there’s an app for that).

The graph shows that the U.S. and Russia still have enough warheads to wage a deadly nuclear conflict, but the situation is a far cry from how things stood during the Cold War. The U.S.S.R.’s number of warheads peaked at 40,149 in 1986; the U.S.’s peaked earlier, at 31,255 warheads in 1967. In other words, Russia’s stockpile of warheads today is 11% of what the U.S.S.R.’s was at its peak. The U.S.’s stockpile is 13% of what it was at its peak.

The tension between the two great nuclear powers is also far lower today than it was in the days of constant nuclear drills for schoolchildren accompanied by inane videos. As my colleague Ted Galen Carpenter put it, President Trump has repeatedly “angered advocates of a new Cold War against Russia,” through his eagerness to cooperate with Moscow.
(However, he has also pointed out that the recent spat over New START might signal a change in Trump’s attitude towards Russia).

No one can predict the future, but a little historical perspective suggests that the threat of a nuclear apocalypse is farther than the Doomsday Clock’s hands claim.

You can explore data on the other nuclear powers’ stockpiles (excluding secretive North Korea) here.

February 10, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
On June 23, 2016, the British people voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. The shock on both sides of the English Channel was palpable and two schools of thought on the impending divorce between the U.K. and the EU have emerged.

The proponents of Brexit emphasize the benefits of free trade and continued (albeit inter-governmental and no longer supra-national) cooperation between the U.K. and the EU. They argue that an acrimonious divorce between the two would help neither party. Britain, they say, imports much more from the EU than the EU does from Britain, and a tariff war between the U.K. and the EU would not be in Europe's interest. They also argue that Britain, being a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is needed to counterbalance Russia. Britain's European partners within NATO, therefore, have an incentive to keep the U.K. more-or-less happy.

The opponents of Brexit have warned that a vote in favor of the U.K.'s withdrawal from the EU would result in economic meltdown on the British Isles. Mercifully that has (so far) not come to pass, but that does not mean that Brexit negotiations will be plain sailing. The Eurocrats in Brussels, who will negotiate the terms of the British withdrawal from the EU, face their own set of incentives. Make the divorce between the EU and the U.K. too pleasant, they contend, and other EU countries may decide to follow the British example and leave the EU as well.

In the months that have followed the Brexit referendum, the two sides have been maneuvering to occupy the high ground once the actual negotiations on Brexit commence. (That should happen by the end of March 2017, when the British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which deals with a member country's withdrawal from the EU.)

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, for example, let it be known that "Britain could transform its economic model into that of a corporate tax haven if the EU fails to provide it with an agreement on market access after Brexit."

"I personally hope we will be able to remain in the mainstream of European economic and social thinking," Hammond said, "but if we are forced to be something different, then we will have to become something different… We could be forced to change our economic model, and we will have to change our model to regain competitiveness. And you [Europeans] can be sure we will do whatever we have to do."

The U.K. ministers, hope to "force EU leaders to give them a good Brexit deal by drafting legislation proving their threat to slash taxes is real. Ready-to-go Budgets will be drawn up cutting corporation tax and scrapping regulations if the negotiations are stalling... The move is designed to show those on the other side of the negotiating table that Britain is serious about becoming 'the new Singapore' unless trade barriers are kept low." Why Singapore? Let's look at a couple of statistics.

In 1950, GDP per capita adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity was $5,689.91 in Singapore. It was $11,920.58 in the U.K. Average income in Singapore, in other words, amounted to 48 percent of that in the U.K. In 2016, income in Singapore was $82,168.33 and $42,287.17 in the U.K. Put differently, Singaporeans earned 94 percent more than the British. During the intervening years, Singaporean incomes rose by 1,344 percent, while British incomes rose by 256 percent. (A similar story could be told about life expectancy.)

Based on these two telling statistics alone, the "threat" of Singaporean tax rates and regulatory framework ought not to be a mere negotiating strategy for the British government vis-a-vis the EU. It ought to be a goal of the British decision makers—regardless of what the EU decides!

This article first appeared in Reason.