December 28, 2018

THE eND OF hISTORY LIFTS ALL BOATS:

The Most Important Graph in the World (Marian L. Tupy, 12/13/16, Human Progress)


Jonathan Haidt, the well-known psychologist from New York University, started as a "typical" liberal intellectual, but came to appreciate the awesome ability of free markets to improve the lives of the poor. Earlier this year, he penned an essay in which he pointed to what he called "the most important graph in the world." The graph reflected Angus Maddison's data showing a massive increase in wealth throughout the world over the last two centuries and which is reproduced, courtesy of Human Progress, below.

 
The "great enrichment" (Deirdre McCloskey's phrase) elicits different responses in different parts of the world, Haidt noted. "When I show this graph in Asia," Haidt writes, "the audiences love it, and seem to take it as an aspirational road map... But when I show this graph in Europe and North America, I often receive more ambivalent reactions. 'We can't just keep growing forever!' some say. 'We'll destroy the planet!' say others. These objections seem to come entirely from the political left, which has a history, stretching back centuries, of ambivalence or outright hostility to capitalism."

Haidt's experience mirrors my own. When giving talks about the benefits of free markets, audiences in Europe and America invariably note the supposedly finite nature of growth and express worry about the environmental state of the planet. Why? In Haidt's view, capitalist prosperity changes human conscience. In pre-industrial societies, people care about survival. "As societies get wealthier, life generally gets safer, not just due to reductions in disease, starvation, and vulnerability to natural disasters, but also due to reductions in political brutalization. People get rights."

Posted by at December 28, 2018 10:48 AM

  

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