Economics 101

Examples of Progress and Prosperity You Might’ve Missed

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A while back, I wrote about five activities illustrating how prosperous we are, even though we never think about these activies this way. Things like eating ice cream, washing our cars, and exercising show how much abundance we have compared to most people throughout history.

This abundance is brought to us by trade, innovation, and the God-given creativity of strangers. However, we often take these things for granted. A recent article from The Spectator, “Why Can’t We See That We’re Living in a Golden Age,” explores why we’re missing this progress and prosperity and offers countless new examples of how we’re better off than our ancestors ever were. The author, Johan Norberg, first looks at conditions in the UK:

Look at 1828, when The Spectator was first published. Most people in Britain then lived in what is now regarded as extreme poverty. Life was nasty (people still threw their waste out of the window), brutish (corpses were still displayed on gibbets) and short (30 years on average). But even then things had been improving. The first iteration of The Spectator, in 1711, was published in a Britain whose people subsisted on average on fewer calories than the average child gets today in sub-Saharan Africa.

And, because people are still trying to salvage Marx, Norberg adds,

Karl Marx thought that capitalism inevitably made the rich richer and the poor poorer. By the time Marx died, however, the average Englishman was three times richer than at the time of his birth 65 years earlier — never before had the population experienced anything like it.

Norberg cites evidence from other countries, too, including China:

Fast forward to 1981. Then, almost nine in ten Chinese lived in extreme poverty; now just one in ten do. Then, just half of the world’s population had access to safe water. Now, 91 per cent do. On average, that means that 285,000 more people have gained access to safe water every day for the past 25 years.

The reason for this progress is, again, trade:

Global trade has led to an expansion of wealth on a magnitude which is hard to comprehend. During the 25 years since the end of the Cold War, global economic wealth — or GDP per capita — has increased almost as much as it did during the preceding 25,000 years.

As I read about these advances, I again marveled at my own tendency to take them for granted. It’s a privilege to be able to take these things for granted. We should reflect on the amazing wonders of the modern world, brought to us by the God-given creativity of strangers, that allow us to be so blissfully ignorant. Let’s take a moment to be grateful for them.

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