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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-HIV Drugs Lengthen Lifespans

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

Cyborg Eyes Restore Vision

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

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

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

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

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

Yeast Rises Up Against Disease

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

Gene Editing Takes on HIV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared in The Hill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applying socialist ideas in practice turned out to be much more problematic. One of the most obvious shortcomings of socialism in real life is its tendency to lead toward dictatorship. This relationship, clearly visible in Venezuela today, was first identified by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom.

In 1944, when he wrote his book, Hayek noted that the crimes of the German National Socialists and Soviet Communists were, in great part, the result of growing state control over the economy. As he explained, growing state interference in the economy leads to massive inefficiencies and long queues outside empty shops. A state of perpetual economic crisis then leads to calls for more planning.

But economic planning is inimical to freedom. As there can be no agreement on a single plan in a free society, the centralization of economic decision-making has to be accompanied by centralization of political power in the hands of a small elite. When, in the end, the failure of central planning becomes undeniable, totalitarian regimes tend to silence the dissenters—sometimes through mass murder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First artificial brain created in dish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian rocket finally getting private-sector competition  

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

SpaceX will attempt to reuse every part of rocket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared in CapX.

Freezing Offers Solution to Electronic Waste

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

Chinese Startup Emerges as Biotech Innovator

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

Plastic-Eating Fungus Helps Solve Garbage Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This first appeared in Reason.
Synthetic Yeast DN

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

Scientists Discover New Matter

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

Tech to Speed Emergency Room Care

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

New Vaccine to Cure Deadly Rotavirus Disease  

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

'Brewed Blood’ To Combat Sickness

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

Blood Test Detects Cancer  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As poverty continues to decline, more and more people will hopefully one day be able to take toilets for granted. In the meantime, entrepreneurs are offering cheap solutions to these problems to help poor communities transition to modern day restrooms.