January 17, 2018
By Alexander Hammond
In the last few months Zambia has experienced one of the worst cholera outbreaks in years. Governmental corruption and mismanagement of resources have largely been blamed for the lack of infrastructure that would have prevented such an outbreak. In response to the crisis, the government introduced heavy-handed measures that resulted in mass rioting. Despite government incompetence, this disease is now in retreat in Zambia. That’s thanks to an outside organisation created by the Gates Foundation.

The current outbreak started on October 4 2017, and has been largely restricted to Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city. The latest data shows that there have been 3,260 cases so far, 74 of which proved to be fatal. Cholera is caught by consuming contaminated food and water, and can become fatal within hours, if untreated. The bacterial infection rapidly causes diarrhoea and vomiting, the combination of which leads to dehydration.

A recent report from the Zambian National Public Health Institute has blamed water taken from shallow infected wells in the slum district of Kanyama as the cause of the outbreak. That may be the bacterial cause of the infection, but the continued use of unsanitary methods of water collection are being pinned on something else entirely: corruption.Since 2000, Zambia has been receiving, on average, almost a billion dollars in aid every year. Much of it was meant to improve water sources and sanitary infrastructure. Where did the money go? The opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has claimed that: “Corruption is a source of cholera.”

Hichilema suggests that if President Edgar Lungu hadn’t squandered money on corrupt overpriced governmental contracts, the necessary funds would have been available to provide the infrastructure to prevent outbreaks. In one example, Hichilema points to the $42 million contract between the Patriotic Front (the ruling party) and Grand View International to provide 42 fire trucks to the nation, despite all other contractors offering tenders of between $15m to $19m for an identical service.

President Lungu’s government appears to be full of corruption. A couple of weeks ago, as the cholera outbreak was hitting its apex, Harry Kalaba, Zambia’s foreign affairs minister, resigned. Kalaba noted that the government “cannot proceed to manage national affairs with cold indifference when the levels of corruption are swelling”. The ex-foreign minister indirectly referenced President Lungu when he claimed that corruption is “being perpetrated by those who are expected to be the solution”.

In response to the crisis, in early January President Lungu, alongside army soldiers, took to the streets of Lusaka to begin a clean-up operation. This began with postponing the start of the school year and a ban on street vending, in an attempt to limit the food and drink being sold in open-air markets.

However, President Lungu quickly turned to more heavy-handed measures that suppressed basic freedoms. He banned gatherings of more than five people and introduced a 6pm curfew for Kanyama, the focal point of the outbreak. In one instance, police used tear gas to break up a church service.
President Lungu is desperate to be seen as facing the outbreak head on, but these tactics are questionable, considering that cholera is not an airborne disease and cannot be caught by casual person-to-person contact. These draconian governmental measures have resulted in city-wide riots that have worsened relations between the public and government officials. Fifty-five people have already been arrested.

On January 10, the Government of Zambia launched a campaign to vaccinate the residents of Lusaka. However, this campaign of one million oral vaccines has been solely funded by Gavi – a health partnership created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 1999. Despite public funding now making up the most of Gavi’s donations, when it comes to management, private stakeholders are a majority.

Slowly, normality is returning to much of Lusaka and the outbreak appears to be receding. By day five of the vaccination campaign, a total of 895,000 vaccinations had already been distributed and new cases have halved to around 80, from 164 a week ago. Most district schools and retailers are set to reopen on January 22.

It’s truly incredible that a disease that once was rampant worldwide is now isolated to just a few small areas and is easily cured, or prevented, with low-cost technologies and basic infrastructure. Despite government corruption, mismanagement of resources and heavy-handed measures that crushed civil liberties, the eradication of cholera in Zambia is a realistic goal. Thanks to Gavi and the availability of cheap vaccinations, Zambia is not in an epidemic and the cholera outbreak is largely coming under control.

This first appeared in CapX.
January 10, 2018
By Alexander Hammond
The weather outside is frightful. The so called Big Freeze now grips the United States for the second week, and the United Kingdom too is experiencing its own blast of Arctic weather. All this chilly weather reminded me of an article written in The Telegraph last month about ice-houses, which were the go-to method of refrigeration just a couple of hundred years ago.

Back then, refrigeration was an arduous task and available only to the richest aristocrats. In the pre-industrial world, in order to refrigerate foodstuff, people needed the land to build an ice house (a building to store the ice), fresh water access, and servants to cut and hull the ice. Moreover, the ice had to be restocked regularly and was available only in some climates and at some times.

At the crack of dawn on a freezing morning the servants of the manor would visit nearby frozen shallow water and hack at the ice until it was in large slabs. The ice would then be painfully carried back to the small ice-houses, “to be stored with layers of straw and sacking,” in-between food. With luck, ice would last until next winter. If it did not, people had to do without ice.

By contrast, today refrigeration is easy. According to the latest government data more than 99.8 per cent of American homes own at least one refrigerator. Furthermore, the US Census Bureau estimates the US poverty rate to be 13.5 per cent. That means that essentially everyone in poverty, as defined by the government, has access to a technology that was reserved for the mega-rich just 200 years ago. Additionally, almost 25 per cent of Americans now have two refrigerators to store their excess food and drink.

The growing prevalence of refrigerators is partly due to their declining cost and partly due to people’s growing incomes. In 1919, the Frigidaire was the first self-contained refrigerator. It cost $775 (over $11,000 in today’s money). As the average hourly wage in 1919 was just $0.43, it took the average American 1,802 hours of work to afford this luxury appliance. The Frigidaire was a marvel back in its day, but had only five cubic feet of storage. As such, it would be classed as a “mini-fridge” today.

Today, the standard Whirlpool French door refrigerator holds 25 cubic feet’s worth of food and drink. It has “fingerprint resistant stainless steel” and costs just $1,529. According to the latest BLS statistics, it would take the average American just 57.5 hours of work to be able to afford this – now common – appliance. (The average wage today is $26.55 per hour.) Even as the price of refrigerators decreased, refrigerator quality increased. According to the government data, 95.5 percent of households have what is classed as a “medium” refrigerator of 15 cubic feet or larger – meaning that the vast majority of people have a refrigerator at least three times the size of the most luxurious version available 100 years ago. The modern refrigerators have more settings, are more reliable and more energy-efficient.

The story of refrigeration is a common one: from a task done by many servants, to a luxury good, and to now a common household appliance used by all. This type of progress exists with nearly all household appliances; from ovens to irons, from washing machines to dishwashers, and from air conditioners to water heaters.

As Marian L Tupy of the Cato Institute has previously pointed out, due to innovation, capitalism and mass production, “an ordinary person today lives better than most kings of yesteryear.” As we wait for the warm weather to return, we should be thankful that virtually all Americans have access to refrigeration and, thus, the ability to store food all year round.

This first appeared in CapX.
January 09, 2018
By Ryan Bourne
When the Pope tweeted in 2014 that “Inequality is the root of social evil,” his stock rose with egalitarians. Former US president Barack Obama had described inequality as “the defining challenge of our time”. Jeremy Corbyn has since risen, demanding an economic policy to tackle Britain’s “grotesque inequality”. The assumption underpinning these views is that a concentrated distribution of income or wealth has negative economic and social consequences.

The idea that more inequality is a bad thing and less inequality a good thing permeates public debate. It is the moral foundation of Corbyn’s call for extensive government redistribution of income and wealth.

But according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton, worrying about whether inequality causes problems, such as slower growth or impaired democracies, looks at things through the wrong end of the telescope. “Inequality is not so much a cause of economic, political, and social processes as a consequence,” he concludes.
Inequality can sometimes be a reflection of some social ills. But it can be a reflection of social progress too, and some purported cures for it are much worse than the disease.
This makes sense. A given distribution of income or wealth does not fall manna from heaven, nor is it pre-determined by government. It is a reflection of millions of interactions, trades, decisions, inheritances and policies. A Gini coefficient, or a statistic of the income or wealth share for the top 1pc, is aggregate information, but tells us nothing about how it has arisen. Whether we consider the overall result “fair” or “unfair” depends, as Deaton acknowledges, on its causes.

High levels of inequality, as seen in countries such as South Africa, can be indicative of historical injustices. They can result from prejudice and oppression, past and present. They can arise from government capture by special interest groups, cronyism and corruption. Poor education, family breakdown, racial discrimination, long-term unemployment and social immobility might all lead to a concentration of income at the top.

On the other hand, there are some causes of inequality that are benign, such as lotteries, and others which are positively beneficial, such as technological advances, entrepreneurialism and free trade. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs got rich by providing services that enhanced our lives. In South Africa again, income inequality actually rose further post apartheid, because talented black people had opportunities opened to them for the first time. Few would suggest this was undesirable.

The Chinese Gini coefficient has risen from 0.16 in 1980 to 0.55 in 2014 — a sign of rising inequality — but this has gone hand in hand with huge poverty reduction as the country liberalized markets. In contrast, Britain saw a modest fall in inequality after a catastrophic financial crash in 2008. In Britain, greater equality was a symptom of a problem. In China, greater inequality was a symptom of success. It would take an extreme relativist to argue that Britain had become better and China had become worse.

Low levels of inequality can result from other undesirable trends too. In a magisterial work, Walter Scheidel’s book The Great Leveller shows that large reductions in economic inequality have only been achieved through pandemics, mass mobilization war, violent revolution and state failure. The Black Death in Europe wiped out a quarter of the population, leading to a shortage of labor relative to land, and a compression of incomes between laborers and landowners.

The Soviet Union, after the nationalization of banks, forcible redistribution of land, the gulags et al, had a Gini coefficient of just 0.26 by the Eighties — an egalitarian’s dream. In Japan, the top 1pc’s income share fell from 9.2pc to 1.9pc between 1938 and 1945, while the wealth of the largest 1pc of estates fell by 90pc. It should seem obvious that the price of lower inequality in all these cases — whether death, destruction or severe restrictions on freedom — were intolerably high.

The point here is not to say more inequality is a “good thing,” but that it cannot be generalized that less inequality is better. Corbyn’s position, that implies “reducing inequality” is desirable, seemingly countenances policies that by other metrics might be extremely harmful. We should bear this in mind when talking about the government “curbing inequality”. Affecting a distribution inevitably means interfering with human action. We could lower inequality (at least temporarily) by deporting or exterminating rich people. But would this benefit those who remained? It is difficult to see how.

Deaton is right to say then that current political trends are not so much a reflection of inequality, but perceived unfairness. He concludes: “Some of the processes that generate inequality are widely seen as fair. But others are deeply and obviously unfair, and have become a legitimate source of anger and disaffection.” No doubt there are steps the Government could take to make the economy fairer, which might also lower inequality. Liberalizing planning laws to allow more houses to be built, for example, would almost certainly narrow the wealth distribution but would improve the efficiency of the economy too.

Yet what Deaton’s argument really shows is that we should not care about inequality at all. Once one starts thinking about the need to eliminate “bad” causes of inequality, while leaving “good” causes alone, you are not really acting on inequality, but the justness or otherwise of other things that affect it. We should eliminate crony capitalism, prevent taxpayer bank bailouts, and ensure competitive markets that the public want for efficiency and fairness reasons, irrespective of their effect on inequality measures such as the Gini coefficient.

At best, inequality serves as an indicator of potential problems. At worst, obsessing about it distorts our priorities from what truly matters, such as the living standards of the least well-off. Inequality can sometimes be a reflection of some social ills. But it can be a reflection of social progress too, and some purported cures for it are much worse than the disease.

This first appeared in The Telegraph.
At the end of last year on CapX, I documented the constant stream of technological, scientific and medical breakthroughs that are improving the lives of billions of ordinary people. Given all this good news, the real question is why people are so unbelievably pessimistic.

Judging by a 2016 poll of close to 20,000 people in some of the world’s richest countries, you could barely overstate the extent of the gloominess.  In response to the question “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?”,  just 10 per cent in Sweden, 6 per cent in the US, 4 per cent in Germany and 3 per cent in France thought things were getting better. Why? Because, it turns out, we are pessimists by nature.

Over the last 200 years or so, the world has experienced previously unimaginable improvements in standards of living. The process of rapid economic growth started in Europe and America, but today some of the world’s fastest growing countries can be found in Asia and Africa – lifting billions of people from absolute poverty. Historical evidence, therefore, makes a potent case for optimism. Yet, pessimism is everywhere. As the British author Matt Ridley noted in The Rational Optimist:

The bookshops are groaning under ziggurats of pessimism. The airwaves are crammed with doom. In my own adult lifetime, I have listened to the implacable predictions of growing poverty, coming famines, expanding deserts, imminent plagues, impending water wars, inevitable oil exhaustion, mineral shortages, falling sperm counts, thinning ozone, acidifying rain, nuclear winters, mad-cow epidemics, Y2K computer bugs, killer bees, sex-change fish, global warming, ocean acidification and even asteroid impacts that would presently bring this happy interlude to a terrible end. I cannot recall a time when one or other of these scares was not solemnly espoused by sober, distinguished and serious elites and hysterically echoed by the media. I cannot recall a time when I was not being urged by somebody that the world could only survive if it abandoned the foolish goal of economic growth. The fashionable reason for pessimism changed, but the pessimism was constant. In the 1960s the population explosion and global famine were top of the charts, in the 1970s the exhaustion of resources, in the 1980s acid rain, in the 1990s pandemics, in the 2000s global warming. One by one these scares came and (all but the last) went.

Ridley raises a more specific point that general pessimism: Why are we as a species so willing to believe in doomsday scenarios that virtually never materialize?

The Chairman of the X Prize Foundation, Peter H. Diamandis, offers one plausible explanation. Human beings are constantly bombarded with information. Because our brains have a limited computing power, they have to separate what is important, such as a lion running toward us, from what is mundane, such as a bed of flowers. Because survival is more important than all other considerations, most information enters our brains through the amygdala – a part of the brain that is “responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate and fear.” Information relating to those primal emotions gets our attention first because the amygdala “is always looking for something to fear.” Our species, in other words, has evolved to prioritize bad news.

The Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker has noted that the nature of cognition and nature of news interact in ways that make us think that the world is worse than it really is. News, after all, is about things that happen. Things that did not happen go unreported. As Pinker points out, we “never see a reporter saying to the camera, ‘Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out.’” Newspapers and other media, in other words, tend to focus on the negative. As the old journalistic addage goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

To make matters worse, the arrival of social media makes bad news immediate and more intimate. Until relatively recently, most people knew very little about the countless wars, plagues, famines and natural catastrophes happening in distant parts of the world. Contrast that with the 2011 Japanese tsunami disaster, which people throughout the world watched unfold in real time on their smart phones.

The human brain also tends to overestimate danger due to what psychologists call “the availability heuristic” or a process of estimating the probability of an event based on the ease with which relevant instances come to mind. Unfortunately, human memory recalls events for reasons other than their rate of recurrence. When an event turns up because it is traumatic, the human brain will overestimate how likely it is to reoccur.

Consider our fear of terror. According to John Mueller, a political scientist from the Ohio State University, “In the years since 9/11, Islamist terrorists have managed to kill about seven people a year within the United States. All those deaths are tragic of course, but some comparisons are warranted: lightning kills about 46 people a year, accident-causing deer another 150, and drownings in bathtubs around 300.” Yet, Americans continue to fear terror much more than drowning in a bathtub.

Moreover, as Pinker also points out, the psychological effects of bad things tend to outweigh those of the good ones. Ask yourself, how much happier can you imagine yourself feeling? And again, how much more miserable can you imagine yourself to feel? The answer to the latter question is: infinitely. Psychological literature shows that people fear losses more than they look forward to gains; dwell on setbacks more than relishing successes; resent criticism more than being encouraged by praise. Bad, in other words, is stronger than good.

Finally, good and bad things tend to happen on different timelines. Bad things, such as plane crashes, can happen quickly. Good things, such as the strides humanity has made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tend to happen incrementally and over a long period of time. As Kevin Kelly from Wired has put it, “Ever since the Enlightenment and the invention of Science, we’ve managed to create a tiny bit more than we’ve destroyed each year. But that few percent positive difference is compounded over decades in to what we might call civilization … [Progress] is a self-cloaking action seen only in retrospect.”

In other words, humanity suffers from a negativity bias or “vigilance for bad things around us.” Consequently, there is a market for purveyors of bad news, be they doomsayers who claim that overpopulation will cause mass starvation, or scaremongers who claim that we are running out of natural resources.

Politicians, too, have realized that banging on about “crises” increases their power and can get them re-elected. It may also lead to prestigious prizes and lucrative speaking engagements. Thus politicians on both Left and Right play on our fears – whether it is a worry that crime is caused by playing violent computer games or that health maladies supposedly caused by the consumption of genetically modified foods.

The negativity bias is deeply ingrained in our brains. It cannot be wished away. The best that we can do is to realize that we are suffering from it.

This first appeared in CapX.
December 20, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
The end of 2017 is barely a week away. So now is the perfect time to reflect upon the positive difference humanity has made to the world over the past 12 months. How have we advanced as a species?  We often underestimate the progress we make because it is incremental: an algorithm here, a genetic tweak there… But all these things combine to improve our future. As Kevin Kelly from Wired wrote, “Ever since the Enlightenment and the invention of Science, we’ve managed to create a tiny bit more than we’ve destroyed each year… That few percent positive difference is compounded over decades in to what we might call civilisation … [Progress] is a self-cloaking action seen only in retrospect.”My website, Human Progress, tracks technological, medical and scientific improvements that make the lives of ordinary people better. Here are the ones that have caught our attention in 2017, doubtless only a tiny fraction of all the advances humanity has made in the past 12 months.

  1. February 6: The age of the bionic body – from robot hands controlled by your mind to electronic eyeballs, experts reveal 6 medical marvels introduced by new technology.
  2. February 6: Biologists help deaf mice hear again by inserting healthy genes into their ears – the work shows an ‘unprecedented recovery of inner ear function’ and could be used in humans.
  3. February 10: Computers turn medical sleuths and identify skin cancer – algorithm works as reliably as board-certified dermatologists, study shows.
  4. February 15: For the blind, an actual-reality headset – not just Star Trek fiction, a new visor from eSight is a lightweight, high-contrast vision system for legally blind people.
  5. February 17: Wyoming man receives ‘miracle’ face transplant 10 years after suicide attempt.
  6. February 18: Smartphones to become pocket doctors after scientists discover camera flash and microphone can be used to diagnose illness.
  7. February 20: Hope for millions as scientists discover multiple sclerosis treatment that can slow its progression.
  8. February 22: Life expectancy to break 90 barrier by 2030.
  9. March 2: Teenager’s sickle cell reversed with world-first therapy.
  10. March 3: Terminal cancer patients go into complete remission after groundbreaking gene therapy.
  11. March 3: UTA professor invents breath monitor to detect flu.
  12. March 6: Google’s artificial intelligence can diagnose cancer faster than human doctors – the system is able to scan samples to determine whether or not tissues are cancerous.
  13. March 8: The robot will see you now! Chat-bots that monitor symptoms will become more accurate and quicker at spotting illness than doctors.
  14. March 8: Scientists discover new state of matter called ‘Time Crystals’ – time crystals seemingly break the rules of normal time-keeping and potentially pave the way for quantum computers and quantum sensors.
  15. March 10: Scientists make progress toward engineering synthetic yeast – the work brings to six the number of yeast chromosomes that now can be synthesized, according to new research.
  16. March 13: More people could benefit from BRCA breast cancer drugs.
  17. March 14: Swedish men on target to be first to completely stub out smoking.
  18. March 15: Startup serves up chicken produced from cells in lab – ‘clean meat’ developers say it avoids towering costs of feeding, caring for livestock.
  19. March 15: The next innovation in shipping – Wind Power; Maersk launches trial run of tanker using rotating cylinders that can function as high-tech sails.
  20. March 18: An insect’s eye inspires a new camera for smartphones – a series of eyelets can make cameras much smaller.
  21. March 23: New rotavirus vaccine could prevent thousands of childhood deaths.
  22. March 24: Machines which detect cancer symptoms could be out in a year.
  23. March 27: Can tech speed up emergency room care? A New York hospital system tests a new way to use telemedicine, where E.R. doctors examine patients without being in the same room.
  24. April 2: Plastic-eating fungus may solve garbage problem.
  25. April 6: To handle electronic waste, freeze it and pulverize it – scientists say a new technique can make it more profitable to harvest metals and other materials from circuit boards in old TVs, computers and more.
  26. April 26: Artificial ‘brain in a dish’ is created in a world first: Breakthrough could shed light on conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
  27. May 2: CRISPR eliminates HIV in live animals.
  28. May 4: Scientists engineer baker’s yeast to produce penicillin molecules.
  29. May 5: Iceland drills 4.7 km down into volcano to tap clean energy.
  30. May 11: Scientists have created an exoskeleton to stop elderly people from falling.
  31. May 11: HIV life expectancy ‘near normal’ thanks to new drugs.
  32. May 17: Lab-grown blood stem cells produced at last – two research teams cook up recipe to make long-sought cells in mice and people.
  33. May 18: Antibodies from a human survivor define sites of vulnerability for broad protection against ebola viruses.
  34. May 18: Scientists look to skies to improve tsunami detection.
  35. May 22: World’s largest aircraft completes successful test flight.
  36. May 23: MIT researchers develop a moisture-responsive workout suit with live cells.
  37. June 1: ‘Instantly rechargeable’ battery could change the future of electric and hybrid automobiles.
  38. June 1: Extinct species of Galapagos giant tortoise may be resurrected.
  39. June 3: SpaceX successfully launches reused Dragon spacecraft for ISS resupply.
  40. June 3: ‘Liquid Biopsy’ passes early test in quest to find cancer in blood .
  41. June 13: Live antibiotics use bacteria to kill bacteria.
  42. July 3: This Silicon Valley company wants to ‘make better humans’ through biohacking.
  43. July 6: DNA from sharks that can live up to 400 years could hold secret to a longer life.
  44. July 6: Robot wars – knee surgery marks new battleground for companies.
  45. July 9: Banks deploy AI to cut off terrorists’ funding.
  46. July 11: Scientists design solar cell that captures nearly all energy of solar spectrum.
  47. July 17: Bananas – scientists create vitamin A-rich fruit that could save hundreds of thousands of children’s lives.
  48. July 22: This new material could let phones and electric cars charge in seconds.
  49. July 26: New artificial spider silk: stronger than steel and 98 percent water.
  50. July 28: Melanoma: – new, more effective drug steps closer.
  51. July 28: Could stem cells reverse the aging process)?
  52. July 28: Juvenescence AI to develop first compounds generated by Insilico’s deep-learned drug discovery engines.
  53. August 4: IBM storage breakthrough paves way for 330TB tape cartridges.
  54. August 28: Anti-inflammatory drug ‘cuts heart attack risk’.
  55. August 30: Trial raises Parkinson’s therapy hope.
  56. August 30: FDA clears first gene-altering therapy — ‘a living drug’ — for childhood leukemia.
  57. September 7: Shropshire farm completes harvest with nothing but robots; a world-first in automation.
  58. September 12: U.S. middle-class incomes reached highest-ever level in 2016, Census Bureau says.
  59. September 23: Newly engineered antibody could kill off 99 per cent of HIV strains.
  60. September 28: DNA surgery on embryos removes disease.
  61. October 9: Google is going to use experimental high-altitude balloons to provide internet in Puerto Rico.
  62. October 18: Dyslexia link to eye spots confusing brain, say scientists.
  63. October 29: Saudi Arabia to allow women into sports stadiums.
  64. November 13: Brain implant boosts human memory by mimicking how we learn.
  65. November 14: ‘Better than Concorde’ supersonic 1,687mph airliner to ‘revolutionize’ air travel by 2025 (link).
  66. November 15: The firm that can 3D print human body parts.
  67. November 15: US scientists try 1st gene editing in the body.
  68. November 15: US biotech unicorn steps up competition for BioNTech’s mRNA personalized cancer vaccine.
  69. November 24: Cancer breakthrough: Potential cure could be ready as early as next year.
  70. November 26: Diabetes drug ‘could be used to end agony of transplant rejection’.
  71. November 29: Expanding DNA’s alphabet lets cells produce novel proteins.
  72. November 30: Designer proteins—the new generation of HIV vaccines being put to the test
  73. November 30: Trees are covering more of the land in rich countries – the spread of forests is not always popular. But it is sure to continue.
  74. December 1: HIV breakthrough as cancer drug could hold secret to curing the virus.
  75. December 1: In Rwanda, drones deliver medical supplies to remote areas – such services help people in isolated regions—and could yield lessons for making shipments elsewhere.
  76. December 4: China rules aquaculture as fish output triples in decade.
  77. December 7: Bumper crops boost global cereal supplies in 2017/18.
  78. December 10: Democracy is far from dead – in 12 years, the share of the world’s people who live in ‘free’ countries has risen.
  79. December 11: Huntington’s breakthrough may stop disease.
  80. December 11: Tasmanian tigers aren’t extinct (or at least they won’t be for long!) – Scientists unlock mysterious creature’s DNA – and plan to clone it bring the beast back to Australia.
  81. December 13: Streetlights could be replaced by glowing trees, after scientists make plants shine in the dark.
  82. December 14: Haemophilia A trial results ‘mind-blowing’.
This first appeared in CapX. 
December 12, 2017
By Colin Grabow
Viewers of Anthony Bourdain’s CNN series Parts Unknown last weekend were treated to the raconteur’s visit to the city-state of Singapore. Along with Bourdain’s usual noshing, imbibing, and bantering about the food culture with knowledgeable locals, he also made time for drinks with Donald Low to discuss the country’s economic and political culture. Among Singapore’s hallmarks according to Low, an Associate Dean at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, was the desire to attract foreign capital and an “understanding that free trade is good for everyone.” 

Low’s remarks will not come as a surprise to readers of the Economic Freedom of the World annual report co-published by the Cato Institute, Canada’s Fraser Institute, and a number of other international think tanks. In the report’s 2017 edition Singapore earns a second-place ranking among the 159 jurisdictions examined for overall economic freedom, and a #1 ranking in the category of “Freedom to Trade Internationally” owing to its score of 9.25 (out of 10). Amazingly, this actually represents one of Singapore’s lower ratings since 1980, with the island country receiving a stunning 9.9 score in the category in 1990.

The results of Singapore’s free trade embrace have been spectacular, strongly contributing to its status as home to the world’s second-largest container port, stunning visual transformation, and dramatic rise in GDP per capita since earning its independence in 1965.

 


Singapore’s success is, of course, multicausal, with free trade being just one of several key ingredients that have made the country the wealthy economic hub it is today. Such caveats aside, the country nonetheless stands as a rebuke to those who cling to protectionist policies and insist that such measures are necessary to ward off the alleged threat of foreign competition.

This first appeared in Cato at Liberty.
December 11, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Competition is an essential part of a capitalist economy. It drives businesses to innovate and to provide consumers with cheaper and better products. If businesses fail to innovate, they go under.The market place can be a brutal place – just think of the way in which Netflix disposed of Blockbuster. “Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin,” as the American economist Alan H. Meltzer once put it. “It doesn’t work.”

But capitalism is also one the most cooperative of human endeavors. Goods and services are traded among strangers and across vast distances, guided – to a great degree – by the price mechanism and by the reputation of the trading parties. Repeated transactions among trading parties encourage trustworthiness – a moral side product of capitalism that we do not spend enough time talking about, let alone celebrating.

Competition produces winners and losers. As Amazon expanded, for example, neighborhood bookstores shuttered across the United States. Some people thought that was a great tragedy, for bookstores provided a pleasant way to browse through publications and, sometimes, meet interesting people. Ultimately, however, the convenience of the internet, and superior choices and prices, proved to be more important to the average customer. Amazon and its clientele won, while Barnes & Noble lost.

The losers, who emerge from capitalist competition, appear to confirm a zero-sum bias in the human brain. It is for that reason that many people tend to focus on the closed local book store, rather than revel in the falling prices and increased choice made possible by Amazon. Where did that bias come from?

For most of our existence in the environment of evolutionary adaptiveness (EEA), which is to say tens of thousands of years we spent wandering the planet as hunters and gatherers, the success of one, usually related, group of people came at the expense of another group. When the resources in an area occupied by group A ran out, group A moved onto a territory occupied by group B. Conflict ensued.

Conflict still continues to define the interaction among animals. Humans, in contrast, evolved additional ways of interacting with one another. Permanent settlements were a key part of that process. Strangers who settled next to one another had to learn how to cooperate. In that process, they either acquired a reputation for trustworthiness, or they became social outcasts excluded from a larger economy.

As a result, humanity advanced. So much so that by the time of the Roman Republic, the Latin term civis became a root word for both the city and civilization. Over time, of course, the city-state gave way to the nation-state and the nation-state became a part of a global economy. As human cooperation expanded, so did our economic horizons.

That was, unambiguously, a moral as well as economic phenomenon. People, who might have otherwise hated each other, were brought together in the pursuit of profit. By the 18th century, the extent of human cooperation within the context of the market economy reached levels that even philosophers, such as Voltaire, felt obliged to opine about. As the French philosopher wrote:
“Go into the London Stock Exchange – a more respectable place than many a court – and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men. Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker. On leaving these peaceful and free assemblies some go to the Synagogue and others for a drink, this one goes to be baptized in a great bath in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, that one has his son’s foreskin cut and has some Hebrew words he doesn’t understand mumbled over the child, others go to their church and await the inspiration of God with their hats on, and everybody is happy.”

It is noteworthy that many of the scholars who continue to influence those who are sceptical of capitalism are not economists, but biologists and ecologists. They include the Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich, the doomsayer partially responsible for the over-population panic that started in the 1960s, Garrett Hardin, the exponent of the “tragedy of the commons” theory, and Jared Diamond, the author of such bestsellers as “Guns, Germs, and Steel” and “Collapse.”

Their analyses of human affairs tend to be analogous to the interactions observable among animals. But humans, while remaining a part of the animal kingdom, have evolved mechanisms that allow for billions of cooperative interactions to take place each day. It is time for the economists to steal the biologists’ thunder by putting a renewed emphasis on the cooperative aspect of capitalism.

This first appeared in CapX.
December 07, 2017
By Guillermina Sutter Schneider
Today, 50 years after his death, many people still remember Ernesto “Che” Guevara as a warrior for social justice. For so many celebrities, politicians, and activists, Che Guevara is a kind of Good Samaritan who fought against oppression and tyranny. It is unfortunate, though, that these people ignore some of their idol’s defining character traits.

Che Guevara was in fact an intolerant and despicable man.

In the process of building a communist society after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 in Cuba, one of the ideas Che Guevara presented and promoted was the notion of the “new man.” This concept grew out of Guevara’s aversion to capitalism, and was first explained in his note on “Man and Socialism in Cuba“. He believed that “The individual under socialism (...) is more complete,” and that the state should educate men and women in anti-capitalist, cooperative, selfless and non-materialistic values.

Anyone who deviated from the “new man” was seen as a ”counter-revolutionary.” Such was the case of gay men — whom Guevara referred to as “sexual perverts.” Both Guevara and Castro considered homosexuality a bourgeois decadence. In an interview in 1965, Castro explained that “A deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what a militant communist should be.”

Che Guevara also helped establish the first Cuban concentration camp in Guanahacabibes in 1960. This camp was the first of many. From the Nazis, the Cuban government also adapted the motto at Auschwitz, “Work sets you free,” changing it to “Work will make you men.” According to Álvaro Vargas Llosa, homosexuals, Jehova’s Witnesses, Afro-Cuban priests, and others who were believed to have committed a crime against revolutionary morals, were forced to work in these camps to correct their “anti-social behavior.” Many of them died; others were tortured or raped.

Guevara also espoused racist views. In his diary, he referred to black people as “those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing.” He also thought white Europeans were superior to people of African descent, and described Mexicans as “a band of illiterate Indians.”

In the article “My Cousin, El Che,” Alberto Benegas Lynch Jr. describes how Che Guevara enjoyed torturing animals — a trait common to serial killers. His record of murdering and torturing people is extensive. Researchers have documented 216 victims of Che Guevara in Cuba from 1957 to 1959. Suspicion was all that was needed to end a life. There was no need for trial because he said the Revolution could not stop “to conduct much investigation; it has the obligation to triumph.”

Death, to Guevara, was a necessity for revolution. He had no regard for human life. Today, 50 years after his death, it is important to remember Ernesto Che Guevara as the person he was: a homophobic, racist, mass murderer willing to use any means to achieve his self-declared superior society.

This first appeared in The Huffington Post on October 9th, 2017.
December 06, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
The 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution has brought with it much whitewashing of history. Perhaps the most absurd example of this whitewashing is a New York Times piece claiming that women in the Communist bloc “enjoyed many rights and privileges unknown in liberal democracies at the time.”

The reality of centrally planned economics is shockingly sexist, no matter how much lip service was paid to gender equality. When there is no market incentive to fulfill human needs, it is women’s needs that are forgotten first.

Communist factories failed to manufacture even the most basic items for women. “In all these years, communism has not been able to produce a simple sanitary napkin, a bare necessity for women,” writes Slavenka Draculić. In How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed, she chronicles the everyday indignities suffered by women in Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, East Germany and her native Yugoslavia. Ordinary women’s sanitary products became sought-after items on the black market and most women made do with improvised substitutes.

The economic planners diverted resources away from producing anything considered feminine, and therefore frivolous and bourgeois. As Draculić puts it, in “central plans made by men, of course there was no place for such trivia as cosmetics.” Women often sewed their own clothes or improvised beauty products from kitchen items, even though anyone who looked too nice was “subject to suspicion, sometimes even investigation.”

Most women owned identical clothes because stores offered no variety. At one point, it seemed like half of the women in Warsaw had spontaneously opted to dye their hair the same garish shade of red. It was the only dye the chemical factories produced. Whether in Warsaw, Budapest, Prague, Sofia or East Berlin, women shared the same complaint: “There are no deodorants, perfumes, sometimes even no soap or toothpaste… Worst of all, there are no sanitary napkins. What can one say except that it is humiliating?”

Communist women were expected both to work outside the home and to do all the housework as well. (Engels thought it was “insane” for men to do chores; homemaking “unsexes the man”). As managers of the household, women felt the shortages’ sting first and it fell to them to find substitutes for everyday goods. There was a severe lack of food, baby formula, housing, and just about everything else.

The state provided housing by repeatedly dividing up existing apartments and assigning strangers to live together in ever-shrinking spaces, as described in Joseph Brodsky’s essay, “In a Room and a Half.” Bathrooms could double as kitchens (shared by multiple families) and crawl-spaces could count as bedrooms sleeping multiple people. The state provided childcare, but the waiting list was often long. The state guaranteed women jobs, but there could be a shortage of those too. In Yugoslavia the average wait time for a job was three years.

In the 1950s, Yugoslavia’s government planners declared toilet paper to be an unnecessary luxury item and commanded that factories stop producing it. For years the people made do with newspapers (shortages never slowed the printing of propaganda). Other declared “luxuries” included women’s hats, gloves, washing powder, children’s toys, milk, and meat. “The general rule was that anything at any time could be proclaimed a luxury,” notes Draculić. Anything for women was particularly at risk.

An American visiting the Communist Bloc in the 1980s would be aghast to find most women still doing laundry the way they had in the United States 50 years prior, without washing machines. Throughout the Communist Bloc countries, women often soaked clothes in metal tubs, scrubbed them bent over the tubs’ rims using washboards, then boiled them on stovetops, stirring the clothes with long spoons.

The elaborate ritual took up a whole day each weekend, and left their hands swollen, cracked and covered in sores. There were no rubber gloves to protect their skin – the economic planners saw no need to sell any. The male planners had likely never done the “women’s work” of laundry.

Shortages of laundry detergent were endemic throughout the communist countries. A woman in Sofia told Draculić, “When I find it, I buy two or three big boxes. You can never be sure when it will appear again.” She had never even heard of a clothes dryer. Of course, even if there had been washing machines and dryers, the frequent electricity outages would have made them unreliable.

The communist system didn’t produce machines to make women’s lives easier for the same reason it neglected their other needs and wants. For all the complaints about the profit motive, markets incentivize people to satisfy each other’s preferences through voluntary exchange, while state-run economies provide no such incentive. There is no shortage of soaring communist rhetoric on gender equality, but that cannot make up for the pervasive and sexist shortages under central planning.

This first appeared in CapX.
December 06, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Many hoped the Bolshevik Revolution one hundred years ago would usher in a new era of gender and class equality. Following the revolution, Soviet Russia declared “International Women’s Day” an official holiday, and “Marxist feminists” romanticize communism to this day. Women of the Gulag, both a remarkable book and a documentary film, highlights the disparity between the Soviet Union’s alleged gender equality and the reality of life for women under communism.

It is now popular to claim — in the New York Times no less — that Soviet women “enjoyed many rights and privileges unknown in liberal democracies at the time,” so it is worth noting some of the ways that communism tyrannized women in particular. Those who claim the Soviet Union liberated women would do well to learn the stories of the women of the Gulag.

The Gulag forced labor camp system, created under Lenin and massively expanded under Stalin, was only one of many horrors in the Soviet Union. At least five million prisoners toiled in the camps at any given time during the system’s peak from 1936 to 1953, mining radioactive material, hauling logs barefoot in winter, or performing other forms of slave labor. The camps were allegedly for “class enemies” (anyone insufficiently poor) and traitors.

“[S]ome 18 million people passed through this massive system,” with millions more compelled to migrate to special settlements with similar conditions, according to Pulitzer Prize-winner Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag: A History. It is estimated that harsh conditions and summary executions killed off at least 10 percent of the Gulag’s total prisoner population each year. Although only between 10 and 15 percent of Gulag inmates were women, their imprisonment had some uniquely horrible features.

First, they were almost all arrested for the alleged crimes of their husbands or fathers. Communist officials saw women as just another means of punishing men, rather than as individuals with distinct identities. One of the few ways for a woman to avoid arrest alongside her husband was, perversely, to accuse him of treason before anyone else did.

Signed by the head of the NKVD on August 14, 1937, Operational Order of the Secret Police No. 00486, “About the Repression of Wives of Traitors of the Motherland and the Placement of Their Children,” stated:
Women married to husbands at the time of their arrest are to be arrested with the exception of … wives who provide information that leads to their husband’s arrest… The wives of traitors are to be imprisoned… no less than five to eight years. Children… are to be placed in orphanages of the ministry of health in other locations.
That brings us to the second horror unique to women’s persecution. Upon a mother’s arrest, the Soviet system declared her children orphans and sent them as far away as possible. After regaining freedom a woman would often never learn of their fate. In the state-run orphanages, children of traitors and class enemies faced social stigma. They were taught to feel shame and loathing for their parents.

The book describes how the secret police kidnapped Maria Ignatkina’s children and “before their horrified eyes… beat her to the ground.” Her husband was tortured into giving a false confession and killed. Maria spent eight years in a Gulag for the crime of being married to him. She attempted suicide but failed. Fortunately, her children were rescued from the orphanage by an aunt. Maria was eventually able to reunite with them and meet her grandchildren—a rare happy ending.

Finally, in addition to all the other horrors of the Gulag – forced labor, hunger, beatings, harsh cold, and unsanitary conditions — women prisoners were also subject to the experience of institutionalized sexual violence. A woman named Elena gave an unsettling account of how on a ship transporting prisoners to the Gulag, women were raped by multiple men, beaten and doused with cold water in an organized process called a “Kolyma streetcar,” and the bodies of the women who did not survive were thrown overboard. Other similar accounts corroborate her story.

Of course, the Gulag system was not the only way the Soviet Union harmed women. Its disastrous economic policies led to far deeper and more widespread poverty and scarcity than under capitalism (which has helped bring global poverty to an all-time low), affecting women and other vulnerable members of society the most. Still, the Gulag system serves as a stark example of how, despite a proclaimed commitment to gender equality, the Soviet Union accomplished the exact opposite of “liberation” for women.

This first appeared in the American Spectator.
December 01, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Earlier this month, I wrote about the determined efforts of socialists on both sides of the Atlantic to conflate capitalism with racism. No doubt, some promoters of capitalism were racists. But that is hardly surprising, since racism, along with slavery and wanton cruelty, were universal and, until recently, eternal phenomena.

The truth is, no culture in documented history comes close to the high standards of civilised behaviour that we expect from one another in the contemporary, which is to say democratic and capitalist, West. What I objected to in my column was the implicit notion that socialism was, somehow, less racist. And, as I showed by looking at the history of socialism, the opposite comes closer to the truth.

Yet Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s noble savage – a mythological creature living in harmony with nature and fellow beings – maintains a stronghold on socialist imagination. Consider the recent articles in The New York Times titled, The Climate Crisis? It’s Capitalism, Stupid, and Lenin’s Eco-Warriors. In the first, Benjamin Y Fong recommends democratic socialism as a solution to global environmental problems, while in the second, Fred Strebeigh praises Lenin as “a longtime enthusiast for hiking and camping” who turned Russia into “a global pioneer in conservation”.

Before delving deeper into The Times’ peculiar take on the environmental legacy of socialism, a little bit of background is in order.

This year marks 100 years since the Bolshevik putsch in Russia – an event that unleashed upon the world the most destructive ideology ever conceived by the human mind. The Times, which is the main source of news for progressive intelligentsia in the United States, has chosen to commemorate the cataclysmic events of 1917 in a series of sympathetic (and much-ridiculed) articles with titles such as, When Communism Inspired AmericansThanks to Mom, the Marxist RevolutionaryMake It So: Star Trek and Its Debt to Revolutionary Socialism, and Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism.

Recall that The Times was complicit in whitewashing the crimes perpetrated by communist regimes for close to century, beginning with the discredited reportage of Walter Duranty – an Anglo-American correspondent who famously described concerns over man-made famine in Ukraine as “malignant propaganda”. Duranty’s crime against journalistic standards of truth-telling (from 1932 to 1934, the Holodomor claimed between 2.4 and 7.5 million lives), earned him a Pulitzer Prize – a high honour that The Times has repeatedly refused to relinquish.

But, let’s return to the newspaper’s recipes for saving the planet. According to the writers in The Times, capitalism is destroying the planet, while socialism (both in its original Leninist form and in its “democratic” form that is currently advocated by the US Senator Bernie Sanders) could save it. As Fong writes:

“The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault…

“We have a much better chance of making it past the 22nd century if environmental regulations are designed by a team of people with no formal education in a democratic socialist society than we do if they are made by a team of the most esteemed scientific luminaries in a capitalist society. The intelligence of the brightest people around is no match for the rampant stupidity of capitalism….

“On the defensive for centuries, socialists have become quite adept at responding to objections from people for whom the basic functions of life seem difficult to reproduce without the motive power of capital. There are real issues here, issues that point to the opacity of sociability, as Bini Adamczak’s recent book, ‘Communism for Kids’, playfully explores. But the burden of justification should not fall on the shoulders of those putting forward an alternative. For anyone who has really thought about the climate crisis, it is capitalism, and not its transcendence, that is in need of justification.”
Bini Adamczak’s “playful” Communism for Kids aside, I think it is possible to answer most of Fong’s concerns by looking at the actual environmental records of socialist and capitalist economies.

To start with, all forms of production result in some environmental damage. Agricultural production clears forests, displaces wildlife and destroys the biosphere. Industrial production spews harmful gases into the atmosphere and releases pollutants into rivers. Even the service sector pollutes, given its reliance on electricity and the concomitant CO2 emissions. So the real question is not which economic system is the perfect steward of the environment, but which economic system is the better steward.

When answering that question, the following concepts should be kept in mind: economic efficiency, tragedy of the commons and the environmental Kuznets curve.

Socialist economies were very inefficient. (That’s still the case in the surviving ones in Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea.) To compensate for the inefficiency of central planning, which emanated from the lack of a market-based price mechanism, socialist economies generally ignored environmental damage and other negative externalities. To maximise production (in order to try to keep pace with the much more efficient capitalist economies), socialist countries had low, or non-existent, emission standards. Health and safety regulations were either ignored or lacking altogether. Socialist economies also banned independent trade unions and, often, resorted to slave labour.

The socialists’ disregard for the environment was further exacerbated by their contempt for property rights. In capitalist economies, farms and factories are owned by individual people or corporations. If they cause damage to the environment or the workforce, they can be held accountable in the court of law. In socialist economies, land and air (and, in the most extreme cases, people) were owned by the state and suffered from the “tragedy of the commons”.

A state-owned factory tasked by the central planners with producing a certain quantity of iron bars, for example, was not only allowed, but actively urged, to meet its production quota irrespective of the damage caused to the environment and to the populace. In capitalist economies, the state is entrusted with enforcing environmental standards and protection of workers. In socialist economies, the state is both the enforcer of production quotas, and the supposed protector of the environment and the workers. When it came to choosing between the two, the socialists almost invariably chose the former: they cut corners in order to compensate for the inefficiency of central planning.

That problem is clearly illustrated by the comparison of the amount of CO2 emissions per dollar of output in socialist and capitalist countries. Note that, over time, emissions declined in the United States from already low levels. A similar trend can be observed in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (regrettably, I do not have data for the USSR prior to 1991).
Perhaps the best example of socialist disregard for the environment can be seen in data for China. Emissions during Mao Zedong’s Great leap Forward (1958-1962) were, compared to the United States, stratospheric. They declined afterwards, but remained very high until the late 1970s, when China abandoned socialism. Since China started liberalising its economy (by introducing the price mechanism and property rights), its emissions drastically declined.

Last but not least, socialist countries were, in large part as a result of central planning, much poorer than their capitalist counterparts. That is important, because of a phenomenon known as the environmental Kuznets curve. As a general rule, the richer the people are, the more likely they are to pay for “luxury goods”, such as clean air and rivers, as well as high health and safety standards in the workplace. It may sound strange to the modern ear, but clean environment and happy labour force are, in a very real sense, “luxuries” that were unavailable to our much poorer ancestors.

Really poor people, such as those in large parts of Africa and Asia, are primarily concerned with their survival. All other considerations are secondary. Don’t believe me? Following the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, people started slaughtering the previously protected wildlife in order to feed their families. Following the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, animals from the zoo in the nation’s capital found themselves on the menu. During the Holodomor in Ukraine, people ate one another. My point here is not to denigrate environmental concerns, but to point to the real trade-offs that poor people in dysfunctional socialist economies have to face on daily basis.

Socialism, then, is not the answer. Historically speaking, environmental damage emanating from socialist production was vastly greater than environmental damage emanating from capitalist production. All and I repeat all academic studies done in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet empire found the quality of the environment in the formerly socialist countries to be inferior to those in capitalist countries.

The best way to protect the environment is to get rich. That way, there is enough money not only to meet the needs of ordinary people, but also to pay for cleaner power plants and better water-treatment facilities. Since capitalism is the best way to create wealth, humanity should stick with it.

This first appeared in CapX.
November 21, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Robert Mugabe, the cartoonish dictator of Zimbabwe, wasn’t corrupted by 37 years in power. Contrary to the myth his admirers created in the 1980s, he never was a selfless revolutionary devoted to the welfare of his people.

From his political emergence in the 1960s to his ousting in a coup this week, Mugabe remained what he always was: a hard-core Marxist willing to do anything to gain and hold onto absolute power.

His time in office was marked by violence and economic illiteracy — a fatal combination that broke the once-prosperous country. As befits the fate of a tyrant, Mugabe finally found himself at the mercy of his erstwhile henchmen. And as he exits the political arena, he leaves Zimbabwe in the hands of a man who is, arguably, even more brutal than Mugabe himself.

Mugabe, a carpenter’s son born in 1924 in Southern Rhodesia’s Kutama Mission, was inculcated with a deep hatred of the British Empire by an Irish Jesuit who ran a mission. Bookish and intelligent, Mugabe won a scholarship to study at a South African university, where he got his first taste of Marxism.

In 1960, he joined Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union, a black liberation movement committed to ending colonial rule in Rhodesia.

After falling out with Nkomo, Mugabe helped to establish the Zimbabwe African National Union. The two movements — ZAPU, supported by the Soviets, and ZANU, backed by the Red Chinese — were soon at loggerheads and, following an outbreak of violence, both Nkomo and Mugabe were imprisoned by the Rhodesian authorities.

Upon his release in 1974, Mugabe left the country for safe haven in Mozambique from where ZANU launched a guerrilla war against his former captors. Unsuited for combat, Mugabe outsourced the actual fighting to one of his deputies, Josiah Tongogara. The mounting costs of war, international pressure and economic sanctions forced the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table and set the country on a path to the fateful 1980 election.

Preparing for the election, Mugabe appeared to have disposed of Tongogara, a possible rival, in what the US Embassy in Lusaka described as a “non-accidental” car crash. Mugabe’s guerrillas also intimidated defenseless villagers into casting their votes for ZANU. Much to everyone’s surprise, Mugabe won 57 out of the 100 seats in Parliament.

In the early 1980s, Mugabe’s North Korea-trained troops descended on Nkomo’s stronghold in the Matabeleland, killing 20,000 people and forcing Nkomo into exile. The man entrusted with the grisly task of genocide, Emmerson Mnangagwa, would become Mugabe’s right-hand man — for a time.

During the 1980s, government corruption metastasized while Mugabe’s socialist policies slowly suffocated the country’s economy. Burgeoning debt and deficits necessitated an IMF bailout and a promise of economic reforms in the 1990s.

As socialism collapsed in Europe, the aging revolutionary reinvented himself as the enemy of all things Western and determined to wipe out the last vestiges of the British colonial legacy in Zimbabwe. These were the white farmers, who constituted the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy.

Using the pretext of the farmers’ meddling in politics, Mugabe started expropriating commercial farmland in 2000, which occasioned a spectacular economic meltdown.

In 2008, the country’s output fell to the 1979 level and GDP per capita to levels last seen in the 1950s. Zimbabwe saw the second-highest hyperinflation in recorded history, an annualized rate of 90 sextillion percent. Unemployment rocketed to 90 percent and government departments — with the expectation of the military and police — effectively ceased to function. Yet Mugabe, propped up by South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, survived and limped along with Zimbabwe for another decade.

Now, aged 94, the increasingly fragile and senile Mugabe made a grave error by dismissing his vice president to clear the way for his second wife, the 52-year-old Grace, to ascend to the presidency. Mnangagwa responded by apparently staging a coup and placing Mugabe under house arrest.

Latest reports suggest that Mugabe will be permitted to go into exile unmolested, leaving a broken country at the mercy of a murderous maniac. If so, Zimbabwe is a long way from gaining political freedom or returning to economic growth. The international community will doubtless try to keep up pressure on ZANU and its new leadership, but, in the end, it’s up to Zimbabweans to avoid another Mugabe.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
November 16, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
The admiration of young people for communist leaders is slightly down from last year, according to the annual report on U.S. attitudes toward socialism, which was released by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Joseph Stalin saw the greatest fall in popularity, from 12 percent of millennials reporting a favorable impression of him down to 6 percent. However, a horrifying 23 percent of Americans between ages 21 and 29 believe that Stalin was a “hero.” Also, 32 percent of millennials hold a favorable view of Karl Marx, slightly down from 34 percent last year.

This drop in popularity is comforting, but only slightly. Chances are you have friends who still idealize socialism, communism, and the men who enforced these ideologies with an iron hand. But what they probably don’t realize is the awful truth about these utopian visions of a better world. Let’s quickly walk through some of the history they ought to consider.

Sitting in the reading room of the British Museum, Marx theorized that society was a struggle between wage laborers and the owners of the means of production, and that the latter were “class enemies.” He feared that factory owners were exploiting factory workers, farm owners were exploiting day laborers, and so on. Many university students today share his fear of exploitation, rail against “the one percent” and the “privileged,” and desire a class-free society.

“I wonder what Karl Marx would have made of [the factory workers I met],” said Leslie T. Chang in her TED talk, The Voices of China’s Workers. She continued: “His view of the world persists, [as does] our tendency to see the workers as faceless masses, to imagine that we can know what they’re really thinking… 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.”

Chang notes that since China’s economic liberalization, factory work has allowed hundreds of millions of Chinese workers to escape rural poverty to become middle class, and that most factory workers go on to start their own small businesses. They work in factories willingly because the alternative is grinding rural poverty.

Marx and his followers, sadly, did not realize that capitalism-driven industrialization ultimately creates widespread prosperity, and they ended up hurting the very workers they aimed to help. Thanks in part to the factories that Marx detested, the United Kingdom’s average income was three times higher when he died than when he was born.

After communists seized power in Russia a century ago, in the name of equality, anyone who was too well-off had to be identified and punished. Those with specialized knowledge, such as engineers, or those who had “non-labor income” were suspect.

In the Russian countryside, any farmer who produced enough food to sell as surplus, as opposed to any farmer who produced only enough for his family, was labeled a “kulak”—a class enemy, engaged in the alleged crime of enrichment through trade. Any farmer who hired help, who owned a creamery or other machine, or who rented out agricultural equipment, was also labeled a “kulak.” The kulaks’ poorer neighbors were encouraged to take away their homes and steal their possessions.

Comforting his wife, who was troubled that her acquaintance Marusia’s family had been imprisoned as kulaks, a devout communist said the following:
“You see, they can’t make a revolution with white gloves. Annihilating the kulaks is a bloody and difficult process, but it has to be done. Marusia’s tragedy isn’t as simple as it seems to you. What was her husband sent to the camps for? It is hard to believe that he wasn’t guilty of anything at all. You don’t end up in the camps for nothing.”
The man quoted above was eventually arrested and shot. No specific charges were ever given. His wife was sent to the labor camps shortly thereafter.

That anecdote is representative of the madness of that era. Millions of “class enemies,” political dissenters, and other unfortunate victims were sent to work in the Gulag, the forced-labor-camp system created under Lenin and greatly expanded under Stalin. Anyone who tried to escape was summarily executed. Those close to Stalin were not exempt, and more than a third of leading camp executioners ended up as prisoners in the camps themselves.

In some camps, prisoners mined radioactive material without adequate protection and died of radiation poisoning. In others, frostbitten prisoners chopped timber and dragged the logs back to camp barefoot in the winter. In others still, prisoners labored to produce food on collective farms while they themselves were allowed only meager rations. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “It is estimated that the combination of very long working hours, harsh climatic and other working conditions, inadequate food, and summary executions killed off at least 10 percent of the Gulag’s total prisoner population each year.”

The slave labor of the camps helped sustain the ruling class of the allegedly classless Soviet regime as the economy collapsed. Agricultural productivity plummeted following the removal of the kulaks and the collectivization of the farms. As millions starved to death, some resorting to cannibalism to survive, Stalin forbade use of the words famine, hunger, or starvation. Even doctors dared not diagnose a starving patient’s condition accurately. Stalin blamed the clear failures of his centrally planned system on deliberate sabotage and undermining of the economy by disloyal elements. He claimed that hidden enemies were everywhere and used that as an excuse to send more and more people to death and to the labor camps.

In sum, to bring about equality, the communist system imprisoned or killed those who had attained expertise and achieved success—whether in farming or in a technical occupation such as engineering. They initially redistributed wealth, but many of the peasants who at first benefited from robbing the kulaks ended up starving to death. By imprisoning or murdering many of the most productive people, while simultaneously eliminating market incentives for productivity by collectivizing industries and banning competition, communists brought about far deeper and more widespread poverty than under capitalism. (Capitalism, in fact, has helped bring world poverty to an all-time low.)

Research suggests that the number of unnatural deaths wrought by communism may be upward of eighty million—a number so high that the violence of Tsarist Russia, the Spanish Inquisition, and “Bloody” Mary’s English counterreformation pale in comparison. Today, seven out of ten Americans underestimate the number of lives that communism extinguished. Perhaps that explains part of communism’s continued appeal. But if your friends could travel back in time to the Stalin era, they would see that literal class warfare benefits no one except opportunistic tyrants like Stalin.

And they would see that he was no hero.

A version of this first appeared in the Intercollegiate Review.
November 16, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
I was still a university student when I learned that Robert Mugabe, the leader of Zimbabwe since 1980, had started expropriating land from that country’s farmers, leading to the second highest hyperinflation in recorded history and a spectacular economic contraction. Back then, I confidently predicted that the people of Zimbabwe would rise up and overthrow the ZANU-PF dictatorship. That was 17 years ago and, duly chastised, I have refrained from making definite predictions ever since. At last, the wily dictator, now aged 93, appears to have met his match in the one man who is arguably even more brutal than Mugabe himself. Emmerson Mnangagwa is a killer and a fitting successor to the man he is likely to replace.

For decades, Mugabe dominated Zimbabwe’s politics and bestrode the global stage as Africa’s elder statesman. He accomplished the former by bribing, torturing and murdering his opponents. He achieved the latter via a cultural quirk, which venerates the aged, no matter how despicable. The increasingly senile nonagenarian, however, made a serious error on November 6, when he sacked his Vice President, Emmerson “Crocodile” Mnangagwa, in order to facilitate the succession of his 52-year old wife, Grace “Gucci” Mugabe. That was Plan B. Mugabe tried to have Mnangagwa poisoned first. Alas, the Crocodile survived an assassination attempt in August and used his carefully cultivated military connections to turn the tables on Mugabe.

As things stand, the military, which launched a coup d’état on Tuesday, has Mugabe under arrest in Harare and his wife exiled in Namibia. Most commentators seem to assume that the dictator will now be forced to hand over the reins of power to his erstwhile deputy. Mnangagwa has been at the centre of power in Zimbabwe since that country’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1980. In addition to the Vice Presidency, he has held a number of ministerial positions, though none as consequential as his stint as Minister of National Security between 1980 and 1988, when he presided over the Gukurahundi pogrom and murder of approximately 20,000 people in Matabeleland.

What sort of a country is the 75-year old génocidaire going to inherit from his predecessor? First, Zimbabwe is a dictatorship, with the opponents of the ruling ZANU-PF regime regularly beaten, jailed and even murdered. Elections, including the one in 1980 that brought Mugabe to power, are either heavily rigged or are conducted in an atmosphere of political violence against the heroic but blundering opposition. The country has no freedom of speech, with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation serving as the regime’s propaganda tool. That is why the military’s first move was to take over its Harare headquarters.
Some four million Zimbabweans, especially the best and brightest, have left the country. They keep the 16 million people still in the country afloat through remittances amounting to over a billion dollars a year. Speaking of the economy, following Mugabe’s assault on property rights and the rule of law in the early 2000s, the country has experienced hyperinflation that peaked at an annualised rate of 90 sextillion per cent in November 2008. That year, output fell to a level last seen in 1979, while GDP per capita fell to where it was in the 1950s. Unemployment rocketed to 90 per cent and the state’s functions – with the crucial exceptions of the military and secret police – effectively ceased to operate.The international community stepped in and organised a power-sharing deal between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, under which the country was governed between 2009 and 2013. As befits its bumbling nature, the MDC was given the thankless task of cleaning up the economic mess, as well as trying to improve health and education in Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, ZANU-PF kept control of the powerful ministries, such as the police and the military. Unsurprisingly, the 2013 general election saw Mugabe regain full control of the country and Mnangagwa, who was instrumental in keeping the dictator in power through the worst of the economic crisis, was soon elevated to the Vice Presidency.Those of us who have spent years advocating in favour of political and economic freedom in the Southern African country, not to mention millions of Zimbabweans at home and in the diaspora, will rejoice at seeing the back of a corrupt and brutal dictator. But it would be a mistake to be too hopeful. The man who seems poised to take over is just as corrupt and just as brutal as Mugabe. Things in the beleaguered African country might yet get worse before they get better.

This first appeared in CapX.
November 08, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. It did so by accident.

During a press conference, the spokesman for East Berlin’s Communist Party noted that citizens of the German Democratic Republic would be allowed to travel to the West. For months, pressure was building on the authorities, as tens of thousands of East Germans tried to flee to West Germany via the unguarded Hungarian frontier.

To regain control of the situation, the authorities agreed to start providing exit visas to the restless populace in the near future, but both the nature and the timing of the concession got lost in a frenzy of questions that followed the announcement.

The word of the border opening spread like wildfire. By midnight thousands of Berliners squared off against a few dozen confused policemen guarding the Bornholmer Street checkpoint. Overwhelmed, the police let the people through. Over the next three days, three million East Germans got their first taste of the life in the West.

The communist authority in East Germany crumbled along with the Wall. Within a year, the two Germanys were reunified. In Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania, communist governments met the same fate. Finally, in August 1991, communism fell in the Soviet Union, and the country dissolved on December 26.

Twenty-eight years later, those of us who lived through those momentous days still cherish the freedoms that we gained. For most people, alas, communism is but an echo of a distant past. So much so that socialism, an economic system of communist countries, is experiencing something of a renaissance.

In Venezuela, for example, an 18-year-old experiment with socialism is entering a horrific denouement marked by hyperinflation, hunger, rising infant mortality rates and increasingly brutal suppression of the opposition. In the United Kingdom, an unrepentant socialist came within a few percentage points of winning this year’s election, while in the United States, a socialist senator almost became the Democratic Party’s nominee for the presidency.

Let us, therefore, remind ourselves what communism wrought.

Writing in this newspaper, A. Barton Hinkle noted that “while the Soviet Union is no more and communism has been discredited in most eyes for many years, it is hard even now to grasp the sheer scale of agony imposed by the brutal ideology of collectivism.” Indeed.

“The Black Book of Communism,” a postmortem of communist atrocities compiled by European and American academics in 1997, concluded that the human cost of genocides, extrajudicial executions, deportations, and artificial famines stood at over 94 million.

Professor Mark Kramer from the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University edited “The Black Book.” Subsequent research, he told me, suggests that “the total number (of people) who died unnatural deaths under communist regimes … (is) upward of 80 million.”

Let’s put that new number in perspective.

Between 1825 and 1917, wrote Stéphane Courtois from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, the Tsarist regime in Russia “carried out 6,321 political executions … whereas in two months of official ‘Red Terror’ in the fall of 1918 Bolshevism achieved some 15,000.”

Or, consider the Inquisition. According to Professor Agostino Borromeo, a historian of Catholicism at the Sapienza University in Rome, “there were some 125,000 trials of suspected heretics in Spain … (between 1478 and 1834, but only) about 1 percent of the defendants (i.e., 1,250) were executed.”

Finally, consider the counterreformation. Queen “Bloody” Mary, who tried to restore Catholicism to England between 1553 and 1558, sent 280 dissenters to the stake. Between November 1917, when the communists came to power in Russia, and the North Korean famine in the mid-1990s, communists were responsible for deaths of at least 154 people every hour.

Consider, also, the economic legacy of communism. While socialist economies of Central and Eastern Europe continued to grow for much of the communist period, capitalist countries in Western Europe grew faster.

For example, look at East and West Germany. At the end of World War II, average incomes in Germany were, by definition, equal. By 1989, West German incomes were almost twice as high as those in East Germany.

Then there is North and South Korea. Once again, incomes in Korea were equal, on average, at the conclusion of World War II. Contemporary data for North Korea is tough to come by, but Professor Angus Maddison of Groningen University estimated that in 2008, South Koreans were 18 times richer than North Koreans.

Finally, those who are truly interested in the reality of daily life under socialism can see it for themselves by visiting Cuba and Venezuela.

No matter where it was tried, communism has always resulted in mountains of dead bodies. As for socialist economics, it has always resulted in shortages, inefficiency, poverty, and desperation. The verdict of history is clear, but only if people are willing to see it.

This piece first appeared in The Richmond Times-Dispatch
Today marks 100 years since the Bolshevik coup d'état in Russia overthrew the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky and replaced it with communist dictatorship that lasted until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Throughout this year, I have written a number of columns devoted to communism as a system of government and socialism as a system of economic organization, throughout the former Soviet bloc. It would, therefore, serve limited purpose to revisit the many social and economic ills that the events of November 7, 1917 unleashed upon the world. Suffice it to say that dictatorship of the proletariat and central planning have resulted in mass murder and relative immiseration wherever they have been tried.

Instead, I would like to use today's column as a call to action. Put plainly, we (i.e., libertarians, classical liberals and other promoters of free markets and small government) are at risk of losing the battle of ideas, especially when it comes to young people. According to a new poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, "nearly 45 percent of millennials polled said that they would prefer to live in a socialist country compared to the 42 percent who said they preferred a capitalist one. Another 7 percent said that they preferred living in a communist country above all. The findings show that the percentage of millennials who prefer socialism over capitalism is a full 10 points higher than that of the general population."

Of course, I realize that all people, as they grow older, worry about the young and it is not my intention to disparage anyone. Both Millennials and Generation Z have the potential to provide the world with astonishing technological and medical breakthroughs. They will not make the world a perfect place, but they can make it much better than it already is. But, improving the state of humanity requires institutions and policies conducive to openness and experimentation. Neither communism, nor socialism, can provide such an environment. I wonder how many young people realize how dependent the fulfillment of their dreams is on liberal democracy and a free market economy—the social and economic underpinnings of our society.

The reasons for widespread ignorance about the crimes and failures of communism are, by and large, embarrassingly banal. America's economic vitality broke the spirit of communist leaders and won the Cold War. In spite of economic setbacks like the Great Recession we have succeeded in creating material abundance that would have been unimaginable to previous generations. Even developing countries benefited, as globalization raised billions of people from absolute poverty. Yet, we have neglected the war of ideas by assuming that the results of the greatest social experiment ever conducted—the conflict between communism and capitalism—spoke for themselves.

Aside from economics departments, capitalism is treated with disdain by the rest of the social sciences. Much of the humanities have degenerated into post-modern mumbo-jumbo. Newspapers, television and Hollywood are often run by people who cannot tell the difference between McCarthyism and the Gulag. Also, spare a thought for the kids in primary and secondary schools, whose education, such as it is, focuses on the real (as well as imagined) sins of America, while largely ignoring the bestial nature of America's Cold War opponent. How else can we explain that "one-third of Millennials believe… [that] more people were killed under George W. Bush than under Joseph Stalin"?

Learning about slavery and Jim Crow has its place. So does learning about Nazism and the Holocaust. How many people, however, know that the word "Nazi" is merely shorthand for the National Socialist German Workers' Party? How many people know that Adolf Hitler massively increased corporate taxes in order to expand the welfare state and took state control of the economy very seriously? How many people who have heard of the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini know that he started off as a socialist and edited that country's main socialist newspaper, Avanti?

But, perhaps, we were always expecting too much. Perhaps the war of ideas cannot be won and we are destined to run in circles forever. Perhaps, as Milton Friedman put it in his 1995 Reason interview with Brian Doherty, "You just have to keep on trying to do it. There's no short cut. There's no way in which you're going to end the discussion, because new generations arise; every group has the same crazy ideas." If so, then allons! Let's get back to work and win the next round of our never-ending combat with socialism. We have done so before and we can do so again!

This first appeared in Reason.
November 07, 2017
By Alexander Hammond
The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, recently denounced the idea of a post-Brexit Britain entering into trade deals with poorer nations. Jones’s main objection lay in the premise that free trade with less developed countries would “undermine Wales’ farming sector.” Jones’s remarks came after meeting International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. Sensibly, Dr. Fox has not been dettered by this warning and remains focused on seeking new post-Brexit trade deals.

Shortly after Jones’s comments Chatham House declared that post-Brexit, a market oriented approach with no farming subsidies, like that seen in New Zealand, would ultimately lower food prices and increase British productivity. Jones is concerned about Welsh farmers being unable to compete with cheaper international produce. To overcome this “problem”, Jones favours either taking taxpayer money to give to farmers in the form of subsidies, or tariffs to tax international products. The former would mean the government extracting more from UK taxpayers; the latter would mean selling foreign produce at a higher price to British consumers.

As a member of the EU, the UK has become accustomed to artificially high food prices. Prior to entry into the European Economic Community in 1973 (before Britain had to accept high tariffs on non-EU imports) food prices were 40 per cent lower. Even the OECD has conceded that the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy still adds 17 per cent to our food bills. Bear in mind that this is the same organisation that recently declared, with the arrogance that has become characteristic of such supranational organisations, that calling a second referendum to reverse Brexit would be beneficial to the UK.

Among the most unreasonable tariffs on non-EU produce are the 54 per cent tariff on dairy products, the 31 per cent tariff on sugar and the 22 per cent tariff on cereals.

Imposition of tariffs hurts the poorest in society, who spend a larger proportion of their income on food. To quote Daniel Hannan’s new Institute For Free Trade, in regards to industries that have been artificially propped up by government, “we must not shy away from the fact that some people lose out from free trade. But it is vitally important to clarify the scale on which this occurs. Many more people lose out from protectionist policies. The overall effect of an open trading environment on the economy is undoubtedly positive.”

In sharp contrast, Jones laid out his vision of post-Brexit Britain as follows: “What we can’t do is have free-trade deals that deliver cheaper goods in Britain but end up with us exporting jobs to somewhere else.” Like many protectionists who have come before him, Jones ignores both jobs lost to protectionism (more expensive inputs lead to more expensive outputs) and the very concept that for the last two hundred years has made his own nation prosper: comparative advantage.

The concept of comparative advantage turns 200 this year. Developed by David Ricardo in 1817 it states:“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.”

If, in the 19th century, the UK had followed the advice of the likes of Jones, rather than David Ricardo, we would all still be stuck with back breaking labour in the fields. Importing cheaper foodstuff from abroad allowed us to work in factories at a significantly higher wage, while our agricultural jobs were exported internationally. If Jones’s ideas were applied to the UK in the 20th century, many of us would all still be working in the factories as opposed to having more comfortable jobs in service sector.

Later in his speech, Jones said “Fine, have a free trade agreement, but it’s got to be with a country which is pretty much level pegging with you in terms of income.” This is an absurd suggestion. There’s no doubt that developed countries trading freely with one another is beneficial. But excluding poorer nations from these agreements both hurts the UK by denying Jones’s constituents cheaper goods, and denies the poorest nations access to the markets in which they can grow prosperous.

If we in the developed world were never permitted to buy cheap products from China, not only would we be missing out on a plethora of Chinese goods, but the Chinese extreme poverty rate (less than $1.90 per person per day in 2011 at PPP) would not have fallen from 66.6 percent in 1981 to under 1.9 percent today. Comparative advantage, when allowed to work its magic, is a force that drives worldwide progress, prevents stagnation and allows the poorest nations to develop.

Whether it be wartime blockades, or sanctions imposed against a rogue state, limiting a nation’s ability to freely trade with the outside world makes them worse off. As my Cato Institute colleague Ryan Bourne says, voluntarily imposing tariffs is like blockading your own ports during wartime. The English economist Joan Robinson paraphrased the great Frédéric Bastiat when she said, “Even if your trading partner dumps rocks into his harbour to obstruct arriving cargo ships, you do not make yourself better off by dumping rocks into your own harbour.”

Comments from the First Minister of Wales show misunderstanding of basic concepts of economics and ignorance of practices that made Great Britain great. Following the U.K.’s departure from the E.U., we should slash the protectionist practices we’re currently obliged to follow and in doing so we’ll help both the poorest in our society and in the worldwide community. Let’s stick to the free-trade ideas that were at the heart of Brexit, whilst being cautious about dumping the rocks of protectionism around our own white cliffs.

This first appeared in CapX.
November 01, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Concern over the power of large corporations is back in the vogue. From Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on the left to Fox News' Tucker Carlson on the right, politicians and opinion makers worry about the influence of U.S. corporate giants on politics as well as on the private lives of ordinary Americans. People are concerned about Facebook's censorship of content, Twitter's banning of controversial users and Google's possession of staggering amounts of information about users' search histories, shopping habits, etc.

As a libertarian, I say, pish-tosh! If you don't like a particular company, find an alternative provider or live without a particular service altogether. Alas, most people are not libertarians or as closely wedded to the sanctity of the contract as the latter tend to be.

The good news is that corporations are not as powerful as most people think. Before I get to that, a little background is in order. Until the 19th century, most economic output came from family farms in rural areas and artisan families in towns. As such, the only serious concentration of wealth and power was in the hands of the landed aristocracy and a few wealthy bankers. The latter came from small Italian city-states or were Jewish. As such, they had little political muscle and their wealth was subjected to periodic expropriations.

As with so many other things, the Industrial Revolution upended the old order. The rise of the factory and large-scale manufacturing put massive amounts of money in the hands of a new breed of men—the Industrialists. By the end of the 19th century, Western Europe and North America could boast a coterie of self-made millionaires, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Jacob Astor, Edward L. Doheny, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan. The ruling classes were caught by surprise and it is telling that a disproportionate number of early socialists were aristocrats.

Although they comprised a mere 1.7 percent of the population of the Russian Empire, 22 percent of Bolsheviks belonged to the landed gentry. And Russia was not an outlier. The French Emperor Napoleon III once worried about the Empire's prospects, quipping, "The Empress is a legitimist; Morny is an Orleanist; Prince Napoleon is a republican; I am a socialist …; only Persigny is an Imperialist—and he is mad!"

As George Watson argued in his The Lost Literature of Socialism, "Socialism above all meant a horror of the new age: the age of machines and high finance. It was more than conservative. It was reactionary and nostalgic, and in the long march from status to contract it demanded a return to the familiar and time honored world of status."

It was not just the wealth of the industrialists that the aristocrats envied and the loss of the nobility's relative status that the latter bemoaned. At the end of the 19th century, no one knew just how large corporations could get. Many people simply assumed that corporations would continue to grow indefinitely. Concern about the drift of the corporate behemoth toward a monopoly gave rise to the Progressive Movement in the United States—a bipartisan phenomenon as witnessed by its two leading lights, Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, and Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat.

Unfortunately, the Progressives have not found time to evaluate the logic of and the empirical evidence for their concern over corporate power in the last 100 years. And, so it fell to Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute to do that for them. In a fascinating article, "Fortune 500 firms 1955 v. 2017: Only 60 remain, thanks to the creative destruction that fuels economic prosperity," Perry has looked at the changes in the composition of the Fortune 500 firms between 1955 and 2017.

According to Perry, "only 60 companies … appear in both lists. In other words, fewer than 12 percent of the Fortune 500 companies included in 1955 were still on the list 62 years later in 2017, and 88 percent of the companies from 1955 have either gone bankrupt, merged with (or were acquired by) another firm, or they still exist but have fallen from the top Fortune 500 companies (ranked by total revenues). Many of the companies on the list in 1955 are unrecognizable, forgotten companies today (e.g., Armstrong Rubber, Cone Mills, Hines Lumber, Pacific Vegetable Oil, and Riegel Textile)."

Put differently, in so far as corporations are interested in relentless expansion and acquisition of an ever-increasing market share, most have done a very bad job of it. Some are dead and some are much diminished. That's good news for the defenders of free market capitalism, for it confirms that Schumpetarian creative destruction continues to do its magic. That's also good news for the progressives from both parties, for it means that they can sleep better.

This first appeared in Reason.
October 31, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
You might see a fair number of witches out and about this Halloween; they’re a staple of the season. But odds are low that you’ll see any of them burned at the stake or hanged.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson recently asked a self-identifying witch who claims she cast a magic spell on the president, “Is this legal? … Is there any kind of federal regulation on this?”

In the United States, it is indeed permissible to wear black and try to cast spells to your heart’s content.

That’s not the case in some several parts of the world:

In August, villagers lynched an alleged witch in one of the poorest parts of India. Earlier this year, Tanzanian widow Ruth Zacaria fell victim to a witch hunt. Her attackers alleged that she prevented their family from being able to afford a particular property by using witchcraft to kill their father, bringing them to financial ruin. One witness to a witch hunt in Tanzania in 2015 described the situation in harrowing detail: “They broke into the house and hacked my wife with machetes and knives. They burned the body of my wife and later set fire on my house.”

Beliefs undoubtedly play a role in motivating these killings, and some people imagine that witch hunts result solely from cultural, not economic, factors. But as University of California-Berkeley’s Edward Miguel noted in his a study on witch killing, “Poverty and violence often go hand in hand,” and economic desperation frequently leads to scapegoating and slaughter.

Village mobs and individual families strangle, burn alive, knife or beat to death thousands of alleged witches each year, mainly in impoverished parts of the world. The Thomson Reuters Foundation estimates that in 2017, the deaths at the hands of vigilantes have numbered about 80 a month in Tanzania. Most victims are women. And an Indian law firm says it is “only the most gruesome cases that are reported — most cases of witch hunting go unreported and unrecorded.”

Miguel’s study found that in the extreme poverty of rural Tanzania, after a poor harvest, women are frequently blamed and murdered for witchcraft. In years where unusual rainfall ruins crops and creates near-famine conditions, there are about twice as many witch killings as in other years. Poor families are the most likely to murder alleged witches.

During the early 17th century, when witch killings were common across Western Europe, Germany’s average income was nearly identical to Tanzania’s in 2010: just over $800 in 1990 international dollars per person.

The Salem witch trials

Famously, America had its own smaller scale witch panic at the end of the 17th century, when its average income was roughly $900 by the same measure.

It seems that even in America, poverty was partly to blame for the killings. The majority of the charges in Salem were leveled by economically desperate farmers against more prosperous merchant families, according to the authors of Salem Possessed: the Social Origins of Witchcraft.

Unsurprisingly, the Salem madness was preceded by a series of unusually cold winters causing crop failures. Cold weather and subsequent deteriorating economic conditions also correlated with more witch killings in Europe, just as crop-ruining rainfall levels often precede witch hunts in Tanzania.

Poverty and ignorance do not always lead to witch hunts, but they seem to make violence more likely. For one 14th century site excavated in South Dakota, an astonishing 60 percent of the population died in conflict. Many of the bodies show not only signs of violent death but also extensive nutritional deficiencies, suggesting starvation-level poverty preceded deadly violence.

One reason for violence’s decline that Harvard University’s Steven Pinker identifies is capitalist peace theory: when it’s easier to buy things than steal, people don’t steal. Hence trade and commerce between countries reduce the exploitative incentives of military conquest.

Of course, trade doesn’t guarantee peace. Europe enjoyed abundant trade before World War I. But in general, as people move from subsistence to exchange and from poverty to prosperity, they become less desperate and violent. As prosperity enables education to spread, belief in witchcraft fades. After a poor harvest, instead of witch hunts energy is poured into innovative ways to ensure better crop yields next year.

If you see any witches this Halloween, take a moment to contemplate the incredible strides that humanity has made against poverty and violence. While progress can be uneven and there are still places where “witch” is a deadly accusation, declining poverty helps to end witch hunts and makes the world less violent.

This first appeared in USA Today.
October 31, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
In a recent piece for CapX, my colleague Chelsea Follett wrote about the declining rates of absolute poverty. This data is, indeed, encouraging, but rising income is only one way to measure the improving state of humanity –  let’s not forget the other indicators.

Because when it comes to nutrition, life expectancy, infant and child mortality rates, and education, great progress is being made throughout the world. That is especially true of poor countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, absolute improvements in human well-being are taking place, while the quality-of-life gap with the rest of the world is also being narrowed.

According to the latest data, the share of humanity living on less than $1.90 per person per day, adjusted for purchasing power, shrunk from 42.2 per cent in 1981 to 10.7 percent in 2013 (the last year for which data is available). That’s a reduction of 75 per cent over a comparatively short period of 32 years. According to researchers at the Brookings Institution, “Poverty reduction of this magnitude is unparalleled in history: never before have so many people been lifted out of poverty over such a brief period of time."

This fall in extreme poverty is all the more remarkable considering that the world’s population rose by 59 per cent over the same time period. Far from being a problem, as was once believed, this growing population has gone hand in hand with increased prosperity. Specialization and trade, or globalization, ensured that an increase in the world’s population translated to an increase in the world’s productivity. As such, real average per capita income also rose by 59 per cent between 1981 and 2013.

The greatest reduction in extreme poverty happened in East Asia (from 81 per cent to 3.7 per cent) and South Asia (from 55 per cent to 15 per cent). The data for sub-Saharan Africa is incomplete. In 1990, it is estimated, 54 per cent of people lived there in absolute poverty. Poverty peaked at 59 per cent in 1993. Since then, it has fallen to 41 per cent. So, in terms of absolute poverty reduction, sub-Saharan Africa is a laggard. But, on other measures of human well-being, sub-Saharan Africa outperforms the world average.

The world’s daily calorific intake per person, for example, has increased from an average of 2,550 in 1981 to 2,850 in 2013 – a 12 per cent increase. In sub-Saharan Africa, the caloric intake increased from 2,138 to 2,448 over the same time period. That’s a 15 per cent increase. To put these figures in perspective, the US Department of Agriculture recommends that moderately active adult men consume between 2,200 and 2,800 calories a day and moderately active women consume between 1,800 and 2,000 calories a day.


Between 1981 and 2015, global life expectancy rose from 63.2 years to 71.9 years – a remarkable 12 per cent jump that is, undoubtedly, connected to rising incomes and, consequently, improved nutrition. In sub-Saharan Africa, life expectancy rose from 48.5 years to 59.9 years. That’s a 24 per cent improvement (i.e., twice the global average). The spread of HIV/AIDS, which threatened to decimate the African population, has been arrested in large part due to the generosity of British and American taxpayers, who subsidize the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.

Let’s now turn to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, which measure human progress over a shorter period of time. According to the UN, the infant mortality rate droppedfrom 64.8 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 30.5 in 2016. That’s a 53 per cent reduction. In sub-Saharan Africa, it fell from 108 to 53 – a 51 per cent reduction. Over the same time period, the mortality rate for children under five years of age declined from 93.4 per 1,000 to 40.8 per 1,000. That’s a reduction of 56 per cent. But in sub-Saharan Africa, the decline was even more dramatic – from 180 per 1,000 to 78 per 1,000 (ie, 57 per cent).

Enrollment at all education levels is up. Globally, the primary school completion rate rose from 80 per cent in 1981 to 90 per cent in 2015 – a 13 per cent improvement. In sub-Saharan Africa it rose from 55 per cent to 69 per cent over the same time period – a 26 per cent improvement (i.e., twice the global average).

The lower secondary school completion rate in the world rose from 53 per cent in 1986 to 77 per cent in 2015 – that’s a 42 per cent increase. In sub-Saharan Africa it rose from 22 per cent to 42 per cent – a 91 per cent improvement (i.e., more than twice the global average).

Between 1981 and 2014, the share of the global and sub-Saharan African population enrolled in tertiary educational institutions rose from 13 per cent and 2 per cent to 36 per cent and 9 per cent respectively. Once again, improvement in sub-Saharan Africa was greater (350 per cent ) than was the case with regard to the global average (177 per cent).

October 17 was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. And, indeed, there was much to celebrate. Absolute poverty has been drastically reduced in much of the developing world. But even in places where absolute poverty persists at unacceptable levels, such as sub-Saharan Africa, much progress is being made in other areas of human well-being. In fact, the world’s poorest region is catching up with the world average at a very fast pace.

This first appeared in Capx.