Kevin Williamson on Human Progress
By David Henderson
I’ve got to admit it’s getting better.
Over at National Review, Kevin Williamson has an excellent article on human progress. Its title: “Take a Bow, Species.” Were I to excerpt the really good parts, I would probably end up excerpting the whole thing. So I’ll settle for a few excerpts and one small criticism.
The Princeton economist Angus Deaton, recently awarded the Nobel prize, has spent much of his career working on how we measure consumption, poverty, real standards of living, etc. It is thanks in part to his work that we can say that the global rate of “extreme poverty,” currently defined as subsistence on less than the equivalent of $1.90 a day, is now the condition of less than 10 percent of the human race. In the 1980s, that number was 50 percent — half the species — and as late as the dawn of the 21st century, one-third of the human race lived in extreme poverty. The progress made against poverty in the past 30 years is arguably the most dramatic economic event since the Industrial Revolution. It did not happen by accident.
Good news abroad, and good news at home: In 1990, there were 2,245 murders in New York City. That number has fallen by 85 percent. Murders are down, often dramatically, in cities across the country. The overall rate of violent crime has fallen by about half in recent decades. U.S. manufacturing output per worker trebled from 1975 to 2005, and our total manufacturing output continues to climb. Despite the no-knowthings who go around complaining that “we don’t make things here anymore,” the United States continues to make the very best of almost everything and, thanks to our relatively free-trading ways, to consume the best of everything, too. General-price inflation, the bane of the U.S. economy for some decades, is hardly to be seen. Flexible and effective institutions helped ensure that we weathered one of the worst financial crises of modern times with surprisingly little disruption in the wider economy. Despite politicians who would usurp our rights, our courts keep reliably saying that the First Amendment and the Second Amendment pretty much mean what they say. I just filled up my car for $1.78 a gallon.
DRH comment (not a criticism) re the gasoline price: Unfortunately, I live in California, where EPA regulation directed at specific areas, high gasoline taxes, and California’s recently initiated cap and trade caused me to pay $2.58 a gallon. 🙁
The Right engages in a fair amount of mood affiliation: The country must have suffered ruination, because the Obama administration, abetted by the hated “Republican establishment,” can have done nothing but ruin the country. But then you visit New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago, or you drive across northern Mississippi or the Texas Panhandle and see all those splendid farms and technology companies and factories producing all the best things that mankind can dream of, and, well, it certainly doesn’t look like a ruined country. In the past few years, I’ve been to the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and a few years further back India, Colombia, the Dominican Republic — it doesn’t look like [a] ruined world. Of course there are unhappy corners: Haiti, Pakistan.
My one criticism is about an omission in the first paragraph. Williamson didn’t necessarily make a mistake. What he says may well be true. But he did leave out something that, if you knew it, might alter your perception a little. He writes:
The last case of type 2 polio was identified in Aligarh, India, in 1999. Thanks in no small part to the initiative of the world’s Rotarians — one of those “little platoons” of which Edmund Burke was so fond — polio has been eradicated everywhere on Earth except for two places where those who would eradicate it are forbidden to operate: Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s the Taliban’s gift to the Islamic world: paralytic polio.
I have no reason to doubt his claim about Pakistan. But there is one other factor: the CIA’s use of a vaccination campaign to try to track down Osama bin Laden. This, apparently, has made some Pakistanis suspicious of vaccination. See here for more.