September 19, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Yesterday, Bloomberg had an interesting article about food shortages in Venezuela. Contrary to popular perception, the Venezuelan shops are not empty. Bakeries, for example, offer "a wide variety of freshly-made breads," including, "a fat, dense loaf called the gallego, or a soft sobado." Conversely, "the canilla, a soft, buttery take on the baguette that's been the beloved bread of choice in this South American country for decades," is missing from the shelves. Why?

The canilla has disappeared because its price is set by the state. The price of the bread is "set at such a low level—1,500 bolivars versus the 4,500 to 7,500 a gallego commands—that bakers complain it doesn't come close to covering their costs. So they use new-found supplies of wheat in the country to bake every other kind of bread imaginable."

Say what you will about socialism, it always follows a predictable pattern. In an attempt to make something available to everyone, the socialists ensure that it is not available to anyone (except for the politically well-connected). As a child growing up behind the Iron Curtain, I recall constant shortages of basic foodstuffs. The price of meat, for instance, was kept artificially low due to political considerations. Low prices created an impression of affordability. On their trips abroad, communists would often boast that workers in the Soviet empire could buy and produce more meat than their Western counterparts. In reality, shops were often empty.

The deleterious consequences of price controls should not come as a surprise to anyone with a basic understanding of economics, including supply and demand, and the role that free markets play in allowing the price mechanism to function properly. Back in 1979, Robert Schuettinger of Oxford University and Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute wrote a brilliant series of essays entitled Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls: How Not to Fight Inflation.

The authors noted that price and wage controls go back, at the very least, 4,000 years to ancient Egypt. "For centuries the Egyptian government strived to maintain control of the grain crop, knowing that control of food is control of lives. Using the pretext of preventing famine, the government gradually regulated more and more of the granaries; regulation led to direction and finally to outright ownership; land became the property of the monarch and was rented from him by the agricultural class."

According to the French historian, Jean-Philippe Levy, "There was a whole army of inspectors [in Egypt]. There was nothing but inventories, censuses of men and animals … estimations of harvests to come... In villages, when farmers who were disgusted with all these vexations ran away, those who remained were responsible for absentees' production... [one of the first effects of harsh price controls on farm goods is the abandonment of farms and the consequent fall in the supplies of food]. The pressure [the inspectors] applied extended, in case of need, to cruelty and torture."

As Venezuelans can attest, the basic laws of economics have not changed since the time of Hammurabi. And, as they can also attest, neither have the means—cruelty and torture—by which governments attempt to make price controls work in real world.

This first appeared in Reason.
September 15, 2017
By Human Progress Team
Anti-inflammatory drug cuts heart attack risk 

A recent study of 10,000 patients indicates that using a new anti-inflammatory drug named Canakinumab can reduce the risk of repeat heart attacks by 15%. The outcome of the trial which the British Heart Foundation (BHF) dubbed “exciting and long-awaited” represents a “milestone in a long journey” according Harvard Medical school. The study is being described by its authors as representing potentially the most significant breakthrough in heart attack treatment since Statins, a drug which helps to lower cholesterol.  Despite this breakthrough, Canakinumab still has serious potential risks. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has called for further research. 

Middle-class income hit highest level on record in 2016

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that median household income reached a record high of $59,039 in 2016, increasing in real terms by 3.2% when compared to the 2015 median. This study is adjusted for inflation and includes data from almost 100,000 homes, making it one of the most of the most accurate and well regarded indices. The Census Bureau also found the number of people working full-time with increased earnings has increased by 2.2 million between 2015 and 2016, whilst the poverty rate has fallen 2.1% since 2014.

Trail raises Parkinson’s therapy hope 

A team of Japanese scientists have restored destroyed nerve cells caused by a disease similar to Parkinson’s, in the brains of macaque monkeys. By transplanting human stem cells to replace those destroyed, the monkeys have showed a substantial improvement after two years. The stem cells, which are known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are artificially created by reverting adult human cells into an embryonic-like state, meaning they can develop into a variety of different cell types. This treatment looks to reverse the release of dopamine by nerve cells, which occurs during Parkinson’s and typically results in severely impaired movement. The Japanese researchers are hoping to begin human trails by the end of 2018, but for now it is being described as “extremely promising research” as it proves “safe and highly effective cell therapy for Parkinson's can be produced in the lab.”

September 15, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Fifteen years ago, The Economist ran an article headlined "Better dead than GM-fed?" It focused on the refusal of some African countries to allow imports of American food aid, because it contained genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This was when extreme hunger threatened some 15 million people, before Africa's decade of economic growth spurred by high commodity prices as well as some economic reforms.

Some of the reasons for the refusal of U.S. food aid, such as Zambia's then-president Levy Mwanawasa's statement that GMOs were "poison," were just silly. American's have been eating GMO foods for decades and there is not an iota of evidence that GMOs are detrimental to health. Other reasons were more serious.

Much of Africa's agricultural produce is still destined for Europe and the European Union has been waging a war on GMO foods for decades. The reasons for the EU's anti-GMO stance, ostensibly, are health concerns. In reality, the EU is trying to protect its farmers against their more productive American competitors. Thus, were the U.S. food aid inadvertently to "contaminate" Africa's crops, Africans would be in trouble.

While imports of GMOs are not barred from Europe by law, the EU food labeling system obliges companies to indicate if the food or feed they produce contains GMOs. This labeling applies when GMOs account for at least 0.9 percent of the food or the feed. Since Europeans have been brainwashed into believing that GMO foods are unsafe, scary labeling could dampen European demand for African agricultural produce. As such, much of Africa has not only refused to grow GMOs, but also refused U.S. food aid.

Today, scholars can estimate the cost of Africa's refusal to grow GMO crops. According to a recent study in the journal PLoS One, delays in the introduction of disease-resistant cooking banana (matoke), insect-resistant cow pea, and corn (maize) "have resulted in significant economic and human health costs, including malnutrition and stunting."

"If Kenya had adopted GE [genetically engineered] corn in 2006," the study estimates, "between 440 and 4,000 lives could theoretically have been saved. Similarly, Uganda had the possibility in 2007 to introduce the black sigatoka resistant banana, thereby potentially saving between 500 and 5,500 lives over the past decade."

Each year of delay in the introduction of GMO crops to Africa increases the death count as well as revenue loss for African farmers. For example, insect-resistant Bt cowpea was supposed to become available to farmers in Benin, Niger and Nigeria this year. The authors of the study worry that anti-biotech activists could delay its introduction or postpone it indefinitely.

"A one-year delay in approval [of the insect-resistant Bt cowpea]," they estimate, "would especially harm Nigeria, as malnourishment is widespread there... [and] cost Nigeria about 33 million USD to 46 million USD and between 100 and 3,000 lives."

European restrictions on GMOs, the study argues, have serious costs. The same, however, goes for EU and U.S. agricultural subsidies, which undermine their African competitors and cost European and American taxpayers billions of dollars each year. I have a better idea. Let's keep our money and let African compete with us on an even playing field.

This first appeared in Reason.
September 15, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
As 2017 enters its final months, leaders in the United Kingdom and in the United States wrestle with some momentous decisions. In Britain, Dr Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, is beefing up his department with the intention of negotiating free trade agreements for the post-Brexit era, while Donald Trump, the American President, howls at his White House staff, “I want tariffs. And I want someone to bring me some tariffs.”

As our leaders set their sights on reconstituting British and American trade relations with the rest of the world, they should keep two dates – 1817 and 1917 – in mind.

Individuals have traded with one another, it is safe to assume, since before the birth of our species some 300,000 years ago. Long-distance trade between groups of peoples, historians estimate, goes back at least 150,000 years. But, it was only in 1776 that the Scottish founder of economics, Adam Smith, formulated the concept of absolute advantage as the basis for trade between countries.

“If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better buy it of them with some part of the produce of our own industry employed in a way in which we have some advantage. The general industry of the country, being always in proportion to the capital which employs it, will not thereby be diminished … but only left to find out the way in which it can be employed with the greatest advantage.”

But what if a country is the best at producing absolutely everything? What incentive does that country have to trade with others? Enter David Ricardo, another Briton. In 1817, which is to say exactly 200 years ago, Ricardo developed a theory of international trade that he called comparative advantage. According to Ricardo:

“If a country is relatively better at making wine than wool, it makes sense to put more resources into wine, and to export some of the wine to pay for imports of wool. This is even true if that country is the world’s best wool producer, since the country will have more of both wool and wine than it would have without trade. A country does not have to be best at anything to gain from trade. Because it is relative advantage that matters, it is meaningless to say a country has a comparative advantage in nothing.”

Yet, the concept of comparative advantage is little known outside of academia and it is subject to much misunderstanding. In fact, when the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson was once challenged to name “one proposition in all of the social sciences which is both true and non-trivial”, he quipped, “That [comparative advantage] is logically true need not be argued before a mathematician; that it is not trivial is attested by the thousands of important and intelligent men who have never been able to grasp the doctrine for themselves or to believe it after it was explained to them.”

Fast forward to 1917, which is to say one hundred years after Ricardo’s monumental discovery. On November 7 of that year, a small band of Bolsheviks seized power in Russia and set the stage for one hundred years of struggle between capitalism, exemplified by free trade, and socialism, exemplified by autarky or self-sufficiency. (The struggle continues in Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela and other, less stark, examples, of anti-capitalist mentality.) So, what was the Bolsheviks’ big idea?

As I have explained in a previous column, Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, believed that international trade was a tool of capitalist exploitation. “As capitalist economies mature, as capital accumulates, and as profit rates fall,” his followers believed, “the capitalist economies are compelled to seize colonies and create dependencies to serve as markets, investment outlets, and sources of food and raw materials.” To avoid being exploited, the Soviet Union would aim for self-sufficiency.Things did not work out the way that Lenin envisaged. As yet another great British economist and international trade specialist, Joan Robinson, of Cambridge University once observed (possibly with Lenin in mind), “The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.” During the second half of the 20th century, Hong Kong, which has become a byword for the policy of free trade, saw its wealth skyrocket. The autarkic Soviet Union stagnated and, eventually, collapsed.

The case for free trade is solid. Gregory Mankiw, professor of economics at Harvard University has noted that ″Few propositions command as much consensus among professional economists as that open world trade increases economic growth and raises living standards.” Liam Fox understands that. He has embraced the vision of international trade as outlined by Ricardo in 1817. Donald Trump, unfortunately, seems to see international trade as a means of exploitation of one country by another. He should heed the failures of 1917.

This first appeared in CapX.
September 01, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
The question of the cost of living in the United States is intimately connected to the issue of the so-called “wage stagnation,” which is typically blamed on economic liberalization that started under President Carter, gathered steam under President Reagan, and peaked under President Clinton.

According to a 2015 report issued by the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank based in Washington, D.C., “ever since 1979, the vast majority of American workers have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline. This is despite real GDP growth of 149 percent and net productivity growth of 64 percent over this period. In short, the potential has existed for ample, broad-based wage growth over the last three-and-a-half decades, but these economic gains have largely bypassed the vast majority.”

True, adjusted for inflation, average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees in the private sector (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.

Looking at the average hourly earnings, however, ignores at least three very important factors: expansion of non-wage benefits, fall in the price of consumer goods and rise in price of services, such as education and healthcare.

View the infographic here.

First, in recent decades, non-wage benefits expanded. 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, child care and transportation benefits, vacation and sick paid time-off, and employee discount programs from a variety of vendors, etc.

It is not easy to put an exact figure on the value of those non-wage benefits, but they could amount to as much as 30 or even 40 percent of the workers’ earnings. The lion’s share of the non-wage benefits, as my Cato colleague Peter Van Doren wrote in 2011, is consumed by “the dramatic increase in health insurance costs.” “The fixed costs of health insurance,” Van Doren shows, “are a much larger percentage of the total compensation of lower-earnings workers.”

Second, many, perhaps most, big-ticket items used by a typical American family on a daily basis have decreased in price. Over at Human Progress, we have been comparing the prices of common household items as advertised in the 1979 Sears catalog and prices of common household items as sold by Walmart in 2015.

We have divided the 1979 nominal prices by 1979 average nominal hourly wages and 2015 nominal prices by 2015 average nominal hourly wages, to calculate the “time cost” of common household items in each year (i.e., the number of hours the average American would have to work to earn enough money to purchase various household items at the nominal prices). Thus, the “time cost” of a 13 Cu. Ft. refrigerator fell by 52 percent in terms of the hours of work required at the average hourly nominal wage, etc.

Needless to say, the above price reductions greatly underestimate the totality of welfare gains by an average American, by ignoring qualitative, aesthetic and environmental improvements on commonly used items. (To give just one example, a refrigerator today uses one-third of the electricity used by a refrigerator in the 1970s.)

From the above discussion it might be reasonable to conclude that Americans are much better off today than they were in the late 1970s, but that would be too simplistic. The cost of education, healthcare and housing has risen at a faster pace than total compensation. It is true that today’s houses are larger, healthcare better, and education more high-tech than in the past, but quality improvements do not seem to account for the entirety of price increases. For example, there appears to be a high degree of academic consensus that housing price inflation is driven, primarily, by zoning laws. (No such consensus, alas, exists for the rise in education and healthcare costs.)

The question of standard of living is a complex one. The accompanying infographic refers to merely one part of the debate, i.e., affordability of commonly used items. While we believe that the infographic tells an important story, it should be considered within a broader context, including non-wage compensation and offsetting increases in the cost of housing, education, and healthcare.
Observing the Stalinist propensity to rewrite people and events in and out of history, and to distort historical facts to suit the Communist Party’s goals, British author George Orwell once famously quipped that “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

There are very few fully-fledged communist regimes left in the world today, but communist parties – unlike their National Socialist intellectual cousins – still form a part of many a governing coalition.

Since 1994, South Africa has been run by a tripartite coalition consisting of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and two movements, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the African National Congress (ANC). The latter two have been gradually taken over by communists.

Over the past two decades, the South African comrades have been very busy rewriting the history of the struggle against apartheid. By trying to expunge liberal opposition to racial discrimination from the history books and monopolising the moral high ground in the fight for racial equality, the ANC hopes to secure a perpetual lock on power. Mercifully, a new book shines light on liberal efforts to bring about multi-racial democracy in South Africa, as well as the ongoing struggle to build a racially-blind and economically prosperous country.

John Kane-Berman’s memoir, Between Two Fires: Holding the Liberal Centre in South African Politics, which came out earlier this year, reflects on the career of one of the country’s preeminent writers, analysts and fighters for liberty.

As a gay man of (partly) Jewish heritage, Kane-Berman would have been at home on the far-left of South African politics. The National Party (NP), which ran South Africa between 1948 and 1994, was a movement inspired by Calvinist puritanism, while Jews were heavily over-represented in the leadership of the South African Communist Party.

Kane-Berman was not interested in identity politics. Instead, he spent his life searching for ways in which people of all colours and religions, as well as all personal and political preferences, could live alongside each other in peace and prosperity.

As such, he became a classical liberal, advocating for a free market economy and limited government, both of which were and are rejected by South Africa’s white and black nationalists – the two fires in the title of the memoir.

Kane-Berman was born in 1946 to a politically conscious family. His father, who loathed the NP and called its elected representatives “simply inhuman”, was the Chairman of the Torch Commando – an association of World War II veterans that attempted to prevent the NP from removing the Coloureds (mixed race South Africans) from the common voters’ roll in the Cape Province.

He was schooled at prestigious St John’s College in Houghton, a Johannesburg suburb represented for decades in the South African Parliament by the indomitable liberal MP Helen Suzman. He went to the University of the Witwatersrand, where, as a student leader, he led a protest against the government’s attempt to segregate racially-mixed English-speaking universities. He met Prime Minister, John Vorster, who berated Kane-Berman’s delegation as “little pink liberals.”

A Rhodes Scholarship and a stint at Oxford University followed. Always thirsty for knowledge, Kane-Berman joined both the Labour Club (to listen to Denis Healy) and the Conservative Association (to listen to Enoch Powell). He went to lectures by A.J.P. Taylor, A.J. Ayer and Isaiah Berlin, among others, and revelled in idyllic strolls though Magdalen College and Christ Church Meadows.

Kane-Berman’s academic career was cut short by the refusal of a vindictive NP officialdom to extend his passport, and so he returned to South Africa to rejoin the fight against apartheid in earnest. The year was 1971.

As a journalist for the Financial Mail, Kane-Berman wrote stories exposing the cruelties and absurdities of apartheid, and came close to being banished (i.e., prevented from exercising freedom of expression, travel and assembly) on a number of occasions.


It was during that time that he started developing his rather unconventional, if correct, view that South Africa’s expanding economy was a means towards racial integration. He saw that protection of white workers from black competition occasioned massive labor shortages. The government could either preside over economic stagnation or abandon workplace discrimination. The government chose the latter course and repealed the Colour Bar between 1973 and 1979.

New economic opportunities led to increased black urbanisation and enrichment. The wages of black South Africans skyrocketed (though they still lagging behind the white ones). Their new economic clout led to unionisation, which then snowballed into demands for political rights.

Far from exploiting the working class, as Communists and their fellow travellers maintained, capitalism had proved to be a catalyst to black emancipation. It is not for nothing that a succession of NP leaders roiled against “rootless capital” as a threat to white domination of South Africa.

Leaving a prodigious journalistic career behind, Kane-Berman took over as director of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) in 1983. Established in 1929, SAIRR was the country’s most prestigious liberal institution, committed, in equal measure, to racial integration and free market economics.

Unfortunately, the Institute was almost broke and Kane-Berman had the unenviable task of nursing it back to financial health. Fundraising was difficult, because most foreign donors refused to fund South Africa’s NGOs without the ANC’s imprimatur. But whereas the ANC wanted to bring the NP down through a combination of economic sanctions and violent confrontations, SAIRR was committed to growth and negotiations.

In thousands of opinion pieces, hundreds of studies and dozens of books, SAIRR courageously exposed the insanity and immorality of apartheid, but the uneasy relationship between the ANC and the Institute would persist to the present.

Just as the ANC was suspicious of all forms of liberalism, SAIRR was skeptical of the fullness of the ANC’s conversion from a Stalinist movement committed to a one-party state and socialism, to a governing party at ease with free markets and a pluralistic society. That scepticism proved to be correct after the ANC’s assumption of power in 1994.

Over the last two decades, the ANC has gradually undermined checks and balances that were devised by the country’s 1996 Constitution. It has created a client support base that thrives on corruption and nepotism. And, after a few years when it took government and delivery of public services seriously, the ANC today seems committed to little else than self-enrichment and remaining in power through cynical exploitation of racial resentments. Throughout that time, SAIRR remained steadfast in speaking truth to power.

The ANC has long since given up on improving the lives of ordinary people. Instead, it has turned to propaganda, which lionises the ANC’s role in ending apartheid, while belittling the efforts of other black political parties, like Inkatha, and white liberals. Kane-Berman’s memoir is, therefore, a welcome contribution to the literature dealing with the history of South Africa in the second half of the 20th century and the first two decades of the new millennium.

In 2013, Kane-Berman stepped down as head of SAIRR, although he continues to write for a variety of South African outlets. He lives in Johannesburg with his partner of 45 years, Pierre Roestorf. Let us hope that his intellectual engagement with politics and economics in South Africa continues for many years to come.

This first appeared in CapX.
August 22, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
August marks 70 years since the partition of the Indian sub-continent and the beginning of the slaughter that followed the creation of Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. The anniversary occasioned much intellectual self-flagellation in the United Kingdom, even though, as Christopher Booker explains, the former colonial power did try to keep its old colony together.

In general, libertarians are not in favor of imposing Western values on people elsewhere, even though we happen to believe that political and economic freedoms are desirable and beneficial. That has long been the case. Adam Smith was an avid anti-imperialist who thought that empires were "a waste of money," while Richard Cobden thought that free trade and non-interventionism in foreign policy should go hand in hand.

"So far as our commerce is concerned," Niall Ferguson quotes from Cobden in his 2004 book Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, "it can neither be sustained nor greatly injured abroad by force or violence. The foreign customers who visit our markets are not brought hither through fear of the power and the influence of British diplomatists; they are not captured by our fleets and armies; and as little are they attracted by feelings of love for us... It is solely from the promptings of self interest that the merchants of Europe, as of the rest of the world, send their ships to our ports to be freighted with the products of our labor."

Why rehash this seemingly ancient history? Because classical liberals and libertarians are not the only critics of imperialism. Communists and their fellow travelers, while ignoring the vast imperial domain that the Soviets built for themselves in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, have picked up the baton of anti-imperialism and used it, very effectively, to bludgeon the advocates of free markets as neo-imperialists. In fact, one of the biggest and most pernicious myths in the literature of economic development is that capitalism exploits the many, such as the colonies, while benefiting only the few, such as the colonial powers.

The origins of this myth go back to Karl Marx, who thought that, under capitalism, competition would drive down profits, thus necessitating greater exploitation of the workers. The mistaken theorizing of the German economist (real average global income per person rose by factor of 10 over the last 200 hundred years) was then updated by Vladimir Lenin in his immensely influential 1916 pamphlet, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.

The update was necessary because by Lenin's time, the workers in the western industrialized countries were unambiguously better off than when Marx wrote Das Capital (1867). And so, the first dictator of the Soviet Union invented a new thesis. Contra Marx, the living standards of the western workers continued to improve, Lenin argued, because of the riches that flowed to the West from the exploited colonies. Lenin's thesis had a profound effect on generations of Third World leaders, who rejected capitalism and embraced some form of socialism instead. To this day, most of the developing world remains less economically free than most of the West.

Colonialism and the developing world's reaction to it have led to much misery, but the West has not escaped its imperialist past unscathed. In his new book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity and Islam, the British writer Douglas Murray explains how colonial guilt undermines Western confidence and makes Westerners uneasy about the morality (i.e., justice) of the global distribution of wealth.

But, as Deirdre McCloskey shows in Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World, "colonial wealth accumulation" cannot, mathematically speaking, account for the 16-fold increase in the Western standards of living since the early 1800s. Similarly, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and University of Maryland philosophy Professor Dan Moller, have shown that Western prosperity preceded Western imperial expansion (i.e., Western imperialism was an outcome of rising property in the West, rather than the reason for Western prosperity).

All in all, imperialism is a bad idea and we should have none of it. That said, imperialism does not and cannot explain either the roots or the extent of Western prosperity.

This first appeared in Reason.
August 21, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
It was strange seeing the picturesque college town where I attended graduate school appear on the news, transformed into a painful spectacle of angry tiki torch-bearing protesters and violence. In the aftermath of what happened last weekend in Charlottesville, it can be easy to feel as though the world is deteriorating into ever-greater brutality and chaos, and to lose hope.

There is reason for hope. Just look at the data.

Humanity has overcome far worse savagery before. Hard as it is to believe, empirically, violence has declined and this is in many ways the most peaceful era in history.

White supremacists are estimated to be only 0.02 percent of the U.S. population, hardly a dominant social movement. That is not to say that complacency is acceptable — violence has declined precisely because of the actions of individuals working towards greater peace and tolerance.

Amplifying the voice of the small number of white supremacists with wall-to-wall media coverage and lengthy profiles of the movement’s leaders, headed by glamorous photographs, is probably inadvisable.

The media’s tendency to highlight that which is rare and dramatic instead of long-term trends is one of the reasons that the public has such a distorted view of the world. Most people have no idea how much life has improved in the past few decades, for example.

The website HumanProgress.org, of which I am managing editor, aims to bridge the gap between widespread perceptions and reality by making data from reliable third-party sources more widely available.

Judging the state of the world by looking at empirical evidence, rather than by how grisly the headlines are, leads to surprisingly heartening conclusions.

International wars between nation states have almost disappeared. Homicides are becoming rarer globally, and despite a recent slight uptick, the U.S. homicide rate is still at an historic low point. Violence against women has declined in the United States, as has child abuse.

Despite the overall trend away from violence, it is important to note that progress is not linear nor inevitable, and that human action determines the course of the future.

Terrorism represents one of the few areas where violence has become worse, although it remains rare. On an average day, terrorists kill 21 people worldwide, while natural or technological disasters kill more than 100 times as many. Perspective is as important as vigilance against threats.

You are unlikely to die at the hands of an Islamist terrorist, and even less likely to be killed in a right-wing terrorist attack like the one that occurred in Charlottesville.

My colleague Alex Nowrasteh calculated the breakdown of deadly U.S. terrorist attacks by ideology and found that Islamists committed 92 percent of such murders, right-wing extremists committed 7 percent and left-wing terrorists were responsible for less than 1 percent (although that is increasing).

The threat of terrorism, whether by white supremacists, Islamists, or any other group, should be guarded against but not blown out of proportion. While honoring the victims of tragedies and taking care not to magnify the views of a few fanatics or overreact with policies that pointlessly restrict human liberty, we should take heart from the facts.

Although some violent extremists may stand opposed to the trend towards greater peace and tolerance, violence is slowly receding.

As Harvard University’s Steven Pinker put it: “For all the tribulations in our lives, for all the troubles that remain in the world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment we can savor, and an impetus to cherish the forces of civilization and enlightenment that made it possible.”

This first appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch.
August 18, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
A new study shows that between 1850 and the present, radical changes in life expectancy, working conditions, real wages, education, and technology created a much more pleasant life for the average Dutch man. Between 1840 and 1950, the total amount of time that the average Dutch man spent working over the course of his life halved, despite an increase in life expectancy. Despite working less, male Dutch workers are much more productive than in the past. As working hours have declined, harmful effects of overwork such as productivity losses due to fatigue or accidents have also decreased. Along with a reduction in working hours, technology and education have allowed for productivity to skyrocket, despite the fact that people spend significantly less time working. Learn more by reading the full study here.


August 18, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
I have just finished reading Neil Monnery’s new book, Architect of Prosperity: Sir John Cowperthwaite and the Making of Hong Kong. This fascinating account of the rise of Hong Kong as a global economic powerhouse is well written and, as such, easy to read and understand. I’m happy to recommend it wholeheartedly to CapX’s discerning readership.

I first became interested in the story of Hong Kong in the late 1990s. The emotional handover of the colony from the United Kingdom to China, for example, is deeply impressed on my memory. But also, as part of my doctoral research at the University of St Andrews, I read a number of essays about the rise of Hong Kong written by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. Friedman, an advocate of the free market and small government, believed that individuals, when left unmolested, will strive to improve their lives and those of their families. Prosperity will follow.

His was similar to Adam Smith’s insight:


“Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavor to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and to support themselves are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical.”

No country in modern history has come as close to Smith’s ideal as Hong Kong. The territory that the British Foreign Secretary Viscount Palmerston described as “a barren island with hardly a house upon it” was once very poor. In the immediate aftermath of World War II and Japanese occupation, its per capita income was about a third of that in the United Kingdom.


By the time British colonial rule ended, Hong Kong was 10 per cent richer than the mother country. Last year, the former colony was 37 per cent richer than the UK. It is, therefore, apposite that the man credited with Hong Kong’s success should be a Scottish civil servant, a University of St Andrews alumnus, and a devotee of Adam Smith: Sir John Cowperthwaite.

As Monnery explains, Cowperthwaite was not the first small government advocate to oversee the colony’s economy and finances. A succession of colonial governors and their financial secretaries ran a shoe string government. But, they did so out of financial necessity, rather than deep ideological commitment to small government.

As Financial Secretaries, Geoffrey Fellows (1945-1951) and Arthur Clarke (1951-1961) established a regime of low taxes and budgetary surpluses, and free flow of good and capital. To those foundations, Cowperthwaite (1961-1971) added not only the vigor of his convictions, but also a handpicked successor, Philip Haddon-Cave (1971-1981). By the time Haddon-Cave departed, the success of Hong Kong’s experiment with small government was undeniable not only to the British, but also to the Chinese. Margaret Thatcher embarked on her journey to dismantle British socialism in 1979, while Deng Xiaoping started undoing the damage caused by Chinese communism in 1978.

And that brings me to the most important reason why Cowperthwaite, rather than Fellows and Clarke, deserve to be credited with the rise of Hong Kong. Basically, he was the right man at the right place in the right time – the 1960s. It was all well and good to run a small government when the colony was still poor. By the 1960s, however, the colony was prospering and demands for higher government spending (as a proportion of GDP) were increasing. As an aside, the government’s nominal spending increased each year in tandem with economic growth. To make matters much worse, socialism, be it in its Soviet form (i.e., central planning) or in its more benign British form (state ownership of the commanding heights of the economy) was ascendant.

In fact, just before departing from Hong Kong, Clarke appears to have had a sudden crisis of confidence in the colony’s economic model, noting:

“We have, I think, come to a turning point in our financial history … There seem to be two courses we can follow. We can carry on as we are doing … Or we can do something to plan our economy … Which course should we adopt?”

Mercifully, Cowperthwaite was able to articulate the reasons for staying the course. In his early budget debates, he noted:

“I now come to the more general and far-reaching suggestion made by Mr Barton and Mr Knowles, that is, the need to plan our economic future and in particular, the desirability of a five-year plan. I would like to say a few words about some of the principles involved in the question of planning the overall economic development of the colony.

“I must, I am afraid, begin by expressing my deep-seated dislike and distrust of anything of this sort in Hong Kong. Official opposition to overall economic planning and planning controls has been characterised in a recent editorial as ‘Papa knows best.’ But it is precisely because Papa does not know best that I believe that Government should not presume to tell any businessman or industrialist what he should or should not do, far less what he may or may not do; and no matter how it may be dressed up that is what planning is.”
And:
“An economy can be planned, I will not say how effectively, when there unused resources and a finite, captive, domestic market, that is, when there is a possibility of control of both production and consumption, of both supply and demand. These are not our circumstances; control of these factors lies outside our borders. For us a multiplicity of individual decisions by businessmen and industrialists will still, I am convinced, produce a better and wiser result than a single decision by a Government or by a board with its inevitably limited knowledge of the myriad factors involved, and its inflexibility.
“Over a wide field of our economy it is still the better course to rely on the nineteenth century’s ‘hidden hand’ than to thrust clumsy bureaucratic fingers into its sensitive mechanism. In particular, we cannot afford to damage its mainspring, freedom of competitive enterprise.”

It is not clear whether Cowperthwaite ever read Friedrich Hayek’s 1945 essay, “The Use of Knowledge in Society”, which posits that allocation “of scarce resources requires knowledge dispersed among many people, with no individual or group of experts capable of acquiring it all”, or whether he came to the same conclusions as the Austrian Nobel Prize-winning economist on his own. But, even if he were consciously or sub-consciously influenced by Hayek, it speaks much of Cowperthwaite “the thinker” that he took Hayek’s insights to heart, unlike so many decision-makers around the world, who succumbed to the Siren calls of socialism.

And so it was with considerable amazement that, towards the end of my first year at St Andrews, I discovered Cowperthwaite and I were neighbors. His house on 25 South Street was a few hundred feet away from Deans Court, the University’s post-graduate student residence. I immediately wrote to him and he responded, asking me to come for tea. I spent a wonderful afternoon in his presence and kept in touch with him during my remaining time at St Andrews.

Last time I saw him, he came to the launch of the libertarian student magazine Catallaxy, which my friend, Alex Singleton, and I wrote together. As he took his leave, I saw him walk down Market Street and got a distinct feeling that it would be for the last time. Shortly after I graduated and moved to Washington. A new life and new job took precedence and St Andrews slowly receded down memory lane.


Neil Monnery’s book made those wonderful memories come alive again. His work has immortalized a man to whom so many owe so much. Architect of Prosperity is an economic and intellectual history. Above all, it is a tribute to a principled, self-effacing, consequential and deeply moral man. Monnery deserves our gratitude for writing it.



August 16, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Over the last few months, The New York Times has published a number of warm and nostalgic recollections of communism. Authors have opined about the supposed optimism, idealism, and moral authority of communism. Perhaps the most bizarre article so far claimed that women behind the Iron Curtain enjoyed greater sexual satisfaction and more independence than their Western counterparts (except, of course, when it came to freedom of thought, speech, religion, association, or movement).

I would have chosen to commemorate 100 years since the Bolshevik Revolution and the birth of the Soviet Union in a different way. Over 100,000,000 people have died or were killed while building socialism during the course of the 20th century. Call me crazy, but that staggering number of victims of communism seems to me more important than the somewhat dubious claim that Bulgarian comrades enjoyed more orgasms than women in the West. But as one Russian babushka said to another, suum cuique pulchrum est.

I am, however, intrigued by the striking similarities between the Times articles. To the greatest extent possible, they seem to avoid the broader perspective on life under communism (i.e., widespread oppression and economic failure). Instead, they focus on the experiences of individual people, some of whom never lived in communist countries in the first place.

In "When Communism Inspired Americans," the author remembers her socialist parents and the life of the communist sympathizers in 1950s America. In "Thanks to Mom, the Marxist Revolutionary," the author remembers his batty mother, who dragged him from one communist hellhole to another in search of a "real world" experience. In "'Make It So': 'Star Trek' and Its Debt to Revolutionary Socialism," the author quotes Captain Picard, who explains to a cryogenically unfrozen businessman from the 20th century, "People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We've eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy."

Speaking of hunger and infancy, here are some completely gratuitous eyewitness accounts of parents eating their own children during the man-made famine in Ukraine in the 1930s. Communism may have influenced science fiction writers, but real life in the USSR was no picnic.

"Where did all bread disappear, I do not really know, maybe they have taken it all abroad. The authorities have confiscated it, removed from the villages, loaded grain into the railway coaches and took it away someplace. They have searched the houses, taken away everything to the smallest thing. All the vegetable gardens, all the cellars were raked out and everything was taken away. Wealthy peasants were exiled into Siberia even before Holodomor during the 'collectivization.' Communists came, collected everything....People were laying everywhere as dead flies. The stench was awful. Many of our neighbors and acquaintances from our street died....Some were eating their own children. I would have never been able to eat my child. One of our neighbors came home when her husband, suffering from severe starvation, ate their own baby daughter. This woman went crazy."

One has to wait until "Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism," to meet an actual Eastern European. "Consider Ana Durcheva from Bulgaria," the author writes, "who was 65 when I first met her in 2011. Having lived her first 43 years under Communism, she often complained that the new free market hindered Bulgarians' ability to develop healthy amorous relationships. 'Sure, some things were bad during that time, but my life was full of romance.'" Durcheva's daughter, in contrast, works too much, "and when she comes home at night she is too tired to be with her husband."

What are we to make of this? Are we merely to deduce that the life of a young and, apparently, attractive woman behind the Iron Curtain was not completely devoid of pleasure? No. The article is explicit in stating that "communist women enjoyed a degree of self-sufficiency that few Western women could have imagined."

This is unadulterated rubbish. I grew up under communism, and here is what I recall.

First, all communist countries were run by men; female leaders, like Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir, would have been unthinkable. Women who rose to prominence, like Raisa Gorbachev and Elena Ceausescu, did so purely as appendages of their powerful husbands.

Second, the author concedes that "gender wage disparities and labor segregation persisted, and...the communists never fully reformed domestic patriarchy." I would say so. In a typical Eastern European family, the woman, in addition to having a day job at a factory, was expected to clean the apartment, shop for food, cook dinner, and raise the children. The Western sexual revolution passed the communist bloc by, and ex-communist countries remain much more patriarchal than their Western counterparts to this day.

Third, communist societies were socially uber-conservative. As such, pornography and prostitution were strictly prohibited, divorces were discouraged and divorced people ostracized, and prophylactics and the pill were hard to obtain. (Think about it for one hot second. Why would economies unable to produce enough bread and toilet paper generate a plentiful and regular supply of condoms? This makes no sense!) The reason why we refer to communist countries as "totalitarian" is because the state wanted to control every aspect of human existence. Sexual autonomy was, well, autonomous. Being outside the control of the all-powerful state, it was treated with suspicion and suppressed.

But don't take my word for it. You can still visit a few communist countries, including Cuba and North Korea, and compare the social status and empowerment of their women with those in the West. Had the esteemed editors of the Times done so, they would have, I hope, thought twice about publishing a series of pro-communist excreta.

August 04, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Heat and Cold Provide Energy Storage Solution

Alphabet INC, the parent company of Google, is pitching the idea of using molten salt and cold liquid to store renewable energy. Existing solutions for energy storage all have disadvantages, including high price tags and low efficiency. The research lab suggests the thermal-energy system in salt could be durable, flexible and cheap. This system functions by converting electrical power from solar panels or wind turbines into thermal energy, which is then divided and stored in tanks of molten salt or cold liquid. The heat and cold can later be used to generate the wind for electricity production. Academics agree that the proposed system is technically viable. If successful, this system would help renewable energy, which is hindered by its instability and a lack of storage options, to become more cost-effective.

Gene-Editing Could Prevent Diabetes

Researchers from the University of Chicago recently made a medical breakthrough in treating diabetes by the new and highly precise gene-editing technique CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). The research team modified the gene for G1P1, the hormone responsible for stimulating insulin production, to make the hormone’s half-life longer. Then they attached an inducible promoter, which acts as a switch for GLP1 production. The modified gene is inserted into lab-grown skin cells and then transplanted into mice. There have been no significant side effects observed. Although this experiment targets diabetes, such skin transplants could be a potential cure for many diseases associated with genetic defects, such as hemophilia.   

Data Storage Breakthrough Announced

Another technological breakthrough was made in data storage. Sony and IBM just jointly announced “a twenty-fold increase in the areal density of magnetic tape storage.” The demand for high-capacity data storage has sky-rocketed due to recent developments in areas such as the internet of things, big data and cloud computing. Given concerns about cost, resilience, and capacity, magnetic tapes are considered an important archival format. With a combination of technologies from IBM and Sony, the new tapes will be able to hold 330TB of data, and will be commercialized soon.


August 04, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Researchers in the U.S. just came one step closer to achieving immortality through “cryo-preservation” or the freezing of bodies in the hopes of bringing them back to life at a later time. Although only performed on zebra fish embryos, advances in cryo-preservation succeeded in preserving brains and bodies “in a state of suspended animation” by freezing and reviving individuals at the time of their choice. The main problem of cryo-preservation is the expansion and destruction of cells during the freezing process, and even after adding anti-freeze solution, the large size of certain cells still causes ice crystal formations to appear and damage cell structures. The scientists were able to solve this by adding nano-rods to the anti-freeze solution. This solution allowed rapid warming and cooling to occur, and 10 percent of the embryos survived and continued to grow as normal after being un-frozen. If this technology can be used on humans in the future, people could theoretically live forever, and suspended animation could also make long distance space travel possible.  

A new medical breakthrough could help to eradicate inherited diseases. Researchers were successful in editing the DNA of human embryos to eliminate a heritable heart condition. This is the first gene-editing of human embryos performedin the U.S. Sperm from a donor with the gene that causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a non-preventable and incurable condition that affects 1 in 500 people, was injected into healthy egg cells. Using the technology called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), a sort of "molecular scissors," the researchers successfully cut out the mutant gene, and the cells were able to repair themselves naturally with copies of healthy non-mutated genes as they multiplied. In response to the concerns about the ethical issue of editing genes, the researchers stated the goal of this experiment is to edit away mutant genes that cause tragic medical conditions, not to produce “designer babies” with a parent’s desired eye color or other frivolous changes. The ultimate goal is eradicating all inherited diseases before a baby is born.   

While emissions-free renewable energy is still too expensive and unstable to meet current energy demands, a startup, NET Power, is trying to change that. They are opening a new fossil-fuel power plant that will produce emissions-free power at about $0.06 per kilowatt-hour, which is about the same price as energy from a natural gas-fired plant. The technology is called carbon capture and storage (CCS). Instead of releasing CO2 into the air, this process compresses CO2 and sends it back to the depleted oil reservoirs to enhance oil recovery and at the same time reduce the carbon footprint of the process. Being well aware that fossil fuels are not going away globally, the company decided to focus on fossil fuels, which are cheap but typically release more emissions than some other energy forms. The adoption of this technology could allow communities to enjoy stable and affordable yet emissions-free power from fossil fuels.
In a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Professors Leda Cosmides and John Tooby from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and their coauthors take an evolutionary look at the issue of income inequality and redistribution. As the authors note,
"Markets have lifted millions out of poverty, but considerable inequality remains and there is a large worldwide demand for redistribution. Although economists, philosophers, and public policy analysts debate the merits and demerits of various redistributive programs, a parallel debate has focused on voters' motives for supporting redistribution. Understanding these motives is crucial, for the performance of a policy cannot be meaningfully evaluated except in the light of intended ends."
The authors of the study argue that support for redistribution reflects motivations that evolved for the small-scale world of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. "Understanding the economic and political nitty-gritty of redistribution does not come naturally to us," said lead author Daniel Sznycer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Montreal. "But humans have been interacting with worse-off and better-off individuals over evolutionary time. This process built neural systems that motivate us to act effectively in situations of giving, taking, and sharing."

According to the authors, we see the modern world through the eyes of our ancestors. "Political rhetoric about redistribution involves a cast of characters," said Cosmides, such as "the poor" and "the rich." "The idea is that we view these characters through the lens of motives that evolved to regulate interactions with their ancestral counterparts—community members who are worse-off and better-off than you are."

To understand the logic behind support for—or opposition to—economic redistribution, the research team focused on three motives: compassion, self-interest and envy. They tested how strongly each of these motivations predicted support for redistribution in four societies: the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and Israel.

"Compassion is the emotion that orchestrates need-based help—help toward those worse off than oneself," Tooby explained. "Our ancestors lived in a world without social or medical insurance, and so they benefited from covering each other's shortfalls through mutual help. If your neighbor is starving and you have food, you can save his life by sharing with him. Later, when the situation is reversed and he shares his food with you, your life is saved."

Accordingly, the authors found stronger support for redistribution in people who spontaneously feel more compassion toward individuals in need. Self-interest also played a role: support for redistribution was higher in people who thought that they or their family would benefit from it personally.

The more surprising findings involved envy and fairness. Envy, directed toward those better off than you, predicted support for redistribution. "When a rival outperforms you in some activity, your relative standing decreases," said Sznycer. "People sometimes act to chip away at their rivals' advantages, even when that also harms third parties or even sometimes themselves."

Envy and the spite it generates are socially destructive, he noted, but "they can make sense in the context of an ancestral world that included competitive zero-sum games." When given two hypothetical policies—lower taxes on the rich resulting in more revenue to help the poor versus higher taxes on the rich but less money for the poor—one in six people preferred the second, more spiteful option. This willingness to hurt the poor to pull down the rich was predicted only by the individual's proneness to envy.

Fairness looms large in political rhetoric and theories of justice. But differences in subjects' taste for fairness did not predict how strongly they supported redistribution. The results were the same in the United State, the United Kingdom, India, and Israel: support for redistribution was predicted by compassion, self-interest, and envy, but not fairness.
July 28, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Breakthrough Against Deadliest Skin Cancer  

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It makes up only 1 per of skin cancer cases, but is responsible for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths, with an estimated 9,730 deaths in the United States in 2017 (so far). Current treatments are often either not tolerated well by the human body or prone to drug resistance. But there is good news. A group of researchers developed a new compound that may be able to treat melanoma without harming nearby healthy cells. They used a molecule fragment, which can be found in vegetables. While not therapeutically effective on its own, when combined with a substance called “napthalamide moiety of mitonafide” the molecule fragment is able to destroy cancer. When tested mice, the newly designed compound reduced tumors by 69 percent and killed most cancer cells without creating toxic effects on the healthy cells in the body.   

Slowing Down Aging with Stem Cells  

Researchers have noted that the speed at which one’s body ages may be determined by stem cells in the brain. By introducing new stem cells, the aging process can perhaps be slowed. Dr. Cai and his team from Albert Einstein College of Medicine were able to identify the cells causing the process of aging and observed the decline of brain stem cells in the hypothalamus. This cellular decline starts much earlier than the appearance of outward signs of aging. Mice from the treatment group, which saw their relevant stem cells disrupted, experienced a faster aging process than their counterparts in the control group. Then the fresh stem cells were introduced to the hypothalami of both groups. And the result was positive for all mice. For all of them, the aging process slowed down. This study may lead to further research on a way of slowing or even stopping aging in humans.   

New Compound Mimics Cells in Human Immune System  

A group of researchers from the Francis Crick Institute in London has discovered a new way of generating human antibodies. B cells, which produce antibiotics in human bodies, can recognize an antigen and quickly multiply to develop a vast amount of antibodies to fight an infection. In this new research, scientists were able to replicate this process in a laboratory. Through this procedure, the scientists were able to produce specific antibodies in just a few days. The process also no longer requires the donor of the cell to be exposed to an infection or vaccination. This new breakthrough may mean that we will one day be able to quickly develop treatments conferring immunity against various deadly diseases or infections, including cancer and HIV.  
July 28, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Scientists Crack Code to Creating Artificial Spider Silk

At the University of Cambridge, a team of scientists have created an artificial material that emulates the strength and properties of spider silk. This silk is made using a material known as hydrogel, which is 98 percent water and 2 percent silica and cellulose. Although not quite as strong as actual spider silk, the process of producing this thread does not require extreme temperatures or chemical solvents. Therefore, due to its low production cost and readily available materials, it may become more affordable than traditional silk. It is also biodegradable, making it environmentally friendly. The team is currently working on creating an effective method to mass produce the material and bring it to the market, however they are still in the early stages of the process.   

Time Spent Re-Charging May Become a Thing of the Past due to Supercapacitors

Do you hate how long it takes your phone to re-charge?  A new battery breakthrough may make that a thing of the past. A team from Drexel University has combined traditional battery storage methods with the properties of supercapacitors to create rapid charging cycles. The team was able to redesign the structure of a conductive material known as MXene. The material is normally made of layers stacked onto each other like a sandwich, making it difficult for charging ions to move through the battery quickly. But the team edited the structure to resemble Swiss cheese, by combining the MXene with a hydrogel to allow the ions to move through the battery with much less resistance. This technological innovation is not only great for charging personal electronics, but help the budding electric vehicle industry. This technology may change the time needed to charge an electric car to minutes rather than hours.  

Advanced Solar Panel Can Capture More Energy in the Solar Spectrum

Unfortunately, current solar panels are unable to capture energy from the entire spectrum of light. Generally, direct sunlight has wavelengths that fall within the spectrum of 250 to 2,500 nanometers, but it is difficult for a standard solar panel to draw energy from the entirety of such a wide spectrum. In order to remedy this, a researcher from George Washington University designed a panel that is able to capture 44.5 percent of energy from sunlight, making it the most effective solar panel in the world. This prototype uses stacked layers, where each layer can absorb a different set of wave lengths. The use of gallium antimonide materials allow the panels to attract longer wavelengths on the solar spectrum, while a technology called transfer printing allows the panel to be assembled with extreme precision. Although expensive, this solar panel brings the world into a new era of solar energy. 

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Want to Slow Aging? A Shark May Hold the Key


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


Robots to Perform Knee Surgeries


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