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The Improving State of the World

Posted By Don Boudreaux On May 13, 2007 @ 10:24 am In Environment,Myths and Fallacies,Standard of Living | Comments Disabled

The Boston Globe‘s Jeff Jacoby hits a home-run with his column today [1].  Here are some key passages:

FEELING CROWDED? Paul Watson is. The founder and president of the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society writes that human overpopulation is "a
virus . . . killing our host the planet Earth," and so the number of
people living in the world should be slashed by 85 percent…..

[Mr. Watson and those who share his apocalyptic delusions] should spend some time with Indur Goklany’s "The Improving State of
the World
," a new compendium of data making the case that as nations
grow wealthier, the quality of human life rises. Far from being a
disaster for our species and the planet, Goklany demonstrates, economic
growth and technological change have been a boon for both, making it
possible for ever more people to live ever-improving lives in an
ever-cleaner environment. And while the developed countries may
outstrip the developing world in wealth, it is in the world’s poorest
societies that some of the greatest strides are being made.

Take
food. Since 1950, the world’s population has soared by more than 150
percent. Yet food has become so abundant that global food prices (in
real terms) have plunged 75 percent. Over the past generation, chronic
undernourishment in poor countries has been slashed from 37 percent to
17 percent, while in the United States, staples such as potatoes and
flour have dropped in price (relative to income) by more than 80
percent.

Or take infant mortality. Before industrialization,
children died before reaching their first birthday at a rate exceeding
200 per 1,000 live births, or more than one in five. "In the United
States as late as 1900," Goklany writes, "infant mortality was about
160; but by 2004 it had declined to 6.6." In developing countries, the
fall in mortality rates began later, but is occurring more quickly. In
China, infant mortality has plunged from 195 to 30 in the past 50 years.

Life expectancy? From 31 years in 1900, it was up to 66.8 worldwide in 2003.

Health?
We are more likely to be disease-free today than our forebears were a
century ago. And the onset of chronic illness has been significantly
delayed — by nearly eight years for cancer, nine years for heart
diseases, and 11 years for respiratory diseases.

Education, child
labor, clean air, freedom, famine, leisure time, global poverty –
Goklany shows that by almost any yardstick you choose, humanity thrives
as never before. Living standards do not fall as population rises. On
the contrary: Where there are free markets and free minds — economic
growth and technology — human progress and hope are all but guaranteed.

"Humanity, though more populous and still imperfect, has never been in better condition," he writes.

Our lives are better than our ancestors’. Our descendants’ can be better than ours.

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[1] his column today: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2007/05/13/a_world_full_of_good_news/

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