About a decade ago, I flew to Oslo at the invitation of Norway's center-right party called Høyre. Back then, Høyre was in opposition, although today it forms a part of Norway's governing coalition. Its head, Erna Solberg, whom I met on the trip, is the country's prime minister. During my stay in the country I gave a couple of talks on trade protectionism, advising the Norwegians to keep the millions of krone they send to Africa as foreign aid (where it gets promptly stolen by local cleptocrats) and open their borders to African agricultural exports instead.

"Norway," some people objected, "has stringent food safety standards and Norwegians are used to high quality products." This, I pointed out, does not necessarily amount to much. At the time of my trip, the country was suffering from a domestic E. coli outbreak, and infections "have left several children with kidney failure." Moreover, like people elsewhere, many Norwegians shop with an eye on the price, not the national origin of the food they eat (i.e., irrespective of food safety standards). Thus, Norwegians shop in cheaper Sweden; Swedes shop in Denmark and Danes shop in Germany. In pursuit of a bargain, Germans do some of their shopping in Poland.

I thought of my Norwegian trip, because of a recent news item pertaining to Brexit and the United Kingdom's desire to secure free trade deals with other large economies prior to Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. One of the planned free trade deals includes—the horror of horrors—the United States. Europeans have been brainwashed about the supposed dangers of American food for decades. The EU, for example, bans the import of hormone-treated American beef as well as chlorine-washed chickens. American GMOs, especially, have been anathematized. It will come as no surprise that EU farmers, looking out for their own interests, are strong supporters of the bans.

Along with high import tariffs and import quotas, the EU's outright bans on foreign food items ensure that food prices in Europe are kept artificially high. "EU protectionism," a House of Lords study found earlier this year, "means that huge additional expense is imposed on consumers who might wish to buy products from outside the bloc: on dairy products tariffs are 54 per cent, on sugar 31 per cent and on cereals 22 per cent. It is not surprising that food prices in the EU are significantly higher than world food prices."

Indeed, one of the greatest attractions of Brexit is that the United Kingdom will, once again, be in charge of its own trade policy and able to eliminate bans, tariffs and quotas on agricultural imports, thus making food more affordable to those on the British Isles. Predictably, not everyone is on board with the trade liberalization agenda and British Secretary of State for International Trade Dr. Liam Fox is being raked over the coals for his willingness to allow American "chlorine-washed chicken... [to be] sold in Britain as part of a potential trade deal with the U.S. after Brexit."

Listening to some of the news coverage, you would have thought that American health and safety standards are non-existent, and Americans are being poisoned en masse by the unscrupulous U.S. food industry. Needless to say, chlorine-washed chicken is perfectly safe to eat, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (that notorious tool of capitalism) reaffirmed just last year.

Why is this important? If the U.S.-U.K. trade negotiations stall because British food activists and protectionists refuse to recognize U.S. health and safety standards, one of the main benefits of Brexit—the lowering of British food prices—will be undermined. I have a better idea. Put a large sticker with the American flag on every U.S. chicken sold in the United Kingdom and let the British consumers decide if they are brave enough to buy it. If Norwegian consumers can devour a plate of Swedish meatballs at Ikea, British consumers can chow down an American chicken breast and save a few pennies to boot!

July 21, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Factories producing Ivanka Trump-brand clothing have recently drawn “sweatshop” accusations. Of course, the United States had its own sweatshops once, often with worse conditions than factories in poor countries today.

Those who imagine Industrial Revolution factory work in the United States as a dark and oppressive moment in history might benefit from reading the words of those who lived through it. “Farm to Factory: Women’s Letters, 1830-1860,” published by Columbia University Press, provides a collection of first-hand accounts revealing a more nuanced reality.

The letters do indeed reveal abject misery, but much of that misery comes from nineteenth-century farm life. To many women, factory work was an escape from this backbreaking agricultural labor. Consider this excerpt from a letter a young woman on a New Hampshire farm wrote to her urban factory-worker sister in 1845. (The spelling and punctuation are modernized for readability.)
Between my housework and dairying, spinning, weaving and raking hay I find but little time to write … This morning I fainted away and had to lie on the shed floor fifteen or twenty minutes for any comfort before I could get to bed. And to pay for it tomorrow I have got to wash [the laundry], churn [butter], bake [bread] and make a cheese and go … blackberrying [blackberry-picking].
By contrast, cities often offered somewhat better living standards. Far more women sought factory work than there were factory jobs available.

A closer look at the letters in the book reveals the incredibly varied lives of the “factory girls.” Consider the life of Delia Page. With a substantial inheritance, she was never in need of money. But at age 18, Delia decided to move away from her rural home and work in a factory in New Hampshire. She did that despite the dangers of factory work. A mill in nearby Massachusetts collapsed in a fire that killed 88 people and seriously injured more than 100 others. Delia’s foster family wrote to her about the tragedy and their fears for her wellbeing. But she defiantly continued factory work for several years.

What led well-to-do Delia to seek out factory work in spite of the danger and long hours? The answer is social independence. In their letters, her foster family repeatedly urges her to break off what they saw as an indecent affair with a scandal-ridden man, implores her to attend church and subtly suggests she come home. But by working in a factory, Delia was free to live on her own terms. To her, that was worth it.

The unique story of Emeline Larcom also emerges from the letters. Emeline’s background could not have been more different from Delia’s. Her father died at sea, and her mother, widowed with twelve children, struggled to support the family. Emeline and three of her sisters found gainful employment at a factory and sent money home to support their mother and other siblings. Emeline, the oldest of the four Larcom factory girls, essentially raised the other three. One of them, Lucy, went on to become a noted poet, professor, and an abolitionist against slavery. Her own memoirs cast mill work in a positive light.

Of the diverse personalities captured in the letters, only one openly despises her work in the mill. Mary Paul was a restless spirit. She moved from town to town, sometimes working in factories, sometimes trying her hand at other forms of employment such as tailoring, but never staying anywhere for long. She loathed factory work, but it enabled her to save up enough money to pursue her dream: buying entry into a Utopian agricultural community that operated on proto-socialist principles.

She enjoyed living at the “North American Phalanx” and working only three hours a day—while it lasted. But as with all such communities, it ran into money problems, exacerbated by a barn fire, and she had to leave. She eventually settled down, married a shopkeeper, and—her letters seem to hint—became involved in the early “temperance” movement to ban alcohol (another ultimately ill-fated venture).

Delia, Emeline, and Mary provide a glimpse of the different ways that factory work affected women during the Industrial Revolution. Wealthy Delia gained the social independence she sought and Emeline was able to support her family. Even Mary, who detested factories, was ultimately only able to chase her (ill-advised) dream through factory work.

Although the Industrial Revolution is commonly vilified, it was an important first step toward increasing women’s socioeconomic mobility and ultimately brought about prosperity unimaginable in the pre-industrial world. The pace of industrial economic development may even be speeding up. In South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, the process of moving from sweatshops to First World living standards took less than two generations as opposed to a century in the United States.

Today, across the developing world, factory work continues to serve as a path out of poverty and an escape from agricultural drudgery, with particular benefits for women seeking economic independence. In China, many women move on from factories to white-collar careers or start their own small businesses. Very few choose to return to subsistence farming.

In poorer Bangladesh, factory work has increased women’s educational attainment while lowering rates of child marriage. The country’s garment industry has also softened the norm of purdah or seclusion that traditionally prevented women from working or even walking outside unaccompanied by a male guardian.

Women factory workers are often thought of as “undifferentiated, homogenous, faceless and voiceless” passive victims, but even a cursory examination of their words and lives reveals unique individuals with agency. Today, just as in the nineteenth century, industrialization not only spurs economic development and reduces poverty, but also expands women’s options.

This first appeared in The Federalist.
July 21, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
One of the reasons for starting Human Progress in 2013 was to allow the users of the website to see the multitude of ways in which the state of humanity was improving. While most people already know that we live longer and earn higher incomes than our ancestors, many people fail to appreciate that the story of human progress is truly multidimensional, including (in alphabetical order) increases in charitable contributions, improved communications, improving business environment and economic freedom, better access to education and cheap energy, a cleaner environment, more food, greater gender equality, improved governance (on average), better health, improved housing, an overall rise in human freedom, progress in labor (fewer work hours and fewer on-the-job injuries), more leisure time, falling prices of most natural resources, increased tourism, cheaper and safer transportation, declining violence and, as mentioned, growing wealth. Our website allows users to access over 1,100 datasets and millions of data points related to all of the above areas of progress and much more. So, as a shameless plug for our website, we have compiled a random list of 40 ways in which the world is getting better, giving all of us, I hope, grounds for optimism about the future.
  1. More people than ever own a personal computer
  2. In just over a decade, it has become substantially easier to start a business
  3. More people than ever have access to sound money
  4. For children aged 7 and under, the expected average years of schooling has never been higher
  5. Global coal consumption is trending downward, thus easing CO2 emissions
  6. Chlorofluorocarbon consumption has reached an all-time low
  7. Wheat yields for U.S. agriculture have never been higher
  8. Internet access in schools has substantially increased
  9. On average, freedom of the press has never been higher
  10. Access to improved sanitation facilities has sky-rocketed
  11. The size of new U.S. homes increases every year
  12. Global labor productivity has shot up over the last six decades
  13. The aerospace industry adds billions of dollars of value to economy
  14. Tourism accounts for a growing share of world GDP
  15. Sales revenue for U.S. manufacturing firms continues to grow
  16. More people than ever are traveling by air
  17. Support for gay marriage in the U.S. has grown greatly
  18. The percent of people living in extreme poverty has never been lower
  19. There are more cellular subscriptions than people
  20. Less regulation of credit, labor, and business has increased economic freedom
  21. Youth literacy has reached an all-time high
  22. U.S. energy consumption has decreased
  23. The price of common food items has declined
  24. Globally, the number of women in the labor force has never been higher
  25. The world is becoming more innovative with each year
  26. More children than ever are being vaccinated for polio
  27. In Europe, ovarian cancer death rates are at an all-time low
  28. In the developing world, share of people living in slums is decreasing
  29. The amount of time women spend on laundry has dropped significantly
  30. The global satellite industry revenue increases by billions every year
  31. Tourism increases as travel becomes easier
  32. Car ownership rates have hit an all-time high
  33. Execution rates in the U.S. have hit an all-time low
  34. U.S. families are adopting new technology at a quicker pace than before
  35. Internet use has sky-rocketed
  36. There are fewer undernourished people than ever before
  37. The amount of work-related injuries has never been lower
  38. The quality of primary schooling hit an all-time high
  39. Cancer rates are declining
  40. The number of people who smoke on a daily basis has never been lower
This first appeared in Reason.
July 14, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Biohacking Could Make Us Happier, Healthier and More Productive

Stanford wiz kid and ex-Google employee Michael Brandt recently told CNBC that his company, HVMN is developing a line of supplements designed to boost human productivity. Brandt is pioneering a concept called “biohacking,” which seeks to integrate cyber and biotech to enhance human bodily performance. Nootrobox, one of Brandt’s other startups already sells a brand of supplements designed to improve cognitive functions as well as chewable coffee (Go Cubes), a competitor to 5 Hour Energy drinks. Armed with funding from a prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm, his next act could mark the dawn of a health and wellness revolution.

Want to Slow Aging? A Shark May Hold the Key

A shark is the last place most would expect to find a possible remedy for aging, but that’s exactly what scientists found. The 392 year old Greenland shark is thought to have “long life” genes embedded within its DNA, making its immensely long life possible. Scientists are now in the process of sequencing the shark’s DNA in order to identify the “long life” genes that could lead to breakthroughs essential for developing human anti-aging drugs.

Robots to Perform Knee Surgeries

Of those who have previously undergone a knee operation, only 65% report satisfaction. In response, surgeons are increasingly relying on robots to improve each operation’s accuracy and precision. Tech firms are engaged in a global race to develop and sell new robotic surgical systems for hospitals looking to gain an edge in knee procedures. Stryker spent $1.65 billion to purchase a medical robotics firm and Verily Health Sciences along with Johnson & Johnson are also spending big to enter the space.

Genetically Modified Bananas Could Help Solve Malnutrition

What do you get when you put technology, scientists and bananas together? A possible way to curb the nearly 175,000 deaths that occur each year in countries like Uganda, where children perish from a lack of sufficient vitamin A in their diets. Scientists are in the experimental stage of developing bananas with high levels of vitamin A that could easily be integrated into African agriculture and could serve as a remedy to malnutrition. Public suspicion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is undeserved, as genetically modified food staples like these vitamin-enriched bananas may save hundreds of thousands of children from blindness and death.

Better Communication for Earthlings and Martians

A team of scientists in Tokyo announced last year that they are making major strides in an effort to encode information in photon beams that could be easily transmitted long distances in space. If successful, this new technology could significantly improve the speed and security of data transmissions while making it possible to more easily communicate with future settlements on Mars – instead of relying on radio waves that only transfer small amounts of information at once. The Tokyo team hopes that one day small infrared lasers mounted on fleets of mini-satellites could act as transmitters and receivers, quickly transferring data via light rays directly to their intended destinations.

A.I. is Bad News for Thieves

Much has been said about artificial intelligence (A.I.), but one often overlooked aspect of the technology’s potential is how it could help stop thieves and other criminals. QuantaVerse developed an A.I. enabled software that identifies patterns of suspicious financial activity and reports it to bank staff and law enforcement. The system learns on its own and adapts to new strategies employed by criminals. While the technology is still in its infancy, it could eventually play a key role in fighting fraud and protecting the money in your bank account.

July 14, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Last week on CapX I explained why the theoretical case for foreign aid is, at best, questionable, and why aid’s practical impact on some of the world’s poorest economies may well have been harmful. The case against aid doesn’t stop there. There are also problems with aid delivery and the negative impact of foreign aid on the spread of democracy.

Official aid is disbursed in a plethora of ways. The European Union, for example, gives aid through the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid. But individual EU member-states also have their own aid agencies. Europeans also have a strong voice on the governing boards of the World Bank and IMF, which also disburse aid. In addition to those official agencies, there has been a massive increase in the number of aid-promoting non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which also receive and disburse the money of Western taxpayers.

The “aid industry” provides employment for many thousands of people. Consequently, a large percentage of the money spent on foreign aid goes to cover overhead costs, including administration, travel and accommodation. Michael Maren, a former aid worker, writes that the money spent on aid bureaucracies creates perverse incentives. “We have to take advantage of this famine to expand our regular program,” argued one aid official that Maren encountered in Africa. She saw hunger and poverty as “a growth opportunity”. “Whatever the original intentions,” Maren notes, “aid programs had become an end in themselves.”

Dealing with swarms of donors and aid agencies, all of whom require some degree of attention, puts an enormous strain on African bureaucracies. The time and effort spent on dealing with the needs of foreign donors rather than concentrating on the population has further distanced African governments from their electorates. Working with aid organizations operating in Kenya, for example, became such a problem that the “government and donors… agreed on some principles of partnership that included a ‘quiet time’ between May 1 and June 30 each year.”

Moreover, effective and efficient delivery of aid by a multitude of actors has proved to be an insurmountable challenge. Often, it has resulted in “duplication” of their efforts. Thus, “monitoring surveys indicate that limited progress has been made toward coordination goals by the United States or donors in general.” In Ethiopia, for instance, government officials spend “half to one-third of their time” participating in “coordination meetings” with a multitude of NGOs, international aid agencies and bilateral donors.

Also, many foreign donors have their own agendas that may be detrimental to the welfare of the very people they are supposed to be there to help. Like the 19th-century European missionaries who went to Africa to spread their idea of a “good life”, modern day aid missionaries have found in Africa a fertile ground for social experiments that would never be accepted in their home countries. Tanzania, for example, is still recovering from an attempt to centrally plan the economy, the so-called “Ujaama” policy of collectivization that was bankrolled to the tune of $10 billion by socialist governments in Scandinavian countries in the 1970s and 1980s. Similarly, some Western NGOs, like Oxfam, have urged African countries not to liberalise their trade regimes even though there is a general consensus among academics that free trade is an important source of economic growth and prosperity.

Research also suggests that some aid ends up in the pockets of government bureaucrats instead of reaching the intended beneficiaries. During a 2012 panel on economic and social policy, then World Bank President Ban Ki-moon claimed that 30 per cent of development aid “failed to reach its final destination”. A leaked 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in Nairobi revealed that $1.3 million in aid for schools was “misappropriated” and another $17.3 million worth of textbooks purchased with aid dollars was “lost” by government officials.

Aid also encourages rent-seeking in recipient countries. Special interest groups and individuals focus their efforts not on being productive, but on lobbying government officials in order to get access to aid. In that way, aid reduces potential economic output and encourages corruption and political conflict.

Moreover, by transferring resources to the favored projects of government officials, competition among domestic producers is undermined. As a result of government favoritism, parts of the domestic consumer base may become captive to firms that provide shoddy and expensive goods and services.

Similarly, aid can undermine the international competitiveness of African exports by artificially strengthening the local currency. As researchers at the IMF found, “aid inflows have systematic adverse effects on a [recipient] country’s competitiveness, as reflected in a decline in the share of labor intensive and tradable industries in the manufacturing sector. We… [found] evidence suggesting that these effects stem from the real exchange rate overvaluation caused by aid inflows.”

Making these matters worse is the lack of accountability and feedback in the aid industry. Very few aid agencies and virtually no individuals are directly responsible for specific outcomes. Independent evaluations of the effectiveness of donor efforts to alleviate poverty or to arrest the spread of disease, for example, are very rare. Moreover, the donors often determine what they will supply without much regard for what is actually needed. This top-down approach has most spectacularly failed to alleviate poverty in Africa where government accountability is weak and institutional deficiencies extensive.

But does aid, in spite of the many problems with its delivery, promote democracy? Many people, including former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, have argued that it does. Researchers from the World Bank, however, found no evidence that aid promoted democracy between 1975 and 2000. In fact, the aid agencies have repeatedly bankrolled some of the world’s most unsavory regimes. According to one study, “The world’s 25 most undemocratic government rulers (out of 199 countries the World Bank rated on democracy) got a sum of $9 billion in foreign aid in 2002. Similarly, the world’s 25 most-corrupt countries got $9.4 billion in foreign aid in 2002.”

Other research goes further, suggesting that aid may hurt democratic development in developing countries. That may be the case for several reasons. Aid helps to undermine democratic accountability in Africa, because African governments find themselves increasingly answerable to the donors, not to the public. Government spending proposals, for example, allocate funds in accordance with the advice of foreign experts rather than the wishes of the electorate.

Aid encourages military spending. Since aid is fungible, it helps some recipient governments free up resources for military purchases that would otherwise be spent on roads and education, for example. Consider the World Bank’s recent contribution of $180 million toward the building of the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline. Fearing that the oil revenue would be misspent, the World Bank got the Chadian government to commit to spending it on education, health, and infrastructure. What was the result? “The first $4.5 million received as a signing bonus from the oil companies was used to buy weapons—and it is estimated that as much as $12 million may be diverted to buy arms.”

In fact, Professor Paul Collier of Oxford University found that “something around 40 per cent of Africa’s military spending is inadvertently financed by aid.” Aid may also fuel armed competition for resources. There is some evidence, for example, that Somalia’s civil war was prolonged by the competition between different factions for the large amounts of food aid that the country was receiving.

A growing number of Africans question the effects of foreign aid on economic growth and democracy in Africa. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, for example, has urged Africans “to be honest about the consequences of aid dependence,” for “what really matters most for socio-economic transformation is private capital.” He has called on African governments to create policy environments in which entrepreneurs can flourish. Others, like Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda, have pointed to the negative political impact of aid. According to Mwenda, “foreign aid… is providing the government with an independent source of ‘unearned’ revenue. That allows the government to avoid accountability to Uganda’s citizens.” Unfortunately, when Mwenda spoke out against further aid at the 2007 TED Conference, the enraged Irish musician Bono heckled Mwenda with shouts of “Bollocks!” and “That’s bullshit.”

Not only has aid failed to deliver growth in Africa. It hasn’t helped democracy either. Western donors, including the United Kingdom, should re-evaluate their commitment to further disbursements of aid to the continent.

This first appeared on CapX.
The 4th of July marked 241 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed and many writers will, I am sure, take stock of the improvements that have taken place since 1776. It may, for example, be of interest that in 1776, nine out of ten Americans were involved in agriculture and the real average income per person was 23 times lower than what it is today. At $1,235 (in 1990 dollars), Americans were merely six percent richer than the global average. By 2010, Americans earned $30,491 or 390 percent of the global average.

One of the root causes of the great income gap that has emerged between the United States on the one hand and much of the rest of the world on the other, was economic freedom. Prior to the dawn of the Progressive Era, Americans went about their business largely unmolested by the government. In the early decades of the 20th century, however, taxes rose and regulations expanded. The Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World report has been measuring economic freedom since 1970, which is apposite, since the 1970s marked the culmination of the progressive meddling in the economy. Stagflation, which characterized that decade, led to some deregulation under Jimmy Carter, but the real return to economic freedom happened under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and culminated in the year 2000 under the stewardship of Bill Clinton. The George W. Bush and Barack Obama duumvirate reversed that trend.

Economic literature strongly suggests that economic freedom and growth go hand in hand. Could it be, I wonder, that our declining freedom is, at least in part, responsible for the slow growth rates that we have seen since the start of the new millennium? And that brings me to the other anniversary that happened last week. On July 1, Hong Kong marked 20 years since it passed from British to Chinese hands. It has not been smooth sailing, with political freedoms in the territory taking a predictable knock under the tutelage of a communist dictatorship. Mercifully, Hong Kong remains, as it has over the last four decades, the freest economy in the world.

The rise of the territory from poverty and relative obscurity to one of the most dynamic and richest places on Earth is nothing short of miraculous. Within one lifespan, Hong Kong moved from Third World status to First. Its economic performance vis-a-vis the United States is a testament to the power of economic freedom to generate impressive growth rates.

Consider that in 1950, average income per person in Hong Kong amounted to a mere 25 percent of that in the United States. In 2016, by contrast, the average resident of Hong Kong was 3 percent richer than the average American. In the intervening 66 years, the economy of the territory grew by 1,306 percent. In America, it grew by 247 percent. As we reflect on America's accomplishments since the Declaration of Independence, let us remember that political freedom, such as the one that Americans have and the people of Hong Kong lack, is not a guarantor of rapid economic growth. Economic dynamism and concomitant abundance are best served by a good dollop of freedom, which, alas, we are in the process of slowly losing.

This first appeared in Reason on the 4th of July, 2017.
July 07, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
In 2015, David Cameron’s government enshrined in law the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of its gross national income on foreign aid each year. Ahead of last month’s general election, Theresa May reaffirmed Cameron’s commitment, which amounted to over 13 billion pounds in 2016. “Let’s be clear,” May said, “the 0.7 per cent commitment remains and will remain.”

British charities, including Save the Children, Oxfam, Christian Aid and Comic Relief, praised Mrs. May’s decision, stating that “the aid should be untied, focused on poverty reduction and spent through an independent Department for International Development.” Yet many of the same organizations are also concerned about what they perceive as the lack of government spending at home.

“Grenfell Tower is a Hurricane Katrina moment, revealing the shameful state of Britain,” wrote Oxfam’s strategic adviser Duncan Green following the Grenfell Tower fire. “Austerity, which has seen the budgets of local government cut dramatically with the greatest cuts felt by the poorest areas,” was partly to blame for the disaster, he averred.

While the continued plight of the world’s poor and problems experienced by the British underclass should not occasion jokes about “magic money trees”, it is a simple fact of life that the UK, like most Western nations, must economize. The British debt and deficit amount to 86 per cent and 2.6 per cent of GDP, and while UK domestic spending is best left to British economists to address, I would like to offer some thoughts on foreign aid. And, in particular, the theory behind foreign aid and its impact on the world’s poorest region, Africa.

The first question is whether aid is necessary. In the 1950s and 1960s, many development economists believed in the “vicious cycle of poverty” theory, which argued that poverty in the developing world prevented the accumulation of domestic savings. People in poor countries consumed all of their income and had nothing left to save and invest. Low savings resulted in low domestic investment, and low investment was seen as the main impediment to rapid economic growth. Foreign aid, therefore, was intended to fill the apparent gap between insufficient savings and the requisite investment in the economy.

Today’s calls for more foreign aid are often based on the same theory. Thus, the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) website claims that it is “targeting British international development policy on economic growth and wealth creation [in poor countries].” The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) promises to work “with private-sector companies to spur economic development, so that citizens can participate in a vibrant economy that allocates resources wisely.”

Yet experience contradicts the “vicious cycle of poverty” theory. Today, many formerly poor countries enjoy high standards of living, while others have stagnated or, in some cases, regressed. For example, the 1960 per-capita income in South Korea was $1,102. In Ghana it was $1,053. By 2015 Korea had reached $25,022, while Ghana is yet to break $2,000, only rising to $1,696 (the figures are in 2010 dollars). Yet, as can be seen in the graph below, Ghana received much more in net official development aid (ODA) per capita than South Korea between 1960 and 2015 (figures are in current U.S. dollars). As New York University Professor William Easterly wrote, “It doesn’t help the poverty trap story that 11 out of the 28 poorest countries in 1985 had not been in the poorest fifth back in 1950. They had gotten into poverty by declining from above, rather than being stuck in it from below, while others escaped. If the identity of who is in the poverty trap keeps changing, it must not be much of a trap.”

Countries that improve their policies and institutions — by increasing their trade openness, limiting state intervention in the economy, building a business-friendly environment, and emphasizing protection of property rights and the rule of law — tend to grow faster than others. Such countries also tend to attract foreign capital, which can help to increase economic growth. Improvement in policies and institutions also creates a suitable environment for growth in domestic investment. As trust in institutions such as the rule of law and protection of private property grows, people feel more confident investing in the local economy.

Today, the size and the scope of global capital markets make Africa’s access to capital potentially easier than at any time in the past. Indeed, private capital flows to developing countries now dwarfs aid flows.

According to the Brookings Institution, ODA to African countries has fallen from “62 per cent of total external flows in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2012,” and the disappearing aid has been largely replaced by private capital. “The volume of external flows to the region increased from $20 billion in 1990 to above $120 billion in 2012. Most of this increase in external flows to sub-Saharan Africa can be attributed to the increase in private capital flows.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is the least economically free region in the world. There is a general consensus among economists that Africa needs to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of economic liberalization. Aid is often intended to promote policy reform, yet it has helped to create disincentives to liberalization for a number of reasons.

For example, aid is often driven by foreign policy considerations, not economics. For much of the Cold War, African countries were given bilateral and multilateral assistance on the basis of their geopolitical importance to the West and the Soviet Union. More recently, a 2015 study by AidData revealed that Chinese aid to Africa is used to both “promote Chinese foreign policy goals,” and advance “the economic interests of the Chinese state as well as Chinese firms operating abroad.” Likewise, American aid to African countries like Ethiopia is often strongly influenced by geopolitical interests. As a recent piece in the Harvard International Review noted, American aid to Ethiopia was long driven by a desire to prevent the spread of Islamic extremism in the country.

Aid has not led to economic reforms in Africa. In the 1980s, the World Bank started to promote structural adjustment loans that were meant to disburse aid to countries in exchange for their commitment to economic reforms. Such conditional lending soon proved ineffective, in part because aid agencies have no enforcement mechanism, and also because they have a well-known bureaucratic incentive to lend, which undermines the credibility of their conditionality.

In fact, aid may also actively retard policy reform. Between 1970 and 1993, for example, the World Bank and the IMF gave Zambia 18 adjustment loans with little or no reform staking place, forcing World Bank researchers to conclude that “this large amount of assistance sustained a poor policy regime.” More generally, two World Bank researchers concluded that “higher aid slowed reform [in the developing world] over the 1980–2000 period.”

Even in those countries that follow sensible macroeconomic policies, aid appears to have no positive effect and may go so far as to discourage reform. Some World Bank research claimed that developing countries that follow good fiscal, monetary, and trade policies benefit from foreign aid. But that research has been difficult to independently corroborate. Scholars who used updated World Bank data found no positive correlation between foreign aid and economic growth in countries with “good policies.” Research suggests that when governments do decide to undertake economic reforms, they tend to do so because of domestic factors, including economic crises.

In short, the theoretical case for foreign aid is, at best, questionable, and aid’s practical impact on some of the world’s poorest economies may well have been harmful.

This article first appeared in CapX.
July 06, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Since 1915, the year that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Monthly Labor Review began, labor conditions in America have changed drastically. Compared to 1915, the average American in 2015 is healthier, better educated, working less while in a safer environment, and making more money yet spending less on everyday goods. Check out the full BLS report on the progress here.
June 30, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Protesting so-called “sweatshops” in poor countries is a perennial pastime on college campuses across the United States.

Yet experts across the political spectrum—including Nobel Prize
–winning economist Paul Krugman, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Nicholas Kristof, and Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs—have argued that opposition to “sweatshops” in poor countries hurts the very workers that activists seek to help. Student activists would do well to read Benjamin Powell’s concise and persuasive defense of such factory work, “Out of Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy,” published by Cambridge University Press in 2014. The book focuses solely on the well-being of factory workers—not what would be best for factory owners or economic efficiency.

Factory workers routinely garner more publicity than the world’s poorest people, who are overwhelmingly rural and live lives of destitution precisely because they are largely untouched by global capitalism. Powell devotes his second chapter to showing that anti-factory activism receives generous funding from labor unions in the United States and Europe. These unions pay lip service to “solidarity” with workers in poor countries but are primarily focused on keeping manufacturing jobs away from poor countries. Powell suggests that unions manipulate idealistic student activists to push for high labor standards that only rich countries can meet, including “sweat-free” labeling for clothing made under those standards.

Powell presents two main arguments for why activists should change their approach: (1) taking away the option of factory work harms factory workers, and (2) factories can serve as a step in the process of economic development that ultimately cures poverty.

If someone chooses to work in a factory, she must see that as her best option. Taking away her best option without offering anything better makes her worse off. As Powell shows, prematurely raising of labor standards and wages by governments results in worse options for factory workers. In the early 1990s, Indonesia more than doubled the real value of its minimum wage in response to U.S. threats of trade restrictions—a policy pushed by U.S. student activists. This led to the closure of many manufacturing plants, and Indonesian employment fell by at least 12 and as much as 36 percent. Similarly, when Nike and Adidas limited working hours at Chinese supplier factories to ease the consciences of U.S. activists, “many workers quit, complaining that the overtime pay was no longer enough.” In South Africa, when government officials tried to shut down rural garment factories for failing to comply with minimum wage laws in 2010, “desperate clothing workers threatened to assault officials and burn their vehicles rather than lose their jobs.”

As Paul Krugman has eloquently put it, “Bad jobs at bad wages are better than no jobs at all.” (Or, as in the Chinese example, jobs at bad wages are better than jobs at even worse wages.) Yet the campaign against factories in poor countries routinely ignores the wishes of the workers themselves, limiting workers’ options.

Factory work is not only a stepping-stone out of extreme poverty for workers, but can help grow an entire economy and eradicate extreme poverty altogether. Remember, today’s wealthy countries once had their own factories with conditions often worse than those in poor countries today. In the United Kingdom, the first country to industrialize, “the process of development involving sweatshops lasted from 130 to 160 years. In the United States, the process was faster, taking around 100 years.” Powell notes that legal labor standards and the introduction of a minimum wage in those countries largely mirrored what factories were already doing—essentially codifying preexisting norms instead of prompting a change in industry practices.

The development process has gotten faster. In South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, the process of moving from industrialization to First World living standards took less than two generations, as opposed to a century in the United States. Factories helped workers in those countries escape poverty and their children achieve postindustrial prosperity. As Powell says, “Sweatshops themselves are part of the very process of development that will lead to their own elimination.”

Instead of opposing factories, activists might consider campaigns to buy goods manufactured in impoverished parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, in the name of ending poverty. “My concern is not that there are too many sweatshops but that there are too few,” Jeffrey Sachs has stated. “Those are precisely the jobs that were the steppingstone for Singapore and Hong Kong, and those are the jobs that have to come to Africa to get them out of their backbreaking rural poverty.” Foreign aid has never lifted a single country out of poverty, and in Africa aid may actually discourage needed reforms by propping up dictators. “If Africa’s economies are to take off, Africans will have to start making a lot more things,” The Economist declared three years ago. “Few countries … have escaped poverty without putting a lot of workers through factory gates.” Unfortunately, despite its growing population and need for jobs, Africa has been deindustrializing. The continent’s poor business environment and faulty institutions are partially to blame for reducing Africa’s competitiveness relative to the rest of the world.

Activists who want to help the poor should refocus their efforts on ending forced labor (slavery), corruption, and economic restrictions that stifle growth and perpetuate poverty. Governments in many poor countries score poorly in economic freedom and may violate their citizens’ property rights. Africa, the world’s poorest continent, also has the worst record on economic freedom and business environment.

People in developing nations deserve the chance to industrialize and achieve the same prosperity the West gained through its own Industrial Revolution. Infringements upon economic freedom hinder the process of development and prevent people from lifting themselves out of poverty. That is an injustice worth protesting.

A version of this first appeared in the Intercollegiate Review.

Americans spend more on healthcare than any other people in the world, yet U.S. life expectancy lags behind that in many a rich country. This discrepancy between expenditure and outcome, leftists at home and abroad argue, could be addressed by moving toward a single payer system, which would "save money, cover everyone and help us live longer." The U.S. healthcare system needs to be reformed, but is even more government intervention in our healthcare the answer? Let us first look at the data.

In 2014, Americans spent $9,400 per person in 2011 dollars adjusted for purchasing power. That's the most in the world. In second place came Monaco with $7,302. Scandinavian countries, which are often held up as examples to be emulated when it comes to life expectancy, spent less. In 2014, Denmark, Norway and Sweden spent $4,782, $6,350 and $5,218 per person respectively. In 2015, the average life expectancy in the three countries was 80.35 years, 81.66 years and 82.28 years respectively. In the United States, it was mere 79.16 years. HumanProgressorgHumanProgress.org
The United States has been drifting away from a free market in healthcare for decades. Obamacare is merely the latest, though arguably the most ambitious, attempt to regulate American healthcare so far. Still, the left feels that Obamacare did not go far enough. So, would a single payer system lead to better health outcomes in America?

Not according to Jonah Goldberg, who notes, "A recent study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation measured life expectancy by county across the United States. In 2014, a child born in Summit County, Colo., could be expected to live 86.83 years. The life expectancy of a child born in Ogala Lakota County in South Dakota, seat of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, is nearly 20 years shorter."

I think Goldberg is onto something when he writes that life expectancy discrepancies have more to do with lifestyle than insurance. If all of us ate well, exercised regularly, and stopped drinking and smoking, the U.S. average would go up. Other changes would make us better off still. Goldberg notes that once fatal car crashes and murders are removed from calculations of life expectancy, the United States has the "world's best life expectancy numbers." Whether that's true or not (there is some controversy about the methodology used in the original study), there is more. Consider the Human Progress chart above. As you can see, the United States started from a considerably worse position, when the United Nations began collecting national life expectancy statistics in 1960. In that year, American, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish life expectancies were 69.77 years, 72.18 years, 73.55 years and 73.01 years respectively. During the following 55 years, life expectancy in the four countries rose by 13.45 percent, 11.32 percent, 11.02 percent and 12.72 percent respectively.

As can be seen, the United States has outperformed Scandinavia in terms of life expectancy gains over the last five and half decades. As a consequence, the gap between the two has decreased. The left might claim that U.S. life expectancy gains coincided with the creation of Medicare and Medicaid programs, even though there is some well-known research that does not support that conclusion.

Be it as it may, the lack of a single payer system (and, perhaps, other more draconian interventions in the health market that can be found in Scandinavia) does not seem to have hindered the superior progress that America's healthcare system has made in terms of life expectancy gains so far.

This first appeared in Reason.
June 30, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Twenty years ago on Saturday, Britain handed sovereignty of Hong Kong to China. Today, the territory that the British State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Viscount Palmerston once described as “a barren island with hardly a house upon it,” remains one of the world’s greatest cities and its citizens enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living.

To get a sense of Hong Kong’s success, consider the life of an elderly Hong Kong resident. Imagine an 84-year-old woman, who was born in 1932 and escaped, along with many thousands, from the mainland to Hong Kong shortly after the 1949 Revolution. In 1950, she would have been just short of her 18th birthday. What kind of a world would she have known? Hong Kong, with an average GDP per capita of $4,120, must have looked like paradise compared to China, where GDP per capita was $644. That was, after all, part of the reason why she defected in the first place. But, compared to the advanced countries of the West, Hong Kong was still a relative backwater. Average per capita incomes in the United Kingdom and the United States stood at $11,921 and $16,197 respectively (all figures are in 2015 U.S. dollars adjusted for purchasing power). In other words, the average resident of the colony earned 35 per cent and 25 per cent compared to British and American citizens respectively. Today, average income in Hong Kong is 37 per cent and 3 per cent higher than that in the United Kingdom and America.

Back in 1960, life expectancy in the colony was 67 years. In the United Kingdom and America it was 71 years and 70 years respectively. Once again, the tables have turned. Today, a resident of Hong Kong can expect to live to 84 years. Comparable figures for the United Kingdom and America are 81 years and 79 years respectively.

Thus, on two of the most important measures of human well-being, which is to say time spent on Earth and the material comfort enjoyed during that time, Hong Kong must surely be considered as one of the greatest success stories of all time. As a British colony, Hong Kong was blessed with property rights, equality before the law and an independent judiciary. While the colony never became a full-fledged democracy, its citizens did enjoy civil freedoms, including those of expression, press, religion and movement.

Unlike some British ex-colonies and the United Kingdom itself, Hong Kong never experimented with socialism. Historically, the government played only a minor role in the economy, restricting itself to providing subsidised housing to the refuges from mainland China.

The territory kept taxes flat and low (around 17 percent of personal and corporate income), government spending as a percentage of the GDP never reached more than 11 per cent of GDP and the budget was balanced. The territory followed a policy of unilateral trade liberalisation, which is to say that the colony allowed other countries to export to Hong Kong tariff-free, regardless of whether other countries reciprocated or not.

As such, Hong Kong was alternatively the freest and the second freest economy in the world between 1970 and 2014 (these are the first and the last years for which data collected by the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World report are available).

Economic freedom benefited millions of people in Hong Kong. More importantly, it benefited hundreds of millions of people on mainland China. As the territory grew ever richer, the Chinese communists were forced to admit the failure of socialism, embarking on their own road to great enrichment in 1978. Between that year and 2016, Chinese incomes grew seven-fold, resulting in the greatest poverty reduction in human history.

The link between economic freedom and growth, as irrefutably exemplified by Hong Kong, ought to be of interest to British decision makers as the UK prepares to exit from the EU. After Brexit, the UK could try to replicate Hong Kong’s success by adopting growth-maximising policies, including tax-cutting, further deregulation of the business environment and unilateral free trade liberalisation.

Should Britain choose to follow Hong Kong’s example, embrace greater economic freedom and prosper as a result, other European countries might be tempted to follow in British footsteps. In that sense, the United Kingdom could serve as a beacon of freedom and prosperity for Europe in the same way that Hong Kong served as a beacon of hope for mainland China.

In 1755, the great Scottish economist Adam Smith gave “a pithy description of what he thought the government should do to encourage economic development.” He wrote, “Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavour to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and to support themselves are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical.”

Hong Kong prospered because it followed Smith’s recommendations. Britain does not have to reinvent the wheel. All it needs to do is to embrace her own intellectual heritage and the principles of political and economic freedom, which were British gifts to humanity in the first place.

This first appeared in CapX.
June 30, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
New blood tests to improve cancer diagnosis and care

Biopsies are routinely performed on patients suspected of having cancer. Yet sometimes, these tests are inconclusive. Often they are also expensive, as well as invasive and therefore dangerous. A newly developed liquid biopsy can now detect cancer from a blood sample, because recent advances have made it possible to detect alterations in DNA sequences from just a small amount of blood, leading to more efficient cancer diagnosis.

World’s largest wind turbine

The U.S.’s renewable energy capacity, particularly in wind and solar power, has grown incredibly in the past decade. One of the most efficient business solutions to cheaper wind energy is development of larger turbines. This has led a University of Virginia group of researchers to develop the world’s largest wind turbine, which will be 500 meters. Today’s turbines rarely go beyond 70 meters tall. This new superstructure should generate more energy at a lower price.

New hope for antibiotic resistant infections

Antibiotic resistant bacteria are oftentimes cited as the biggest epidemiologic challenge of the 21st century. Because of overexposure to antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S., resistance has been a rising. Fortunately, researchers from the National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea have developed a “predatory bacteria” that preys on the pathogen that antibiotics were targeting. These new bacteria-killing machines could prove to be the solution to typical antibiotic treatments inefficiencies.

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.