Forty-nine years ago, Professor Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University scared the bejesus out of much of the world when he predicted that overpopulation would lead to mass starvation. In his doomsday bestseller The Population Bomb, Ehrlich wrote, "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…"

Since Ehrlich wrote those words, the world's population has more then doubled. Yet, people consume more calories per capita, while living longer on a cleaner planet. Ehrlich's jeremiad did not come true for a number of reasons. The Green Revolution massively increased agricultural productivity, affordable contraceptives made family planning easier, plummeting infant mortality has reduced the need for "spare" children, and rising incomes increased the opportunity cost for women who opt to stay at home with their children rather than enter the labor market—hence massive fall in global fertility rate.

That said, Ehrlich's predictions were not without consequences. "In addition to China's one-child rule," Ehrlich must be held partially responsible for "abhorrent campaigns of forced sterilization in Indira Gandhi's India and Alberto Fujimori's Peru." Surely a man with that much to answer for has been relegated to the fringes of society? Not on your life! In fact, next month Ehrlich will be addressing a Vatican workshop on "Biological Extinction." Judging by the promotional material, he will feel right at home.

According to the Vatican, measures of human consumption have "calculated that in about 1970 we were using about 70 percent of the Earth's sustainable capacity, and now... we are using about 156 percent. Nevertheless there are 800 million people chronically malnourished and 100 million on the verge of starvation at any one time. How have such imbalances, both among contemporaries and between the present and future generations come about, and how are they sustained? The problems wouldn't go away if we had another 56 percent of the Earth to take care of our needs, but we could at least stop eating into the productive capacity of the Earth progressively as the years go by."

Human settlement and agriculture have been the traditional enemy of nature and biodiversity. Thankfully, urbanization (over half of humanity lives in cities already) and falling fertility rates (there is a distinct possibility that earth's human population will start declining during the course of the 21st century) will return some of the world's surface back to nature. This trend will be greatly enhanced by improvements in agricultural yields. As Jesse H. Ausubel of Rockefeller University points out, "if the world farmer reaches the average yield of today's U.S. corn grower during the next 70 years, 10 billion people eating as people now on average do will need only half of today's cropland. The land spared exceeds Amazonia. This will happen if farmers sustain the yearly 2 percent worldwide yield growth of grains achieved since 1960, in other words if social learning continues as usual."

If the Vatican wanted to get a real sense of the future of biodiversity on earth, it should have invited Ausubel instead of Ehrlich.
This article first appeared in Reason.
Researchers at the Salk Institute, an independent non-profit organization, have successfully reversed signs of aging in mice by manipulating their genes. “Obviously, mice are not humans and we know it will be much more complex to rejuvenate a person,” said one of the scientists involved. “But this study shows that aging is a very dynamic and plastic process, and therefore will be more amenable to therapeutic interventions than what we previously thought.” They hope to test the technique on human subjects in about a decade.

Innovators at the company Hedgemon just published a study demonstrating the possibilities of a novel helmet design inspired by hedgehogs. “Hedgehog spines demonstrate impact absorption capabilities that confirm their role in the protection of hedgehogs during falls,” the researchers wrote. “This study demonstrates that in certain conditions, hedgehog spines can absorb as much, if not more, than industry standard impact-absorbing foam.” Designing a better helmet could help prevent fatal and damaging head injuries in people ranging from football players to bicyclists. 

A team of North Carolina scientists have created a synthetic version of a heart stem cell. They are comparable to natural stem cells in terms of their ability to promote cardiac muscle growth in patients suffering from heart problems, and even seem to reduce some of the risks associated with traditional stem cell therapies. The synthetic cells are also highly durable and able to withstand freezing and thawing, making them easier to preserve for longer periods of time than their natural counterparts. The same technique could also be used to create other kinds of stem cells.

An ultrafast imaging technique may have brought scientists a step closer to being able to produce fuel using photosynthesis just as plants do. By recording moving energy during photosynthesis, researchers at Imperial College London were able to determine the speed of crucial processes for the first time in history. “We can now see how nature has optimized the physics of converting light energy to fuel, and can probe this process using our new technique of ultrafast crystal measurements,” noted one author. The process of photosynthesis is able to turn light into energy within a matter of nanoseconds.

Producing a new cancer-fighting drug is an expensive and time-consuming process, but artificial intelligence may help to change that and accelerate the speed of medical innovation. Researchers for Insilico Medicine, Inc., presented a paper recently on using “generative adversarial autoencoders,” a type of artificial intelligence, to generate “new molecular fingerprints on demand” to be tested as medical drugs. Computers are able to process knowledge more accurately than humans in many areas, and so using artificial intelligence as a “drug discovery engine” could turn out promising new treatments significantly faster than the traditional pharmaceutical R&D process and even improve success rates in clinical trials.
January 12, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
In recent months, much has been written about the dismal relations between the United States and Russia. The latter has carved up Ukraine and helped Bashar al-Assad to triumph in the Syrian civil war. More relevant to the United States was Russia's apparent attempt to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election by releasing thousands of hacked DNC emails (a charge that Russia denies). Whatever the case may be, Russia once again looms large in America's collective psyche and calls to get tough with America's old adversary abound.

It might be useful, therefore, to put the Russian bear in proper perspective. With some 5,000 nuclear warheads and close to 800,000 men under arms, Russia remains a potent adversary. But, as the Cold War showed, military might is, in the long run, dependent on economic performance. Considering Russia's economic problems, it is not a given that the country will be able to sustain its aggressive international posturing indefinitely.

After a long period of economic and social decline during the 1990s, Russia experienced something of a renaissance in the first decade of the 21st century. As its fortunes improved—driven, in large part, by global economic expansion and, consequently, hunger for Russia's natural resources—Russia re-engaged with the world in pursuit of national glory.

Following the outbreak of the Great Recession and subsequent slow-down in global growth, the price of natural resources, especially crude oil, hit the Russian economy very hard. Western sanctions that followed in the wake of Russia's misadventures in Georgia and Ukraine made matters worse. Today, Russia is once again in decline. The gap between the Russian and American economies that started to shrink during the last decade is widening again.

1. In terms of purchasing power parity, the Russian economy peaked in 2014 and has been shrinking since then. The United States, in contrast, is back in expansionary mode. (The situation is, presumably, even worse when comparing the two economies in terms of exchange rate. The ruble has much declined in value vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar in the last couple of years. Regrettably, I lack appropriate data for 2016.)
2. Income per capita tells a similar story, with Russian incomes falling from their peak in 2014. 3. Last, but not least, consider Russian life expectancy, which is an excellent measure of the overall health of the population and reflects the dismal state of Russian healthcare as well as very high rates of alcoholism. None of this is to deny that Russia is capable of causing international mischief. Plainly, it can do so. Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia has become more belligerent abroad and more repressive at home. If its current economic and social problems continue, however, Russia may, once again, be forced to reduce its global ambitions. A "wait and see" approach by the United States may, therefore, be a wise approach to follow.
This article first appeared in Reason.
January 11, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Last time I wrote about airline safety was in November 2015, when a Russian airliner crashed in the Sinai Peninsula. Roughly a year later, another Russian plane has gone down—this time into the Black Sea. All 92 people on board, including many members of a famed Red Army Choir, were killed. The safety record of Russian-made and Russian-operated planes such as the TU-154, which was involved in this latest accident, is relatively poor. That said, things were much worse under communism, when the state-run Aeroflot was notoriously cavalier with the lives of its crew and passengers. According to the Aircraft Crashes Record Office, "8,231 passengers have died in Aeroflot crashes. Air France is next on its list, with 1,783, followed by Pan Am (1,645), American (1,442), United (1,211) and TWA (1,077)."

Mercifully, air travel overall is getting safer. Between a high point in 1972 and a low point in 2015, the total number of airline fatalities declined from 2,373 to 186—a reduction of 92 percent. Roughly over the same time period (1970-2014), the number of passengers carried globally increased from 310 million to 3.2 billion. Put differently, the chances of dying in an air crash declined from 1 in 210,000 in 1970 to 1 in 4.63 million in 2014. Today, flying is not only safer, but also cheaper. In the United States for example, average domestic round trip airfare fell from $607 in 1979 (the year of deregulation) to $377 in 2014 (both figures are in 2014 U.S. dollars). Between 1990 and 2013, the average international round-trip airfare fell from $1,248 to $1,175 (2013 U.S. dollars). In both cases, the average number of miles flown per trip has increased.Things are getting better, in other words, but choose your airline carefully.
This article first appeared in Reason.
In yet another blow to the world's great and good, a special court in France found on Monday that the current managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and former French minister of finance, Christine Lagarde, was guilty of criminal charges linked to the misuse of public funds. According to the news reports, "The case against Ms. Lagarde centered on Bernard Tapie [who] accused the lender Crédit Lyonnais, in which the French state had a stake at the time, of cheating him when it oversaw the sale of his share in the sportswear empire [Adidas] in 1993. Years of costly legal battles ensued. In 2007, Ms. Lagarde sent the dispute to a three-person private arbitration authority that awarded Mr. Tapie more than 400 million euros, or $420 million at current exchange rates, in damages and interest, to be paid by the state."

If Lagarde resigns from her IMF job, she will follow in the footsteps Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the previous IMF head and, incredibly, another former French finance minister, who resigned in 2011, after he was accused of having sexually assaulted a maid in a New York City hotel. Lagarde's resignation cannot come too soon. She was, in large part, responsible for the Greek bailout, which has, so far, failed to tackle that country's economic problems. As one observer noted, "In Greece, the IMF violated its own cardinal rule by signing off on a bailout in 2010 even though it could offer no assurance that the package would bring the country's debts under control or clear the way for recovery, and many suspected from the start that it was doomed."

As the IMF head, Lagarde all too often appeared to act as a defender of the interests of the Eurozone (i.e., preserving Greece in Europe's failing single currency area), rather than as a steward of the IMF's global shareholders. As an indication of the IMF's effectiveness in helping Greece out of its economic troubles, consider the state of the Greek economy after years of international "assistance."

This article first appeared in Reason.
Economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University recently made this claim (emphasis mine):
“We’re so rich in our total production and in our capacities to do things that we could solve absolutely fundamental challenges, such as ending extreme poverty or addressing climate change or preserving biodiversity without much effort … it cannot be the most important issue in the world whether the U.S. grows at another 3% or 3.5% or 2.9% a year, when over the last 65 years there’s been no discernible rise in wellbeing”
That is the theme of his new book, The Origins of Happiness.

By “we” Sachs appears to mean the U.S. and other rich countries and calls for their governments to engage in wealth transfers to poor countries and a plethora of environmental projects. What he does not seem to realize is that humanity is already making swift progress—through the free actions of billions of individuals—toward ending poverty and better preserving the environment.

As global GDP per person has skyrocketed, global poverty has plummeted. Fewer people live in extreme poverty than ever before, both as a share of the population and in absolute terms. In other words, although there are more people alive, the number of people living in extreme poverty is lower than it has even been. If current trends continue, extreme poverty will be practically eliminated by 2030.

After China liberalized its economy, hundreds of millions of its people escaped extreme poverty. Once India moved towards economic freedom in the early 1990s, its population saw a remarkable decline in poverty as well. It’s tempting to want to make this story about “us” in the U.S. and other rich countries acting as saviors for the global poor, but the reality is that people in the developing world are lifting themselves out of poverty wherever they have the economic freedom to do so. In contrast, no country has ever become rich through foreign aid, which is plagued by many problems.

As incomes rise and people move past worries of basic survival, more of them come to care about the environment. Technological progress is also helping to improve environmental stewardship, by boosting agricultural yields per hectare of land and increasing water productivity, among other things. We are now witnessing numerous trends that give cause for environmental optimism, from expanding forest area in China to falling emissions in the United States.

Once again, Sachs’ well-meaning call for state intervention seems misguided. The U.S. emits less CO2 today not because of EPA regulations or costly subsidies for unreliable wind and solar energy, but because the market delivered a technological breakthrough (hydraulic fracturing) that reduced reliance on more polluting energy sources.

Despite Sachs’ protests, there has been a discernible rise in wellbeing over the last 65 years. Even the amount of progress achieved just in my own lifetime is astounding. Sachs’ book presents data suggesting that higher incomes and better education do not heighten people’s happiness as much as sound health and strong interpersonal relationships do. From this he concludes that despite being richer and better educated, people today are not any better off than their fore-bearers.

Actually, even in terms of health and interconnectedness, we are still better off today. Consider health. Life expectancy is at an all-time high. More infants survive to see their first birthday and more mothers survive childbirth. Cancer takes the lives of fewer men and women. We lose fewer lives to droughtshurricaneslightningtornadoes and extreme temperatures. Safety advances also mean fewer traffic fatalities and fewer fatal plane crashes. Infectious diseases that were once common causes of death have been defeated by better treatment and prevention methods.

As for relationships, despite having more disposable income, today people work less and enjoy more leisure time to spend with loved ones. In 1950, an average American worker worked 1,983 hours in a year. In 2016, that had fallen to 1,774. That’s 209 fewer hours of labor—and 209 more hours to spend with family and friends.

Technology, although much maligned for providing distracting alternatives to social interaction, also makes it possible to remain in contact with others even across vast distances. Access to electricitymobile phones and the Internet has never been more widespread, connecting more lives across the planet.

Technology not only makes it easier to maintain relationships, but to form them. Just last month I attended a wedding where the bride and groom had first met through a dating app on their smart phones. They were not unusual—online dating now brings about more than a third of U.S. marriages, and the rapid spread of communications technology has also facilitated the formation of many friendships.

To make his case Sachs also cites data showing that people don’t identify as happier today than a half-century ago. If true, that is perhaps evidence in favor of the “hedonic treadmill” theory of psychology, which claims that people quickly get used to improvements in their lives and take them for granted. A year after winning the lottery, for example, many people are no happier than they were previously. In a sense, just being alive right now means you’ve won the lottery—the average American today is richer in many ways than John D. Rockefeller a century ago.

Sachs is too quick to dismiss the incredible progress that humanity has made by practically every measure, and also too quick to assume that government intervention is the best way to bring about progress. You can find even more data showing how far humanity has come at
December 16, 2016
By Marian L. Tupy
In my beginner’s guide to socialist economics I noted that communism, which was supposed to lead to greater equality, has in fact led to a return of feudalism.

Like feudal societies, communist societies have an aristocracy composed of the communist party members.

Like feudal societies, communist societies have a population of serfs with limited or no rights and little possibility of social mobility.

Like feudal societies, communist societies are held together by brute force.

 As if to prove me right, The Daily Mirror, has just released footage from North Korea’s northeast province of Ryanggang, where hundreds of children can be seen breaking and carrying rocks during construction of a local railway.

 The children are eight or nine years old and work up to 10 hours a day in the heat of the blazing sun. Neither they nor their parents are compensated for this back-breaking labor. label[The image is provided courtesy of The Daily Mirror]

As the newspaper points out, these are the children of North Korea’s working class. Familiar class stratification has emerged in North Korea, with the communist party and the government employees at the top, and the underclass at the bottom.

The children of the former attend newly-constructed schools and enjoy, as much as they can in the Hermit Kingdom, a semblance of a normal life. The latter are barely surviving in a state of abject poverty and servitude. So much, then, for the communist commitment to equality.

In the Daily Mirror footage:

“In one film … a forlorn lad of around eight or nine, wearing an England football shirt, is ordered to break rocks at a cliff face. Girls pair up as they struggle to lift heavy loads into piles. One young boy winces under the strain of his work. Teachers shielding their faces from the glaring midday sun bark orders at other youngsters bent double from lugging sacks as big as their bodies. Mounds of massive sandstone broken up by the dusty child slaves can be seen piled high.” It is worth noting that child labour was once a completely unobjectionable part of human existence. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, which started in Great Britain in the late 18th century, no society thought twice of eschewing child labour. As Johan Norberg noted in his book Progress, “Prior to the mid-19th century it was common for working-class children to start working from seven years of age.

It is, therefore, somewhat ironic that child labor should come to be so closely associated with the process of industrialization – a topic well worth exploring in greater depth below. label
As the chart above illustrates, people did not write about child labor prior to the 19th century, because working children were so ubiquitous. Prior to industrialization, which massively increased productivity of the farm, there were no food “surpluses.” All of the food that the farm produced was consumed by the peasant families and their beasts of burden.

An idle child or, for that matter, an idle man, woman or donkey, was a waste of precious resources. “The survival of the family demanded that everybody contributed,” writes Norberg. label 
Bemoaning child labor, in other words, made about as much sense as complaining about a lack of plans for the weekend—since most people worked at least six days a week. It was industrialization that changed all that.

As farm productivity increased, people no longer had to stay on the farm and grow their food. They moved to the cities in search of a better life. At first, living conditions were dire. Medieval cities were not prepared for the influx of millions of people from the countryside. Slums arose and disease spread.

By the mid-19th century, however, living and working conditions started to improve. Economic expansion led to an increased competition for labor and wages grew. That, in turn, enabled more parents to forego their children’s labor and send them to school instead.
It is crucial to remember that it was only after a critical mass of children stopped working that people realized that life without child labor was possible. Legislation limiting child labor got more stringent as the 19th century progressed, but it was not until the Factory and Workshop Act of 1878 that the British Parliament banned labor for children less than 10 years of age and required that all children under 10 receive compulsory education.

Prosperity brought about by trade and industrialization in particular made child labor in the West obsolete.

Over the course of the 20th century, prosperity spread to other parts of the world. Today, child labor in Asia and Latin America are at an all-time low. It remains a problem in Africa, large parts of which remain stuck in the subsistence economy.

It flourishes in North Korea – a modern slave-state that, in the pursuit of communism, has returned its children to an impoverished, servile working class.

This article first appeared in CapX.
December 13, 2016
By Marian L. Tupy
Jonathan Haidt, the well-known psychologist from New York University, started as a "typical" liberal intellectual, but came to appreciate the awesome ability of free markets to improve the lives of the poor. Earlier this year, he penned an essay in which he pointed to what he called "the most important graph in the world." The graph reflected Angus Maddison's data showing a massive increase in wealth throughout the world over the last two centuries and which is reproduced, courtesy of Human Progress, below.The "great enrichment" (Deirdre McCloskey's phrase) elicits different responses in different parts of the world, Haidt noted. "When I show this graph in Asia," Haidt writes, "the audiences love it, and seem to take it as an aspirational road map… But when I show this graph in Europe and North America, I often receive more ambivalent reactions. 'We can't just keep growing forever!' some say. 'We'll destroy the planet!' say others. These objections seem to come entirely from the political left, which has a history, stretching back centuries, of ambivalence or outright hostility to capitalism."
Haidt's experience mirrors my own. When giving talks about the benefits of free markets, audiences in Europe and America invariably note the supposedly finite nature of growth and express worry about the environmental state of the planet. Why? In Haidt's view, capitalist prosperity changes human conscience. In pre-industrial societies, people care about survival. "As societies get wealthier, life generally gets safer, not just due to reductions in disease, starvation, and vulnerability to natural disasters, but also due to reductions in political brutalization. People get rights."

This more prosperous generation, then, starts caring about such things as women's rights, animal rights, gay rights, human rights, and environmental degradation. "They start expecting more out of life than their parents did." All that is fine, of course, so long as the pampered youth in the West and newly empowered youth in the Far East remember that roughly 800 million people in the world, many of them in Africa, still live in absolute poverty and experience the kinds of existential challenges that only free markets can solve. Denying dirt-poor people access to cheap fossil fuel energy, for example, can mean a death sentence to a newborn child on life support in an electric-powered incubator in rural Africa.

Let me conclude with two final thoughts. First, there is no obvious reason why growth should not continue indefinitely—although future growth will likely be more dependent on technological change than in the past. In the West, for example, we cannot replicate the growth boost that resulted from the entry of large number of women (50 percent of the population) into the labor force. Second, let's not fall into the trap of thinking that, because the initial stage of industrialization was bad for the environment, pre-industrial society saw man and nature coexist in harmony. Part of the reason why the Industrial Revolution started in England was that the country had to switch from almost depleted wood to coal as a source of energy. Industrialization, and subsequent enrichment, saved European forests, and it can do so in Africa as well.

This article first appeared in Reason.
December 09, 2016
By Marian L. Tupy
Back in May, I wrote about the heart-breaking descent of Venezuela from relative prosperity into socialist destitution. The humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the Latin American nation should serve as a warning to everyone – don’t try this at home!

Yet socialism is very much alive in the least likely place – Chile. Chile, the poster child for the benefits of economic liberalization, is experiencing a resurgence of the Left. Why? To answer that question, let us look at the state of affairs in both countries.

Chile was one of the poorer Latin American countries until relatively recently. In 1950, for example, its average annual income per capita (PPP) was a mere 38 per cent of that of Venezuela – Latin America’s richest nation. That’s where things stood, when a Castro-inspired socialist, Salvador Allende, was elected as Chile’s 30th president in November 1970.

He proceeded to nationalize industry and collectivize agricultural land, which led to shortages and mass protests. Inflation rate rose to 600 per cent and poverty increased to 50 per cent. Parliament urged Allende to desist, while the Supreme Court declared his actions unconstitutional.

Allende ignored both of them. In 1973, parliament called on the military to restore constitutional order, which the later did by bombing Palacio de La Moneda and killing Allende in the process.

Today, the black and white images of a stern-looking General Augusto Pinochet, the leader of the military junta that ran Chile after Allende’s demise, evoke the human rights abuses that ensued. Yet, it should be possible to separate the murder of between 1,200 and 3,200 of the government’s opponents from the economic reforms that Pinochet undertook. The former was inexcusable. The latter was beneficial in that it turned Chile into Latin America’s richest country and, eventually, a full-fledged democracy.

Here, a short digression is in order. On a previous occasion, I have been critical of those, such as Barack Obama, who have acknowledged the human rights abuses on Cuba, while praising the “achievements” of the Castro regime. At the risk of opening myself to charges of hypocrisy, I wish to argue that Chile and Cuba are different in some crucial respects.

By definition, dictatorships that liberalize their economies exercise less control over the lives of ordinary people than dictatorships that maintain economic control.

As people grow rich, they tend to create alternative centers of power and authority flows away from the state. Thus, market-friendly dictatorships, such as Chile, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan ended up not only prosperous, but also democratic. Socialist dictatorships, such as Cuba and Venezuela, maintain economic control, which prevents not only enrichment, but also democratization.

Simply put, when the government is the sole employer, it is nearly impossible to dissent and demand political rights.

As the 1980s progressed, opposition to Pinochet stiffened. The general lost a 1988 referendum that would have extended his stay in office and he relinquished power in 1990. A succession of governments maintained the free-market reforms introduced under Pinochet and the country prospered.

Between 1974 and 2016, average annual GDP per capita (PPP) rose by 230 per cent. It shrunk by 20 per cent in Venezuela.

Today, Chileans are 51 per cent richer than Venezuelans. Unemployment in Chile stands at 6 per cent. In Venezuela it stands at 17 per cent. Chile’s inflation is 3 per cent and Venezuela’s 487 per cent. In 2016, the Chilean economy grew by 2.7 per cent. It shrunk by 10 per cent in Venezuela. Chile’s debt is 17 per cent of its GDP. Venezuela’s is 50 per cent.

In 1974, life expectancy in Venezuela was 1 year higher (66) than that in Chile (65). In 2015, an average Chilean could expect to live 8 years longer (82) than an average Venezuelan (74).  In 1974, infant mortality in Chile was 60 out of 1,000 live births.

In Venezuela, it stood at 43. Since then, Chile reduced infant mortality by 88 per cent (to 7) and Venezuela by 70 per cent (to 13). Last, but not least, Chile has received a perfect score (10 out of 10) on a democracy index compiled by the Center for Systemic Peace, while Venezuela languishes at 4 out of 10.

Yet, for a number of reasons, socialism in Chile is on the rise. The extreme Left in Chile is, after Cuba, the second most radical in Latin America. It is not particularly popular – the communists polled only 5 percent at the last election – but it is good at mobilizing its supporters. Communists, furthermore, are a part of the governing coalition and thus able to exert influence on the policies of the Left-wing President Michelle Bachelet.

The Left has never accepted the “Chilean model” because it was imposed by Pinochet and that makes it, in the eyes of the Left, illegitimate. It does not matter that it works. The same goes for the Chilean Constitution, which the Left is trying to rewrite, and the semi-private education system, which the Left wants to nationalize.

Moreover, the media is very Left-wing and its reporting gives an impression that there is much more dissatisfaction in Chile than there really is. Young people, who grew up in a free society, don’t remember the failures of the Allende era.

They clamor for free education, like in Western Europe, not realizing that Chile is still a developing country. With 7 percent of the population living in poverty, the country needs to focus on growth, not redistribution, and high taxes and high spending reduce growth in the long run.

The small government advocates are not blameless either. They assumed that the battle of ideas was over and thought that the positive outcomes of the Chilean model would speak for themselves. They did not think that there was a need to defend it. Moreover, center-Right political parties have been browbeaten into submission; whoever speaks out in defense of the Chilean model is tainted as a Pinochet apologist.

Yet for all of Pinochet’s crimes, Chile works. The same can’t be said of Venezuela, let alone Cuba. It would be a shame if Chile were to suffer, just because of the brutal nature of the regime that set the country on a path to freedom and prosperity.

This article first appeared in CapX.
An important milestone for internet access 

According to a report by the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union, almost half of the world’s population will have access to the internet by the end of 2016. This increase in access can largely be attributed to the growth of mobile networks and a continual decrease in prices worldwide. Currently, 47% of the world is online, but that figure is as high as 80% in well-developed nations and as low as 10% in less-developed ones. The report notes that less-developed countries (LDCs) tend to lag behind more developed ones by about 20 years, with LDCs having achieved a level of connectivity similar to that of more developed nations in 1998. Yet this report brings to light that with spreading connectivity and ever-decreasing prices, the internet will continually become more accessible and have the potential to benefit more individuals than ever. 

An Alabaman takes on Venezuela's government

An Alabama Home Depot employee named Gustavo Diaz has become one of the most hated figures of the Venezuelan government for his role in setting the price of countless goods sold in his home country of Venezuela. Diaz runs the website “”, which provides a benchmark exchange rate for the Venezuelan currency, the Bolivar. This information allows Venezuelans to buy and sell black-market dollars and effectively go around many of the strict controls instituted by the Venezuelan government. Diaz and his partners used to collect their information by polling exchange houses across the border in Colombia, but now use a method of scanning and adding up buy and sell requests on social media. With Venezuela currently in the throes of a massive recession, many Venezuelans rely on DolarToday for an exchange rate they can use to buy dollars in a nation that is increasingly in deficit of the physical currency to satisfy its skyrocketing inflation rates. 

1,700 new American millionaires daily

According to Boston Consulting Group estimates, 1,700 new millionaires are minted in the U.S. every day. If this pace continues, that will mean 3.1 million new millionaires by 2020. The U.S. is home to far more millionaires than any other nation, with over 8-million households having financial assets above $1 million, and that’s excluding the value of their homes. While $1 million does not have the purchasing power it did in the past, it still puts one in a wealth class above the majority of Americans, and certainly the majority of the global population. While the economy continues to be a topic of great consternation in many areas, this study shows the U.S. continues to possess a remarkable degree of wealth mobility when it comes to self-made millionaires. 

A new approach to a deadly disease

In a surprising result, a Johns Hopkins University study cured an advanced prostate cancer patient of the disease following a treatment that involved shocking the cancer with very high and then very low levels of testosterone. After treatment, the patient’s “prostate specific antigen” levels, used to measure the disease’s activity, fell to zero and he no longer showed any signs of the disease. Similarly positive results were seen in other patients in the study, who showed decreasing PSA levels and shrinking tumor sizes. If replicable, these results demonstrate that this new treatment has great potential to benefit the many late-stage prostate cancer patients whose disease has become resistant to the conventional hormone treatments currently being used.

Robotic food delivery now a reality

The U.K.-based food delivery service “Just Eat” has facilitated the world’s first takeout food order delivered by robot. Just Eat recently unveiled a pilot program in Greenwich, England, testing the robots with hopes to soon expand the program into other parts of Britain. The robot was created by Starship Technologies and is able to autonomously travel to the delivery address with the prepared meal loaded safely into a built-in compartment. The order, from a local Turkish restaurant, was delivered to a Greenwich woman who was understandably surprised to see a robot waiting for her when she opened the door. More such surprises are sure to happen in the coming months as Just Eat continues to expand its use of the technology in Greenwich. 
On Sunday evening, I watched as Matteo Renzi acknowledged the negative outcome of the constitutional referendum and resigned, as promised, as Italy's prime minister. Renzi called the plebiscite in order to streamline Italy's baroque governing bureaucracy—a necessary prerequisite, he claimed, for much-needed economic reform. By a margin of close to 20 percentage points, the Italians said "No" and Renzi threw in the towel.

As he spoke, I emailed an Italian friend of mine to gauge her reaction. As a professor of economics and a free marketer, I expected her to be horrified by the events. Instead, she responded on Monday morning by saying that she too voted "No." "Nothing ever changes in Italy, anyway," she continued. I guess that I should not have been surprised. It is 2016, after all, and, in the political arena, anything seems possible.

Thinking about my friend's response more carefully, however, I have come to see some parallels between what happened in Italy, and the British decision to withdraw from the European Union and Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election. Tying all these events together is a profound sense of alienation of the electorate from their respective governing elites. Vast chunks of the populace in these three countries see their governments as, at best, inept, and, at worst, venal.

They feel that no matter who wins, be it center-left or center-right, "nothing ever changes." So, yes, Italy needs reforms, but the people did not trust Renzi, a conventional center-left apparatchik, to deliver them. What will follow is unclear. A new prime minister from the center-left could emerge. Or, the Italian Parliament could opt for a caretaker government under an unelected technocrat.

Or, there could be an early election. The party that stands to benefit most from early elections is the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo, who wants to call a referendum on whether Italy should stay in the Eurozone or return to the Lira. (Many Italians believe that the euro is responsible for Italy's economic problems. Whether they are right or wrong, there is no doubt that the country's economy is in dire straits—as my charts below show.) As such, I expect the forces of the European establishment to do everything possible not to allow Grillo anywhere near the Palazzo Chigi.

And that could be a problem. As I explained in my recent paper on the European Union, "With every electoral cycle, 'establishment' parties committed to further European integration are growing weaker and anti-EU parties are getting closer to power. The EU has been very successful in plodding along, but its rearguard action cannot succeed indefinitely. At some point, one of the EU's 28 member states will elect an anti-EU government. I fear that the longer the EU establishment ignores its opponents, the more belligerent the latter will become."

This article first appeared in Reason.
December 01, 2016
By Marian L. Tupy
Justin Trudeau sure as heck stepped in it, hasn't he? Of course, the Canadian prime minister was not alone in praising Fidel Castro's "significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation." Here is a compilation of the usual suspects (CNN, MSNBC, NBC, etc.) fawning over the dead dictator's "legacy." And, since fish stinks from the head down, let's not forget President Obama's lionization of the Castro brothers' "accomplishments" when he visited Havana earlier this year.

Sure, our 44th president acknowledged that Cubans are pathetically poor and lack basic human rights, but then he took the sting out of his condemnation of the Cuban dictatorship by saying that the Cuban government "should be congratulated" for giving each child basic education and every person access to healthcare. I wonder if our president would perform a similar rhetorical summersault when talking about General Augusto Pinochet, whose economic policies have turned the once backward Chile into Latin America's richest country in one generation.
Looking on the bright side, at least nobody has claimed that Cuban education and healthcare are of world-beating quality. That Cubans should be literate is to be expected. All communist dictatorships taught their people how to read and then they gave them all the reading material that the government propaganda ministries have managed to print.

When it comes to healthcare, let's get a few things straight. All socialist regimes have had a two tier healthcare system—one for the senior communist party members (with excellent and motivated doctors, and western drugs and medical equipment) and one for the hoi polloi (with apathetic medical staff and shortages of, well, everything). I know this because I grew up under socialism and spoke to Cubans, whose stories are very similar to my own.

And to drive my point about healthcare and socialism home, here is a New York Times story about Venezuela's socialist healthcare entitled, "Dying infants and no medicine: inside Venezuela's failing hospitals."

As I keep telling my progressive friends, all you need to know about a country is whether foreigners are trying to get in (viz. USA) or natives are trying to get out (viz. Cuba). Incidentally, while Justin Trudeau's Canada is a beautiful place, stories like this one, "Canadian Politician Comes to U.S. for Heart Surgery," do not inspire much confidence in Canada's government-run healthcare system.

But let's turn back to Cuba and note the ultimate, almost comical, irony of the Castros' rule. Everything good that has happened under communism would, almost certainly, happen under a different social and economic system. While verified data are difficult come by and need to be cleared from the fog of Cuban propaganda, the U.S. Department of State tried to do just that, by comparing improvements in human wellbeing in Cuba between the 1950s (i.e., the last decade of the hated Batista regime) and 2000.

To wit, literacy rate in Cuba rose by 26 percent between 1950-1953 and 2000. It rose by 37 percent in Paraguay, which was run by fascist dictator Alfredo Stroessner between 1953 and 1989. It rose by 346 percent in Haiti, which is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

The food consumption in Cuba actually declined by 12 percent between 1954-1957 and 1995-1997. In Chile, it rose by 19 percent and in Mexico by 28 percent. Between 1954-1957 and 1995-1997, car ownership in Cuba declined at an annual rate of 0.1 percent. It increased at an annual rate of 16 percent in Brazil, 25 percent in Ecuador and 26 percent in Colombia.
Let us conclude with data from Human Progress and look at child mortality and life expectancy. Once again, Cuba underwhelms. Between 1963 (the first year for which we have data) and 2015, infant mortality in Cuba declined by 90 percent. It declined by 94 percent in Chile (damn you, Pinochet!) and 86 percent Latin America and the Caribbean (not too shabby, you random assortment of Latin American dictators!).Between 1960 and 2015, life expectancy in Chile rose by 42 percent and in Latin America and the Caribbean by 34 percent. It rose in Cuba by 25 percent. If this is success, I wonder what failure looks like.

This first appeared in Reason.
November 30, 2016
By Chelsea Follett
Researchers at the University of Delaware are working to help protect rice crops from disease. Rice blast fungus destroys rice crops, enough to sustain roughly 60 million people every year.  By spraying a combination of microbes on rice plants, UD researchers have discovered that they can boost naturally occurring immune systems within the crops. In addition to rice blast fungus, rice farmers in Southeast Asia have to worry about high rates of arsenic poisoning in the water. A second microbe helps the crops defend against that by limiting the absorption of arsenic from the roots.  These two microbes can work together to help the health of rice crops on two fronts and increase the production of this staple crop.           

Researchers in Central Florida University created a battery, through the use of super capacitors, that can charge in a matter of seconds and last for days. While the technology has been around for a while, battery manufacturers did not use it for personal electronics due to the massive size. By using extremely thin wires, researchers are able to reduce the size of the battery in order to be usable in cellphones and wearable technology. In addition to the battery life, it can be recharged up to 30,000 times. Comparatively, normal lithium ion batteries can only be charged 1,500-3,000 times before losing their capacity. Researchers say the battery is not ready for the market yet, but when its released it has to potential to revolutionize batteries.  

An international team of scientists has developed a technology, which has the potential to restore movement to many patients paralyzed due to spinal injuries. The technology consists of two small implants, one in the brain and one in the spine below the injury. These implants are able to wirelessly bypass the damaged spinal cord by decoding signals in the brain’s motor cortex and converting them into electrical ones that are then transmitted and read by the implant in the spine. By mimicking the signals that would naturally travel down the spine, these implants are able to restore movement to limbs that are otherwise still capable of functioning. So far, the implants have been successfully tested in two macaque monkeys, but scientists are hopeful that the same results would be replicable in human patients. 

In a promising discovery, U.S scientists have found an antibody that has successfully neutralized 98% of HIV isolates tested. According to the National Institute of Health, the antibody, named N6, was recovered from the body of an HIV positive patient and is showing the potential to treat the majority of HIV strains worldwide. Previous antibodies have been discovered which also target HIV with up to 90% efficiency, yet the surface proteins of the HIV cell to which these antibodies must bind change rapidly to avoid recognition and destruction. N6 binds to a region of the HIV cell which, as a consequence, changes much more slowly. NIH scientists believe N6 is ideally suited for further research into treating and preventing HIV, a disease which UNAIDS estimates is effecting 36.7 million people worldwide. 

Scientists have developed a new technique of DNA editing, based on CRISPR technology, which allows them to edit the DNA of non-dividing cells (those cells make up the majority of cells in the adult human body). This technique, known as HITI, allows scientists to fix malfunctioning genes in eye, brain, heart, and liver tissues for the first time. The technique has already been used to restore partial vision to mice with a retinal disease that also affects humans. As Prof. Robert MacLaren of Oxford University notes, since aging is defined as the picking up of DNA mutations over time, the fact that HITI can potentially fix these gene defects would mean it could be used to treat many aging related diseases and thereby increase human lifespans. While the efficiency of the technique needs to be improved before human trials can begin, HITI has the potential to benefit many people with otherwise incurable conditions relating to these crucial, non-diving cells. 
November 22, 2016
By Marian L. Tupy
Remember the good life during the 1970s? If you do, your experience is not likely to have been a typical one. In fact, the economic liberalization and globalization that started in the late 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s, has led to a massive and historically unprecedented decline in global poverty. Contrary to much of the public perception, liberalization and globalization have not led to an increase in U.S. poverty rates, which continue to fluctuate within a comparatively narrow and, by historical standards, low, band.

Let us look at the global picture first. In 1981, the year Ronald Reagan became America's 40th President, 44.3 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty (i.e., less than $1.90 per person per day). Last year, it was 9.6 percent. That's a decline of 78 percent. In East Asia, a region of the world that includes China, 80.6 percent of people lived in extreme poverty. Today, 4.1 percent do—a 95 percent reduction. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, a relatively under-performing region, the share of the population living on less than $1.9 per day dropped by 38 percent.
Have those advances come at the expense of the American worker? They have certainly led to economic dislocation, but America's poverty rate has remained relatively steady. When talking about U.S. poverty rates, it is important to keep in mind that extreme poverty in America is vanishingly rare. Instead, our poverty rate is determined by the U.S. Census Bureau "by comparing pre-tax cash income against a threshold that is set at three times the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963, updated annually for inflation using the Consumer Price Index. It's also adjusted for family size, composition, and age of householder."According to both the Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and Cato's Michael Tanner (who relied on U.S. Census Bureau data), the American poverty rate has moved between 15.2 and 11.3 percent over the last four decades. On three occasions (1983, 1993 and 2010) it reached over 15 percent of the population. Those were post-recession peaks that disappeared as soon as the economy recovered.In fact, America experienced her lowest poverty rate since 1974 in 2000, when openness of the American economy, as measured by the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World index, was at its highest. Since then, America's economy has become less free. Could that be the reason why the American recovery from the Great Recession was so sluggish and why America's poverty rate has not retreated as fast as it did on previous occasions?
    This article first appeared in Reason.
    November 16, 2016
    By Chelsea Follett
    For food producers in Anchorage Alaska, advances in hydroponics are helping with food production. In a landscape too cold for most crops, farmers are using old shipping containers, lights and soil free farming, referred to as hydroponics, in order to grow food. This allows consumers to avoid the costs involved with shipping produce from the lower 48 states. The company “Arctic Greens” produces kale, lettuce, and other greens, all by overcoming environmental difficulties via technological innovation.  

    GM technology and its ability to increase yields have been increasingly criticized. One of the major GMO critiques is that current foods have not been modified in order to maximize yields; rather they are intended to increase herbicide or insect resistance.  All of this may be about to change. A new type of GM wheat is getting ready for field trials. This crop has been created in order to enhance the naturally occurring process of photosynthesis and utilize increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere in order to increase growth. These crops have the potential to utilize changes to the climate to increase yields while reducing land use in order to lessen agriculture’s impact on the environment.

    Digital technology has reduced reliance on paper. However, paper is still needed in certain contexts. Now there may be an alternative that reduces waste and environmental impact. By using a flexible membrane that changes color when exposed to ultraviolet light, researchers have developed a reusable paper alternative that can hold the printed color for days after ‘printing’. This process can be repeated around 40 times without a loss in resolution, making it a viable alternative to paper that can reduce office’s and other organization’s impact on the environment. 

    Much of the technology in the IdaBot, which is designed for use in orchards, is not new. Like other agriculture robots, this one can spray for weeds, determine the health of plants and is remotely monitored. What is new is the yield estimator, which developers are currently working on. This component will be integrated with the IdaBot by a downloadable application. Being able to accurately predict yields will enable farmers to pre-sell their produce months in advance. Additionally, it will allow them to better predict labor requirements for harvests, and help the orchards to run more efficiently.

    Plants have access to a great deal of information about their environment due to their vast root networks. The problem lies in being able to transform this information into something humans can interpret. Researchers have addressed this by combing plants and electronic systems. Inserting nanotubes on leaves enables the plants to detect the presence of certain chemicals and ‘communicate’ this information by omitting signals, which can be detected by an infrared camera. This information can range from detecting landmines and pollution to predicting droughts. The combination of plants and technology has the potential to harness nature and science in order to improve the lives of people all over the globe. 

    Data metrics is a major component of farming technology. Through this information, farmers are able to better manage their fields as well as learn how to breed plants for better yields in the future. The PheNode is a crop phenotyping system that runs through solar power. This system takes metrics from the environment and plant growth in order to aid in creating the best combination of crops for the environment. Technologies such as these aid farmers by providing them with information in order to maximize agriculture productivity and minimize unnecessary environmental strains.
    November 15, 2016
    By Marian L. Tupy
    One of my favorite Human Progress datasets comes from the Conference Board and deals with the decline in the amount of work over time. Globally, a worker could expect to work 2,227 hours in 1950. By 2016, however, he or she worked only 1,855 hours. That's a decline of 17 percent.

    Over the same time period, global inflation-adjusted income per capita per year rose from $11,578 to $24,400, or 111 percent. Put differently, we are working less while making more money.Professor Jesse Ausubel, who teaches at the Rockefeller University and is an advisory board member of Human Progress, has just come out with a new paper estimating working time over a much longer period.

    As he writes in Working Less and Living Longer: Long-Term Trends in Working Time and Time Budgets, in 1856 a British male worked 149,700 hours over the course of his lifetime. By 1981 that number dropped to 88,000 hours. That's a decline of 41 percent. For women in Britain, paid work hours declined by 37 percent over the same time period.
    Ausubel found a similar trend in other developed countries. Between 1870 and 1987, working hours in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States declined from roughly 3,000 hours per year to roughly 1,600 hours per year. That's a reduction of 47 percent. In Japan, an outlier, they declined by 33 percent.In a separate paper, Ausubel estimated the number of hours worked as a share of hours alive. According to Ausubel, in 1960 a British worker spent 11.72 percent of his life working. By 2010 that number dropped to 8.77 percent, suggesting that a typical Briton had more time to spend on leisure and family.While Ausubel's paper only dealt with Great Britain, it is safe to assume that in a vast majority of developed countries people work less, earn more money and enjoy more leisure time than a half-century ago.

    This article first appeared in Reason.
    Election Day is upon us and Americans are heading to the voting booths by the millions. The choices before the electorate are, by and large, deeply unappetizing and, whatever the outcome of the elections, America's freedoms and institutions will likely continue to take a beating in the years to come. Last week, I looked at the state of freedom globally. Today, the focus is America.First, consider the good news. The United States has maintained a perfect "democracy" score since 1871 and citizens continue to elect freely their local, state and federal governments.
    America's record on protecting civil liberties, such as freedom of expression, also surpasses that of much of the world. Since Freedom House began collecting data on civil liberties in 1971, the United States has consistently received the best score possible.Americans also have more extensive political rights than most of our fellow human beings, although the political rights gap is slowly narrowing.Unfortunately, on several indicators, America has recently been trending in an unfortunate direction. Consider freedom of the press, measured on a scale from 1 (most free) to 100 (least free). Between 1993 and 2014, U.S. freedom of the press dropped by 10 points.Government accountability (i.e., public perceptions of the extent to which citizens are able to influence their government) has also been deteriorating in the United States.When it comes to corruption (i.e., perceptions of the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, including both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as "capture" of the state by elites and private interests), America's score is deteriorating.The United States has also been falling in terms of government transparency, which measures the availability of credible aggregate economic data that a country discloses to the public.Finally, consider economic freedom. Once again, we are moving—rapidly—in the wrong direction. Economic freedom in the United States still exceeds the world average, but if current trends continue, that will soon no longer be the case.Americans have long enjoyed a level of freedom and quality of institutions that are still denied to the majority of humanity. But, if some of the worrying trends that can be seen above continue, America may not always be the "land of the free."

    This article first appeared in Reason.
    November 02, 2016
    By Chelsea Follett and Tirzah Duren
    Tom Hanks – of all people  – was recently discussing overpopulation on NBC’s Todayshow. He was doing it to promote his upcoming movie, Inferno, which is all about an overpopulation crisis. The actor claimed that we will have too many people “in an instant” and that the planet will be unable to support them. This is not a new idea. It dates back to the late 1700s, when Thomas Robert Malthus feared that large population would exhaust Earth’s resources and result in mass poverty and starvation.

    Mr Hanks is not the first to echo his concerns. Hollywood has a long history of making dystopian movies painting a gloomy portrait of humanity’s future and Malthusianism even remains popular among some university professors. Economist Jeffrey Sachs, who directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University, fears that “we might yet confirm the Malthusian curse”.

    Yet in over 200 years, Malthus’ fears have not come to pass. We are not facing species-wide starvation: human innovation has brought hunger and poverty to record-lows and food production has climbed to new highs, as farmers have found new ways to produce ever more food per hectare of land.
    yeildsAccording to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the amount of land dedicated to agriculture globally has remained roughly stable from the early 1990s – approximately when the previous trend of expansion of agricultural land came to an end. In fact, since the turn of the new millennium, use of land for agriculture has fallen slightly. Around 26 million fewer hectares of land were farmed in 2013 than in 2000. Even so, this reduction occurred alongside a dramatic decrease in world hunger. We were able to reduce hunger because agricultural productivity increased.agareaAgricultural productivity has rapidly improved through the efforts of ordinary people engaged in innovation and exchange. It was an Iowan called Norman Borlaug who pioneered the development of hybrid crops through selective cross-breeding of plants, which enhanced certain desired traits. In the case of wheat, for example, he was able to create plants with shorter stalks. Less energy wasted on growing tall stalks meant more energy for growing the edible portion of the wheat. This technology helped to increase global grain output by an incredible 170 per cent between 1950 and 1992.

    Even Professor Sachs acknowledges that if “technology enables us to economize on natural capital”, then we can avert a Malthusian disaster. Hearteningly, technology is helping us to do precisely that.

    Not all academics are as pessimistic as Professor Sachs. There is a growing movement of “ecomodernists”, who believe that human ingenuity can help the planet. The New York Times admitted last year that the Earth is not facing a problem of overpopulation.

    Environmental scientist and advisory board member Jesse Ausubel, who helped set up the world’s first climate change conference in Geneva in 1979, believes that agricultural land use will start to radically shrink.
    He has argued that if we “keep lifting average yields, stop feeding corn to cars, restrain our diets lightly, and reduce waste, then an area the size of India or the USA east of the Mississippi could be released from agriculture over the next 50 years or so”. And by freeing up land, we can allow nature to rebound.

    More innovation doesn’t just reduce land use, it can also prevent other kinds of environmental depletion as well. As shown below, agricultural water use in OECD countries, global greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, and American energyuse for agriculture, have all either decreased or remained stable while food production has been increased.
    watergreenhouseenergymaterialsModern agriculture has married farming and technology to meet the nutritional demands of a growing population while limiting the environmental impact of doing so.

    Even with a global population projected by some to reach over 11 billion by 2100 (which may be too high, given that population growth is now falling even in developing areas), there is still no need for alarm. Recent trends in agricultural development show that humanity can find ways of eliminating hunger, while limiting negative environmental impacts.

    So the next time you hear a celebrity bemoaning overpopulation or watch a dystopian movie like Inferno, just remember: Malthus’ fearmongering doesn’t stand a chance against human ingenuity.

    This article first appeared in CapX.
    These are interesting times to be an American. The people's trust in the U.S. institutions is plummeting and the outcome of the presidential election, however it ends, is unlikely to reverse that trend. Over at Human Progress, we have a whole section of the website devoted to "good governance" indicators. As you'll see in the charts below, it is a mixed bag. People around the world appear to be growing freer, but their governments are getting less transparent and more corrupt. Could these diverging trends be the key to understanding of the people's growing dissatisfaction with their ruling elites?

    Our political rights index reflects the ability of people to participate freely in the political process, including the right to vote freely for distinct alternatives in legitimate elections, compete for public office, join political parties and organizations, and elect representatives who have a decisive impact on public policies and are accountable to the electorate. On a scale from 1 (best) to 7 (worst), the world has experienced substantial improvement.
    Our freedom of the press index evaluates the legal environment for the media, political pressures that influence reporting, and economic factors that affect access to news and information. Freedom of the press, which is measured on a scale from 1 (worst) to 100 (best), is at an all time high.Our civil liberties index measures freedom of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy without interference from the state. On a scale from 1 (best) to 7 (worst), the world has experienced considerable improvement since the early 1970s. Unfortunately, civil liberties have deteriorated somewhat since 2005.Our data on democracy versus autocracy over time codes democratic and autocratic "patterns of authority." It measures key qualities of executive recruitment, constraints on executive authority and political competition. It also records changes in the institutionalized qualities of governing authority. Country scores can be converted into three regime categories: autocracies (-10 to -6), anocracies or partial democracies (-5 to +5) and democracies (+6 to +10). Today, the average country scores a "4" and is considered a partial-democracy.The government transparency index measures the availability of credible aggregate economic data that a country discloses to the public. Here we have seen substantial deterioration since the apex of government transparency ten years ago.The corruption perceptions index scores countries on how corrupt their public sectors are seen to be, and captures the informed views of analysts, businesspeople and experts in countries around the world. Once again, corruption, which is measured on a scale from 0 (worst) to 100 (best) around the world, seems to be worsening.

    This article first appeared in Reason.
    In an article for CapX last week, I discussed Johan Norberg’s new book, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. As Norberg notes, over the last two centuries, humanity has made massive improvements in terms of nutrition, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, literacy, environmental quality, political freedom and child labor. 

    Today, I want to discuss the role that the Industrial Revolution in general and fossil fuels in particular have played in bringing those improvements about.

    Those readers who are familiar with Alex Epstein’s excellent The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels will recognize the gist of my argument: fossil fuels, which drive, among other things, modern agriculture and industrial production, make present-day abundance possible.

    Remove cheap energy and most aspects of modern life, from car manufacturing and cheap flights to microwaves and hospital incubators, become a luxury, rather than a mundane, everyday occurrence and expectation.

    Yet the Industrial Revolution has become tainted (in the popular imagination) with the very problems that it has helped to cure.

    Play a word association game with most high school and college students today, and you will observe the negative connotations linking the Industrial Revolution and environmental degradation, exploitation, child labor, poverty, hunger, etc.

    If my argument strikes you as anecdotal, consider the following statements:

    Writing in The Independent in 2010, David Keys noted, “Huge factory expansion would not have been possible without exploitation of the young … the exploitation of children massively increased […] in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.”

    Writing in The Nation in 2015, Greg Grandin observed, “Each generation seems condemned to have to prove the obvious anew: slavery created the modern world, and the modern world’s divisions are the product of slavery.”

    And then there is E. P. Thompson’s classic 1963 book, The Making of the English Working Class. According to the author:

    “The experience of immiseration came upon them [people in 19th century England] in a hundred different forms; for the field laborer, the loss of his common rights and the vestiges of village democracy; for the artisan, the loss of his craftsman’s status; for the weaver, the loss of livelihood and of independence; for the child, the loss of work and play in the home; for many groups of workers whose real earnings improved, the loss of security, leisure and the deterioration of the urban environment…
    Wage cutting [during the Industrial Revolution] had long been sanctioned not only by the employer’s greed but by the widely-diffused theory that poverty was an essential goad to industry.”

    This is, by necessity, a tiny sample of massive literature and commentary that ties the Industrial Revolution and, consequently, free trade and capitalism, to human suffering.

    I am going to try to convince you of the opposite: that the Industrial Revolution, and the fossil fuels that powered it, contributed to the liberation of humankind.

    Homo sapiens is, probably, 200,000 years old. For 99 percent of our existence on this planet, we have derived most of our energy from the labor of people and animals. Only a small fraction of our energy came from water wheels and windmills.

    Fire was also a source of energy. But it was extremely dangerous and of limited use. Cooking of food, for example, led to such disasters as the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was also catastrophic for the environment.

    One theory of the origins of the Industrial Revolution holds that the English resorted to fossil fuels because they ran out of trees. (Using wood to cook food and keep warm, incidentally, remains the primary source of environmental degradation in Africa.)

    Our dependence on energy produced by people and animals helps to explain why slavery was a universal and eternal phenomenon. Defeated peoples on all continents and throughout human history were either killed or put to work as slaves.

    There were no internment camps to hold captive populations. Until very recently, prisons were short-term holding cells, where the accused awaited trial, punishment and execution.

    More often than not, punishment involved some form of a financial penalty, beating or mutilation, not a lengthy prison sentence at the public expense. The notion of housing and feeding former enemy combatants would strike our calorie-deprived ancestors as utterly insane.

    Understandably, if parochially, American and British historians and intellectuals tend to focus on the most recent examples of slavery – that of African slaves in the American south and the sugar islands of the Caribbean.There is nothing wrong with remembering and appreciating the horrors of African slavery, of course, but let us not lose sight of a global perspective.

    The very word “slave” probably derives from late Latin “sclavus”, which in turn denotes the Slavic peoples of Central and Eastern Europe who were enslaved by the Turks. Incidentally, the Roman word for a slave was not sclavus but “servus.” Servus, which is where the English word “servant” comes from, remains a popular greeting, akin to “hello”, among the people of Central and Eastern Europe.

    The same applies to child labor. According to the economic historian Eli Heckscher:

    “The notion that child labor in either theory or practice was a result of the Industrial Revolution is diametrically opposed to reality. Under mercantilism it was ideal to employ children almost from the age when they could walk, and, for example Colbert [Louis XIV’s Minister of Finance from 1665 to 1683] introduced fines for parents who did not put their six-year-old children to work in one of his particularly cherished industries.”

    As Norberg notes:

    “In old tapestries and paintings from at least the medieval period, children are portrayed as an integral part of the household economy.… Many worked hard in small work-shops and in home-based industry, and some scholars suggest that this was more intense and exploitative than child labor during industrialization. In the worst cases, children climbed chimneys and worked in mines. Prior to the mid-19th century it was common for working-class children to start working from seven years of age. Here, as elsewhere, the survival of the family demanded that everybody contributed.”

    The slaves and the young, in other words, were a source of much-needed energy – and that brings us to hunger and poverty.

    Prior to the Industrial Revolution and burning of coal, gas and oil, most of the calories that people obtained – either directly by planting, growing and harvesting, or indirectly, by manufacturing and trading – they immediately consumed. The exceptions to the rule were the kings, soldiers and priests, who relied on the work of others.

    Only very few ordinary people, mostly merchants and money-lenders, broke out of subsistence existence and escaped the vicious cycle of ceaseless manual labor, hunger and poverty.

    For the “crime” of escaping from the “natural condition” of poverty, these people were then envied and resented by the bulk of the population.screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-08-03-28The Industrial Revolution changed all that. Mechanization of agriculture, combined with the use of guano and, later, synthetic fertilizer, massively improved agricultural productivity.

    For the first time, the farm produced more food than the farmers themselves needed to survive. That meant that millions of erstwhile agricultural laborers could move off the farm and into the city.

    Factories that sprung up in the urban centers were initially powered by steam that was produced by the burning of coal. Many of the new factories specialized in the production of clothing, which collapsed in price.

    This was important. As Carlo Cipolla observed in his 1994 book Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy 1000-1700:

    “In preindustrial Europe, the purchase of a garment or the cloth for a garment remained a luxury the common people could only afford a few times in their lives. One of the main preoccupations of hospital administration was to ensure that the clothes of the deceased should not be usurped but should be given to lawful inheritors.During epidemics of plague, the town authorities had to struggle to confiscate the clothes of the dead and to burn them: people waited for others to die so as to take over their clothes – which generally had the effect of spreading the epidemic.”

    At first, health and housing in the industrial centers were awful. No European city, after all, was prepared for an influx of millions of people from the countryside.

    By the mid-19th century, as T. S. Ashton explains in his 1948 book The Industrial Revolution: 1760–1830, working conditions started to improve and wages started to rise. That, in turn, removed the need for child labor, which rapidly declined.What about the end of slavery?

    Here again the Industrial Revolution played an important, though indirect, role. Public sentiments regarding slavery continued to evolve over time. The first millennium, for example, saw slavery abolished in some European countries, including England, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

    Unfortunately, the international slave trade continued by and large unimpeded until 1807, when Great Britain abolished the slave trade throughout her global empire and used her naval supremacy to compel other powers, including France and Spain, to do the same.

    In any case, British hegemony and naval superiority were connected to the wealth produced and technological innovations spurred by the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain and it is, therefore, no wonder that it benefited the British Isles first.

    Still, the long-term positive effects of the Industrial Revolution were global. The Industrial Revolution did not cause hunger, poverty and child labor. Those were always with us. The Industrial Revolution helped to eliminate them.

    This article first appeared in CapX.