October 17, 2017
Free Markets Make the World a Better Place
By Marian L. Tupy
Last Friday, the Cato Institute hosted a forum on a new book, Neil Monnery's Architect of Prosperity: Sir John Cowperthwaite and the Making of Hong Kong. Sir John Cowperthwaite was the financial secretary of Hong Kong between 1961 and 1971, as well its financial under-secretary between 1951 and 1961. As such he has contributed to establishing the policies—small government, low taxes, fiscal probity and free trade—which are credited for turning a poor backwater of the British Empire into one of the richest places on earth.
When I asked Monnery, the British author of the book, to put Hong Kong's success in context, he noted that in the years following the end of World War II, Hong Kong's per capita income was one third of that in Britain. By the time of the British transfer of the territory to China in 1997, incomes in the two countries were the same. Today, the average inhabitant of Hong Kong is over 30 percent richer than the average Briton. As late as 1960, people in Hong Kong enjoyed lives that were four years shorter than those in Britain. Today, they live four years longer than their British counterparts. Economic growth, we concluded during our discussion, is key not only to rising standards of living, but also to health and life expectancy. Put plainly, the richer the country is, the better the hospitals and higher the quality of care and the environment that it can afford to buy.
Yet, the relationship between economic growth and life expectancy still holds. In the 31 years between 1960 and 1991 (i.e., the year of the dissolution of the U.S.S.R.), life expectancy in Estonia and Lithuania, rose by 1.47 and 0.52 years respectively, while in Latvia it fell by .75 years. Between 1991 and 2015 (i.e., a period of 24 years), life expectancy rose by 7.33 years in Estonia, 2.97 years in Lithuania, and 5.02 years in Latvia.
All in all, a switch from socialism to capitalism appears to be good for the health and longevity of the citizenry.
This first appeared in Reason.
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