October 3, 2017


What a Wonderful World (David R. Henderson, 10/02/17, Library of Economics and Liberty)
"In the time that it takes you to read the first chapter, over 2,000 people will have escaped poverty." So says a blurb on the back cover of Johan Norberg's book Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future (London: Oneworld, 2016). The book lives up to the hype. In ten chapters, on topics including food, life expectancy, violence, poverty, the environment, literacy, and freedom, Norberg, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. and the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, documents persuasively how pretty much all of the world has gotten better over the last two centuries and even over the last few decades.

Norberg tells a powerful tale by mixing anecdotes and statistics, never boring the reader--at least never boring this reader--and telling important facts that most of us have never heard. Although I knew that there had been substantial progress on almost every issue that Norberg discusses, what surprised me was the size (large) and speed (fast) of the progress. And, as a footnote reader, I can attest that he backs up virtually all of his claims with published research and data. Famous Harvard University psychology professor Steven Pinker, author of his own pathbreaking book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, calls Progress "exhilarating." I agree.

Consider food. Norberg points out that per capita calorie consumption in France and England was a low 1,700 to 2,200 calories per day in the middle of the 18th century. By 1850, this had increased to 2,500 to 2,800. By 1950, it was 3,000. Sweden, where Norberg lives, "was declared free from chronic hunger in the early twentieth century."

When we aren't worried about being able to create ever more wealth with ever less labor, we fret that we have too much to eat.  It's a deeply silly time in human history.

Posted by at October 3, 2017 12:53 PM