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Bad Economic Policies Kill More Children than War

Blog Post | Health & Medical Care

Bad Economic Policies Kill More Children than War

Chile's infant mortality rate in 1960 was actually above that of both Venezuela and Syria.

Recent reports that infants now die at a higher rate in Venezuela than in war-torn Syria were, sadly, unsurprising—the results of socialist economics are predictable. Venezuela’s infant mortality rate has actually been above Syria’s since 2008.

The big picture, fortunately, is happier. The global infant mortality rate has plummeted. Even Syria and Venezuela, despite the impact of war and failed policies, saw improvements up to as recently as last year. From 1960 to 2015, Syria’s infant mortality rate fell by 91% and Venezuela’s by 78%. This year (not reflected in the graph above or below), Syria’s rate rose from 11.1 per 1,000 live births to 15.4, while Venezuela’s shot up from 12.9 to 18.6. Meanwhile, infant mortality rates have continued to fall practically everywhere else, and have declined even faster in countries that enjoy more freedom and stability. Consider Chile.

Chile’s infant mortality rate in 1960 was actually above that of both Venezuela and Syria. It managed to outperform Syria by the mid-1960s, but was still woefully behind its richer northern cousin, Venezuela.  In the early 1970s, Chile’s progress slowed to a crawl as its elite flirted with socialist policies. Once its government abandoned socialism and began economic reforms in the mid-1970s, the pace of progress sped up again, and soon Chile’s infants were safer than Venezuela’s. Today, Chile’s infant mortality rate is similar to that of the United States.

There is a lesson to be learned from these data points: economic policy matters. While Venezuela’s socialism has managed to kill more infants than a full-blown war in Syria, Chile’s incredible success story shows us that by implementing the right policies, humanity can make rapid progress and better protect the youngest, most vulnerable members of society. Today it is hard to believe that infants in Chile were once more likely to die within a year than their contemporaries in Venezuela and Syria.

What about your country? For every 1,000 infants born, how many die and how many live to see their first birthday? Explore the data for yourself, and consider using HumanProgress.org’s new tool, Your Life in Numbers, to see your country’s progress in infant survival and other areas since you were born. 

Blog Post | Violence

Mueller: The Stupidity of War

International war is not a requirement of history or of human nature, but merely an idea that has been grafted onto international society.

Summary: This article delves into the profound stupidity and devastating consequences of war. By analyzing historical data and empirical evidence, the article argues that the institution of international war has become obsolete, not because of any external or internal changes in human society, but because of a shift in attitudes and ideas. This transformation suggests that war is not an inherent necessity dictated by human nature or history, but rather a human invention imposed upon international society.

The idea that war is profoundly stupid has likely been evident pretty much forever. For example, it was certainly possible to note with dismay that one of the most famous wars in history or mythology—the one between Greece and Troy—was stupidly fought over an errant wife, lasted for ten brutal years, and ended in the violent annihilation of an entire city-state.

However, it took until recent decades for substantial numbers of people effectively to act on and abide by the idea. Europe, once the most warlike continent, took the lead on this. In the 75-year period since 1945, it has experienced (and, for the most part, enjoyed) the longest period free from substantial interstate war since the continent itself was invented as a concept some 2500 years ago.

Moreover, not only have developed countries, including the Cold War superpowers, managed to stay out of war with each other since 1945, but there have been remarkably few international wars of any sort during the period, particularly in the last few decades

Thus, reversing the course of several millennia, countries, for the most part, no longer really consider war among them to be a sensible method for resolving their disputes. However, they may well feel freer to engage in behavior that might once have been taken to be casus belli, such as tinkering in civil wars, seizing bits of territory, firing shots across bows, lobbing cyber balloons, exacting economic sanctions, or poaching fish.

Over the twentieth century, then, something that might be called a culture or society of international peace or a widespread aversion to war (or a sensitivity to its essential stupidity) has been established with regard to how countries relate to each other. And the chief consequence of this development has been the remarkable decline – or, in the case of the developed world, the almost utter absence – of the venerable institution over the last several decades.

This book is something of a biography of the rise of that idea. And I survey and critique the foreign policy history of the post-World War II era during which an aversion to international war, or an acceptance of the idea that it is fundamentally stupid, has grown.

In the process, I examine several additional and associated consequences of the rise of aversion to international war:

  • Nuclear deterrence was not necessary to preserve the peace during (and after) the Cold War. The Soviet Union, while embracing the idea of international revolution, never saw direct war as a device for carrying this out. That is, there was nothing to deter.
  • Prestige now comes not from prowess in armed conflict as in days of old, but from economic progress, maintaining a stable and productive society, and, for many, putting on a good Olympics, sending a rocket to or toward the moon, or managing a pandemic.
  • Under the circumstances, there is potential virtue in the traditionally maligned techniques of complacency and appeasement for dealing with international problems.
  • There is little justification for the continuing and popular tendency to inflate threats and dangers in the international arena – even to the point of deeming some of them to be “existential.” This holds for any challenges presented by China or Russia: neither seems to harbor Hitler-like dreams of extensive expansion by military means, and both are trading states that need a stable and essentially congenial international environment to flourish. And the consequences of nuclear proliferation have been substantially benign (except on agonies, obsessions, rhetoric, posturing, and spending), while alarmed efforts to prevent proliferation have proved to be very costly, leading to the deaths of more people than perished at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
  • Although problems certainly remain, none of these are of a kind and substantial enough to require the United States (or pretty much anybody) to maintain a large standing military force for dealing with them.
  • The rather natural and substantially immutable establishment of something of a world order has scarcely required the active machinations of the United States. I argue that it was primarily the rise of an aversion to international war (not, for example, nuclear fears or American efforts at security provision) that has led to the remarkable, and expanding, condition of international peace that has arisen since 1945.

International war, then, seems to be in pronounced decline because of the way attitudes toward it have changed, roughly following the pattern by which the ancient and once-formidable formal institution of slavery became discredited and then obsolete. And the process of change suggests that international war is not a requirement of history or of human nature, but merely an idea, an institution or invention that has been grafted onto international society.

Its replacement in much of the world by a culture or society of international peace has come about, it seems, without the intervention or service of cherubs, doves, and choirs of angels; without changing human nature; without creating an effective world government or system of international law; without modifying the nature of the state or the nation state; without fabricating an effective moral or practical equivalent; without enveloping the earth in democracy or prosperity; without devising ingenious agreements to restrict arms or the arms industry; without altering the international system; without improving the competence of political leaders; and without doing much of anything about nuclear weapons.

This is an excerpt adapted from the book The Stupidity of War

Blog Post | Violence

Fewer People Exposed to Horrors of War

In general, the world is becoming a more peaceful place

Yesterday was Memorial Day, a federal holiday remembering all those who have died while serving in the United States armed forces. So, in today’s column, I take a brief look at the declining share of men and women worldwide who can expect to be exposed to the horrors of war. Looking at armed forces personnel as a percent of the total labor force, we can observe a sustained decline since the end of the Cold War. Globally, it has dropped from 1.08 percent in 1990 to 0.8 percent in 2014. That’s a 26 percent reduction.

In Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, it has declined by 27 percent, 54 percent, 43 percent and 40 percent respectively. Even in the Middle East and North Africa, armed forces personnel as a share of the total labor force declined by 58 percentage points—though, admittedly, some of the conflicts in the region have become more serious since 2014.

A similar trend can be observed in the United States and also in our two most important geopolitical competitors, China and Russia. The three countries saw reductions of 50 percent, 32 percent and 34 percent respectively. (The figure for Russia reflects the period between 1992 and 2014.)

The end of the Cold War turned out to be beneficial for another reason. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was born before World War 2, explained in 2014 that the world is “in greater turmoil than at any time in my lifetime.” But is that really true?

The number of armed conflicts and wars rose steadily until the collapse of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Then they started to decline. Empirical evidence suggests that those who remember the bipolar world dominated by the United States and the USSR as a period of stability, are mistaken.

Consider the following astonishing fact. According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker, the Western Hemisphere is, with the exception of the drug-war in Mexico, free of conflict. No person alive can remember our Hemisphere to be as peaceful as it is today. That is something to be grateful for as we look back on this past Memorial Day.

This first appeared in Reason.

Blog Post | Overall Mortality

Violence, Terrorism Trending Downward

The world is getting safer.

After the recent terror attacks in the United States and Western Europe, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be easy to conclude that the world is becoming more dangerous. The politicians and media have contributed to our growing sense of unease. Donald Trump claims that crime is rising, while Hillary Clinton speaks of a gun violence epidemic. Both, as Nick Gillespie shows, are inaccurate. In reality, many kinds of violence have become less common.

In the United States, the homicide rate fluctuated between 6.2 and 10.2 deaths per 100,000 people between 1967 and 1998. The rate dropped below 6 per 100,000 in 1999 and below 5 per 100,000 in 2010. The U.S. homicide rate for 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, was 4.5 per 100,000—the lowest since 1963. That means that the U.S. homicide rate is now at a 51-year low! Trump and Clinton’s speechwriters should take note.

HumanProgress contains data from the Global Terrorism Database for a period between 1970 and 2014. The data shows that terrorism killed more people in Western Europe in the 1970s and 1980s than in more recent decades. When estimates for 2015 and 2016* are added, a clear uptick in terrorism can be observed. That said, terrorism was clearly responsible for more deaths in Western Europe during the 1970s and 1980s. As horrible as the current terrorism uptick is, Western Europe has been through worse.

*Please note that the 2016 estimate does not include the most recent attacks.

Focusing on long-term trends rather than the media narrative and the pronouncements of our politicians is a far better way of assessing the true state of our security and crafting well-reasoned policy solutions.

This was first published in Reason.