Earlier this month, we found out that our favorite cat, Joey, has small cell lymphoma. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they now have chemotherapy for cats. We inject a pill 3 times a week. All things considered, the pills are not expensive.

I’m posting on this, partly to share my love for my cat, but mainly to point to the economic progress we have that allows us to buy medical care for cats. This was unheard of in my parents’ generation and probably not even heard of 20 years ago.

Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the medical progress that allows doctors to give chemotherapy to humans, there would likely be no chemo for cats. That is the story of progress. Think of the cell phone. The first people who benefit from it are the richest and they think of it as a luxury. Then the middle class. Then the poor. And the next step–we’re already there with cell phones–is that even most of the poor, at least in the United States, start to think of it as a necessity.

And now there’s a new twist, at least with chemo: the next beneficiaries in line are the cats of relatively wealthy families like us. But the prices are such that even middle-class families can now afford it.

In his excellent 1959 essay (article), “Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb and the Theory of British Socialism,” reprinted in The Essence of Stigler, George Stigler quotes the following passage from Shaw:

A New York lady, for instance, having a nature of exquisite sensibility, orders an elegant rosewood and silver coffin, upholstered in pink satin, for her dead dog. It is made: and meanwhile a live child is prowling barefooted and hunger-stunted in the frozen gutter outside.

It isn’t quite the same as chemo for Joey. For one thing, he’s alive and we’re trying to avoid having him die too soon. (And when he does die, he will get a very cheap grave.) For another, there aren’t children prowling barefooted and hunger-stunted in the frozen gutter outside. People in that situation are likely to be in Asia or Africa. And, by the way, the progress around the world, even in Asia and Africa, is not due to the socialism that Shaw espoused. The major progress virtually everywhere is due almost entirely to economic freedom.