Sunday 26 May 2024

"Colonial empires do not come cheap."

"In recent years, we have seen a renewed interest in Britain’s imperialist past: the British Empire, the slave trade and the Caribbean slave labour plantations. More precisely, we have seen a revival of the idea that the wealth of the Western world – and Britain’s in particular – was originally built on slavery and colonial exploitation.
    "There is a lot to be said for a ‘warts-and-all’ approach to history, which does not gloss over or relativise the darker chapters of a country’s past. But the problem with the above narrative is that it is bad economics. ... [I]t is quite possible that the empire was a net loss-maker for Britain....

"In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the great bulk of Britain’s economic activity was domestic. Even then, Britain’s most important trading partners in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were not its colonies but other industrialising powers, such as Britain’s Western European neighbours.
    "Colonial empires do not come cheap. The acquisition, defence and administration of overseas territories require huge upfront investments and ongoing maintenance costs. This is why, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Britain and other colonial empires had higher levels of military expenditure than their less imperialist neighbours and, consequently, a substantially higher tax burden.
    "The economic benefits of empires are often overstated. Empires boost trade between their constituent parts, but they are far from the only determinant of trade volumes. At least some trade between Britain and India, for example, would have occurred anyway, even if India had never been colonised, or even if it had been colonised by some other European power.
    "The cost–benefit analysis for other European colonial empires is similar. ....

"The transatlantic slave trade was no more important for the British economy than brewing or sheep farming, but we do not usually hear the claim that ‘brewing financed the Industrial Revolution’ or ‘sheep farming financed the Industrial Revolution.’

"Not all Western countries were major colonial powers.
    "Some had only minor colonial possessions, some had only short-lived colonial empires, some only acquired colonies very late in the day, and some never had any colonies. [Yet] those minor players in the colonial arms race industrialised at roughly the same speed as the major colonial empires, so if there was an ‘empire bonus,' it is not visible in the macro data.

"The claim that colonialism and slavery made the Western world rich is often accompanied by the claim that colonialism and slavery made the non-Western world poor. This companion thesis stands on stronger ground. There is indeed evidence for the long-term scarring effects of colonialism and slavery - [especially places that were once subject to short-termist colonialist extraction] — since these corrupted the institutional development of the affected regions."
~ Kristian Niemitz, from his new monograph 'Imperial Measurement: A cost–benefit analysis of Western colonialism

"The British Empire: a Force for Good"


"The British Empire: a Force for Good, a new book, is a refreshing antidote to the current zeal for decolonisation, [a movement] which encourages us to reimagine history as 'a morality play in which white men are the baddies.'
    "Author John McLean ... tells the stories of Britain’s 101 colonies established over 400 years, capturing the boldness and zeal of the pioneers who built the empire. ...
    "British colonies were the building blocks of the British Empire, spreading the English language, customs, law, property rights, and Christianity to more than 100 locations around the globe, creating much of the developed world that we live in today. That is one reason why McLean can write ... that the British Empire was a force for good.
    "McLean provides further evidence of this force for good in twenty pages on slavery, and on the sustained efforts Britain took, at great expense, to stamp it out.
    "Slavery was made illegal in Britain in 1772, the Slave Trade Act 1807 made it illegal for British ships to transport slaves, and from 1808 to 1867, Britain spent 1.8 percent of its GDP every year to seize slave ships and free slaves, McLean writes.
    "Britain’s role in reducing slavery is now hardly mentioned while former British territories where slavery had existed hundreds of years ago are claiming trillions in compensation ...
    "McLean [also] shows the extent to which independence was a disaster for many colonies. ... [the] story of armed conflict, atrocities, looting, and 'white flight' after Britain granted independence to numerous colonies [was] repeated many times. Such [he writes] is the legacy of [much] decolonisation."

~ Mike Butler from his review of 'The British Empire – a force for good' [Editor's note: the book is recommended as an antidote to much modern silliness, but with errors, most especially the chapter on American independence.]


Saturday 25 May 2024

"Missing from modern culture: 'the quietly competent man'"

"There’s a handful of movies that ... I [will] stop and watch, no matter how many times I've seen them ...
    "It also includes 'The Hunt For Red October,' a damn-near perfect movie that has a particular element woefully missing from modern fare. And modern culture, more broadly.
    "That element is the quietly competent man. Individuals that are good at what they do, and go about doing it without chest-thumping machismo or dude-bro bluster.
    "Consider the contrast between Will Smith's bluster in 'Independence Day' versus the exchange between Scott Glenn and Courtney B. Vance in Red October:

"[The difference on display here is] showboating vs doing-my-job-well matter-of-factness....
    "Apparently, I'm not the only one to feel this dearth in modern fare. YouTube movie reviewer The Critical Drinker put it well:
    'I really miss movies with male actors that look and talk and act like actual adult men who radiate authority and confidence instead of whiny hyperactive children inhabiting male bodies.'
"Entertainment reflects culture, and we have for decades seen our culture deride and undermine the concept of the quietly competent man....
    "[T]o repeat, everyone in 'Red October' was supremely competent in a workaday fashion, rather than smashing us in the face with boasts and swagger.
    "That quiet competence should serve as the ideal. It should be a role model for kids, and an aspiration for men. It is also the essence of individualism, and it's why a libertarian blogger finds it suitable subject matter. It seems a natural draw for male behaviour, so it's a crying shame that our culture has stopped even depicting it, let alone celebrating it. ...
    "Fonzie once pointed out someone to Richie, observing that 'he's got the quiet cool' or something to that effect .... 'Quiet cool' seems like a pretty good idea."
~ Peter Venetoklis from his post 'Quiet Competence'

Friday 24 May 2024

What’s Donald Trump Doing at the Libertarian Party Convention?

What the hell is Donald Trump doing at a Libertarian party convention? As David Boaz hints in this guest post — and Peter Goettler makes clear in his linked op-ed — it's probably because the US Libertarian party is now sadly un‐​libertarian ...

What’s Donald Trump Doing at the Libertarian Party Convention?

by David Boaz

The Libertarian Party presidential nominating convention is coming up this weekend, with Donald Trump as a featured speaker. This is apparently the first time in US history that a political party has had another party’s nominee at its own nominating convention. And what a choice!

The Libertarian Party was founded to “challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual” and to specifically run candidates for office on a platform of personal liberty, economic liberty, and a peaceful foreign policy.

Needless to say, that’s not Donald Trump’s platform, nor does it describe his actions as president. Which is why most libertarians, except the LP faction that won control of the party in 2022, are mystified and appalled about why a self‐​proclaimed libertarian party would invite a would‐​be autocrat to dominate media coverage of its convention.

Just posted at the Washington Post is a column by Cato president and CEO Peter Goettler exploring this mystery. Goettler explains what libertarianism is:
Libertarianism, at its core, is the modern manifestation of classical liberalism, the transformative movement that, beginning in the 18th century, challenged monarchs, autocrats, mercantilism, caste society, slavery and religious persecution. As heirs to that tradition, libertarians believe in individual freedom, equality under the law, pluralism, toleration, free speech, freedom of religion, government by consent of the governed, the rule of law, private property, free markets and limited constitutional government.
And how Trump differs (as if it wasn’t obvious):
He allowed government spending and debt to continue to spiral upward, increasing the national debt by $8.4 trillion. Federal outlays soared from $4 trillion his first year (2017) to $6.8 trillion in his last year. He persists in railing against immigration and free trade, supports further expansion of presidential power and seeks to crack down on political enemies.
Goettler also points out how sadly un‐​libertarian the LP’s current leadership and its messaging are.

Read the whole thing.

* * * * 

David Boaz is a distinguished senior fellow of the Cato Institute. Over more than four decades as vice president for public policy and executive vice president, he played a key role in the development of the Cato Institute and the libertarian movement. He is the author of The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom and the editor of The Libertarian Reader.

"Why aren’t politicians taking more action on the housing affordability crisis? The answer might lie in the latest 'Register of Pecuniary Interests'."

"Why aren’t politicians taking more action on the housing affordability crisis? The answer might lie in the latest 'Register of Pecuniary Interests.' This register contains details of the various financial interests of parliamentarians. It shows that politicians own real estate in significant numbers....[amidst] a relatively narrow spectrum of socio-economic interests ...
    "Collectively, [MPs] owns 261 houses, or 2.2 properties each.... In terms of Cabinet ministers, they own 60 houses, meaning on average, they have a stake in 3 houses each. ...
    "Given that New Zealand MPs are so heavily invested in property, it raises questions about whether this impacts their willingness to deal with the housing affordability crisis. Owning so many houses means MPs have a vested interest in preventing the housing market from slowing growth or even having house prices drop. They are personally advantaged by retaining the status quo.
    "[Economist Shamubeel] Eaqub says it’s a broader vested interests problem: 'It’s not just that the MPs have property and investment property and hence there is a vested interest – it’s that people who vote for them and engage with them are similar....'
    "More analysis and attention needs to be put into this area, as MPs continue to be too divorced from the reality of the housing crisis."

~ Bryce Edwards from his post 'MPs own 2.2 houses on average'

"In dangling this dream before Hamas, the three PMs have all but green-lighted its terrorism."

"So now we know what it takes to become a state: the murder of Jews. Rape, kill and kidnap Jews and seven months later, the leaders of Ireland, Spain and Norway will recognise your statehood. That’s the lesson of today’s coordinated spectacle of virtue-signalling in Dublin, Madrid and Oslo: pogroms work. The butchery of civilians gets results. Fascism has its rewards. This is ‘diplomacy’ at its most dangerous. ...
    "[T]he true impact of their imperious intervention will be to exacerbate hostilities. Hamas will feel emboldened. It now knows that a wonderful gift awaits it if it keeps battering Israel: a state of its own. In dangling this dream before Hamas, the three PMs have all but green-lighted its terrorism. ...
    "Perhaps we should not be surprised by the infantile posturing of the three PMs and their dearth of consideration for what might happen if we further isolate Israel and embolden Hamas. Because in a way, such self-involved moral blindness sums up the entirety of ‘Palestinian solidarity’. So much of the supposedly pro-Palestinian sentiment – in politics, on campuses, on the streets – is fundamentally a displacement activity. Politicians and activists bereft of ideas for how to improve their own societies instead seek sanctuary in the moral glow of Palestinianism. ...
    "This is what ‘Palestine’ has become for the cultural elites of the West: a moral balm, a source of fleeting meaning, a soapbox from which they can grandstand on faraway affairs, having zero vision for closer-to-home affairs. "
    "Those same countries have been silent about calling for the release of the hostages; silent instead of condemning outright Hamas. It is disgraceful that they go further and give Hamas a Palestinian state. Obscene."

~ Brendan O'Neill from his post 'Rewarding Fascism' [final paragraph from commenter Lala Holland on the video 'Palestinians Slaughter, Europe Rewards: How Hamas Won a State']

Thursday 23 May 2024

A milestone; "the latest in a long string of grim milestones.

"At 10 PM on Sunday 19th May, New Zealand reached the latest in a long string of grim milestones. For the first time ever, government debt will tick up past $90,000 for every household in the country. [And still rising rapidly]... At this rate, it won’t be long at all until $100k Debt Day.
    "To put the numbers into a little bit of perspective, [average annual household income from wages and salaries is only $83,410. And ]the average household is now paying almost $4,500 a year just to cover the interest on this debt.
    "That’s almost $4,500 that can’t be spent on food, or rent or heating. Or that can’t be used to pay down their own debts.
    "We’re paying more this year just maintaining the massive debt taken out on our behalf than we are on the total budgets for the defence force, police, corrections, and customs combined. ...
    "Government after Government, including this one, keeps spending well beyond their means. ...
    "But that’s not to say they don’t take enough of your money in taxes. Far from it, the average Kiwi is paying $49 a week more in income tax in real terms than they were in 2010.
    "The problem is that as a country, far too many of us have just come to accept getting less for more money.
    "The Budget comes at the end of the month, and it’ll be make or break for a New Zealand which is listing towards being a poor nation. ...
    "The time for half-measures is over."

"Let's stop calling it 'Artificial Intelligence' then and call it what it is, 'plagiarism software."

Source: NYT
"The human mind is not, like ChatGPT and its ilk, a lumbering statistical engine for pattern matching, gorging on hundreds of terabytes of data and extrapolating the most likely conversational response or most probable answer to a scientific question. On the contrary, the human mind is a surprisingly efficient and even elegant system that operates with small amounts of information; it seeks not to infer brute correlations among data points but to create explanations....
    "The crux of machine learning is description and prediction; it does not posit any causal mechanisms or physical laws. Of course, any human-style explanation is not necessarily correct; we are fallible. But this is part of what it means to think: To be right, it must be possible to be wrong. Intelligence consists not only of creative conjectures but also of creative criticism. Human-style thought is based on possible explanations and error correction, a process that gradually limits what possibilities can be rationally considered. (As Sherlock Holmes said to Dr. Watson, 'When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.') ...
    "But ChatGPT and similar programs are, by design, unlimited in what they can 'learn' (which is to say, memorise); they are incapable of distinguishing the possible from the impossible. ... For this reason, the predictions of machine learning systems will always be superficial and dubious....
    "Let's stop calling it 'Artificial Intelligence' then and call it what it is, 'plagiarism software,' because 'it doesn't create anything but copies of existing works of existing artists, modifying them enough to escape copyright laws..."

~ Noam Chomsky, Ian Roberts + Jeffrey Watamull, from their article 'The False Promise of ChatGPT' and Chomsky's interview 'Chomsky on ChatGPT, Education, Russia and the unvaccinated'
"What does artificial intelligence have to do to be really transformatively productive?...
    "Writing fake articles and substituting for stock photos (which people used to use in their blog posts instead of AI-generated illustrations) is replacing work that is already relatively low-paid and not, alas, central to the economy….
    "The comment making the rounds on the internet, in various forms, is that AI should be doing tedious tasks for creative people, but instead it’s doing creative tasks for tedious people."

~ Robert Tracinski from his article 'Compute On, Jeeves'

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Q: Why did cannabis legalisation not eliminate the underground market?

"The state of New York legalised recreational marijuana in 2021. Recent estimates, however, count 2,000 unlicensed vendors and only 100 licensed ones.
    "Why did legalisation not eliminate the underground market?
    "One problem is that New York [state]’s policy change did not eliminate the federal ban on marijuana ... A second impediment is that New York has been slow at licensing legal marijuana retailers ... The third factor is the state’s 13% tax on retail sales, which again advantages black market sales. ...
    "[P]olicy should allow the entire market to move above ground — by reducing costly and time-consuming regulation. ... while expanding licensing and lowering the tax rate, the state can move most of the market above ground. This will plausibly raise tax revenue, by applying a lower rate to a much larger base."

~ Jeffrey Miron + Lemoni Larsen Matsumoto from their post 'To Eliminate Underground Markets, Tax and Regulate Less'

And you wonder why building is so expensive! [update]

UPDATE: "It's almost 2018 and we are still building our homes like it's 1918. It's time to fix this. ... why [can] one drive a cheap Hyundai straight into a driving rain at 70 MPH and not get a drop of water inside, yet we have trouble building a house that can stand still in the rain and do the same. ..."

It's said that the two biggest things most people buy in their lives are a car, and a house. To be more correct however: most people will buy the car; not everyone though, these days, can afford to buy the house. Particularly in our major cities.

And it's getting worse. While the price of cars has been generally declining over recent decades (due to innovation, greater competition, increasing productivity, better supply chains etc.) the price of houses — and the price to build a house — has been doing just the opposite. It's not because the quality of cars has been decreasing, either.

Why is that?

You'd think it would be the other way around. Think about how different it is to build a car, and to build a house. Cars require precision engineering, advanced technology, and specialised manufacturing processes. Hundreds of millions go into designing and engineering the chassis, the engine, in designing the looks, the interior, the space inside…and then you have to provide a suspension system, a transmission, miles and miles of wires, electronic systems that control the engine and won’t let you crash, such as ABS and traction control. Then you have to put in the costumer-trap things, like a nice info-tainment system, heated seats, iPod playback, sunroof and so on. Then you have to make all of these reliable, make sure it will keep on going for at least 200000 km? And it has to be safe. So airbags, crashbars, seatbelt and on and on.
Not to mention the whole service programme, and spare parts networks …

Yet with all that complication, car prices have generally been declining. Perhaps because, with cars, cost-saving innovation is generally encouraged. Permitted. Allowed. Even though most people could never build their own car, these complicated machines are becoming ever less expensive, even as they become ever more comfortable, reliable and serviceable. Advances in manufacturing technology and efficiency reduce the cost of producing cars, and manufacturers pass some of these savings onto consumers.

Yet while many people could and have built their own house, this far less complicated thing is taking longer to build, and costing far more than they ever have before. Stu Donovan from Motu explains that 
Research finds that planning policies add significantly to housing costs, especially for smaller and more compact dwellings. Examples include minimum area requirements for dwellings / lots / balconies / landscaping / communal areas along with minimum parking requirements.
And all of those rules are prescriptive. Dictatorial. No room at all for innovation. (And if there are benefits, no robust evidence they are greater than costs.)

With a car, innovation is stimulated and rewarded — not just allowed it is encouraged — and its has resulted in better cars at cheaper prices. By contrast, in local building, the productive must ask permission from the unproductive in order to produce. And the unproductive continually require more before that permission is granted.

Easily six months to a year (or more) for a resource consent, a mountain of paperwork, and many people running around asking and answering questions like "is this more than a minor effect on the amenity value of the area?" Similar time, time-wasting, paperwork and questions for a Building Consent — not to mention the extra mountain of documentation proving that your client's chosen widget complies with four or five different chapters of the Building Code (as recently amended).

Not to mention the even longer and almost interminable process if you're trying to use innovative materials or systems that the regulator hasn't seen before. 

No wonder innovative "widgets" are discouraged.

No wonder builders and developers generally shun innovative technologies and typologies in favour of those they know council are more likely to allow.

No wonder we're still using stick-framing technology from the nineteenth century to build our houses — a technology that pre-dates the car. 

The fact is, innovation in house-building has been stultified by the regulators who require you to believe they know best.

Yet as architect Frank Loyd Wright used to say, ""The building codes of the democracies embody, of course, only what the previous generation knew or thought about building..." (And here we still wouldn't be allowed to build the houses Mr Wright was erecting back in the 1930s!)

Why do we allow this ridiculous state of affairs about something, a house for goodness sake, that is so gosh-damned vital to human existence?
In his book 'Permissionless Innovation' ... Adam Thierer argues that creators of new technology shouldn’t have to seek the blessing of skeptical, out-of-touch regulators before they can develop and offer their innovations to consumers. In fact, it’s because some innovators have had the nerve to start a business without asking for permission that we all benefit now from services like Uber and Lyft, Homejoy, grocery-delivery services like Instacart, last-minute errand-running services like TaskRabbit, restaurant-quality meal-delivery services like SpoonRocket, and more.
We should be glad for these regulation violators, says Veronique de Rugy, who dared to dream that their ideas could find willing consumers to make them rich.
Yet I worry that as consumers, taxpayers, businesspeople, and citizens we have lost the notion that just as innovators shouldn't have to ask for permission from the government before they can bring new products to consumers, people who want to try out new arrangements for living their lives or making their livings shouldn't have to ask for such permission either.
    I understand why people often fear freedom or the consequences of breaking the rules, and thus acquiesce to government restrictions on their freedoms. But I fear that we have gone too far in this timid and cowardly compliance. So long as everyone respects everyone else's rights, we should have permissionless consumption (foreign and domestic), permissionless employment, permissionless entertainment, and permissionless everything and anything that's peaceful.
    A right for consumers to try new things or to buy what they really want should be the default presumption.  That shift would effectively knock down the barriers to progress erected by officious governments and self-serving special interests.

Rights come with responsibilities. Allow consumers, i.e., builders and house-buyers, to take responsibility for choices. And give them the right to choose.

Happy 100th Birthday, Roland Reisley!


Roland Reisley turns 100 today! Roland (above) is the last original client living in the house he commissioned from Frank Lloyd Wright.

He attributes his longevity to the house he commissioned nearly 75 years ago — enjoying every day the nature of the design, seeing the seasons change, how the light passes through the home."

I came to realise after many years … a pinch-me realisation, that after many years there had not been a single day of my life, even the bad days that happen in every life, where I was not aware of seeing something beautiful. I always, every day of my life, [am saying] ‘isn’t that lovely’ — whether it’s … in the morning I look up and see the way the wood is mitred in certain places, and how it contrasts with the light through the window which is either nice and green fro the trees or white with snow; and I could go on with similar awareness. “We sit outside (in summer-time) … and look around and say ‘isn’t it beautiful!,’ ‘isn’t it wonderful!’ — every day, every time…
    Neuroscientists have observed … that living with a sense of awareness of beauty brings a sense of comfort, a reduction of stress, and these other kinds of things, that may contribute to physical and emotional health, possibly even longevity. I’m 93 years old! I’m in very good shape for 93 years old. I like to attribute that to this sense of beauty that I’ve lived in all my life.
    It also has made me very conscious, as I talk about this house and the architecture and how it makes me feel, of the importance of the built environment generally. “I remark these days not just to visitors but to architects as well: ’You know, these buildings are just objects. We may like how they look, we may not like how they look, but what matters is how they make us feel. When we’re in this environment, does it feel good, does it [make us] feel better, does it feel enriching. And that may or may not coincide with whether we like the way it looks. I think Wright understood that, and he created environments in which people feel good.
Happy birthday Mr Reisley.

Tuesday 21 May 2024

The History of the Future: 'Build, Baby, Build' on Historic Preservation

People in the past were right to believe that the future could easily outshine the past. In this guest post, an excerpt from, his new graphic novel 'Build, Baby, Build' Bryan Caplan, asks why shouldn’t we believe the same?

The History of the Future: Build, Baby, Build on Historic Preservation

by Bryan Caplan

One of the most crowd‐​pleasing rationales for preventing development is historic preservation – i.e., preservation of "old" or "character" buildings. [Planners in Wellington and Auckland councils in particular have raised this objection to avoid intensification in those cities.]  Critics often ridicule the rationale’s abuse. New York has an historic parking lot, and so does Washington, DC. Rarely, however, does anyone challenge the principle of historic preservation. My new book Build, Baby, Build: The Science and Ethics of Housing Regulation does precisely that.

I first decided to address historic preservation while reading Triumph of the City by Ed Glaeser, chair of Harvard’s Economics Department. He is unquestionably a hero of Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY). He’s probably the greatest YIMBY hero in academia. But to my ears, Glaeser still praises historic preservation with faint damnation:
In cities and suburban enclaves alike, opposition to change means blocking new development and stopping new infrastructure projects. Residents are in effect saying “not in my backyard.” In older cities like New York, NIMBYism hides under the cover of preservationism, perverting the worthy cause of preserving the most beautiful reminders of our past into an attempt to freeze vast neighborhoods filled with undistinguished architecture.
This passage inspired a Build, Baby, Build scene where I invite Ed for a ride in my time machine. First, I take him back to 1928 and show him the original Waldorf‐​Astoria Hotel. The hotel was undeniably gorgeous.

But in the late 1920s, regulators didn’t try very hard to “preserve the most beautiful reminders of our past.” So about a century ago, developers were able to demolish the hotel.

And then… they built the iconic Empire State Building in its stead! Take a look.

On reflection, there is a widely‐​ignored trade‐​off between preserving past greatness and creating new greatness. Almost every beloved building stands on the footprint of an even older building. If historic preservation had existed throughout history, many more truly ancient structures would still be standing. But everything more recent would, at best, be less conveniently located. Many wouldn’t exist at all! After all, there’s little point in building the Empire State Building anywhere other than a city centre.

Without historic preservation laws, profit‐​maximising developers would still consider historic value. Tenants and buyers like historic stuff, so they’ll pay a premium for it. Developers like good publicity, so they have an added incentive to loudly proclaim their enduring eagerness to keep history alive. Philanthropists may even buy historic buildings and turn them into museums, or partial museums.

I say these free‐​market forces deliver all the historic preservation a reasonable person would ever want. I know, many of my fellow economists will hail the so-called "positive externalities" of doing even more. But we shouldn’t give them the time of day. Much of what mainstream economists credulously call “positive externalities” is just Social Desirability Bias — our all‐​too‐​human tendency to voice pretty lies.

“History is priceless” is a lovely yet absurd slogan. A few architectural historians aside, people barely care about 99 percent of protected buildings. When was the last time you smiled at a random structure built before your birth? What’s your tenth favourite building in Paris, never mind Auckland, Wellington or Tauranga?

But even if you take the positive externalities more seriously than I do, we’re not choosing between positive externalities and nothing. We’re choosing between the positive externalities of the buildings we have, and positive externalities of the buildings we could have instead

People in the past were right to believe that the future could easily outshine the past. Why shouldn’t we believe the same?

* * * * 

Bryan Caplan is an American economist and author. Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University, research fellow at the Mercatus Center, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and former contributor to the Freakonomics blog and EconLog. He has published in the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, Social Science Quarterly, the Journal of Public Economics, the Southern Economic Journal, Public Choice, and numerous other outlets. His book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies (2007), was published by Princeton University Press and named "the best political book this year" by the New York Times
Bryan posts frequently at his blog, Bet on It. His post first appeared at the Cato at Liberty blog.
Buy his comic book at Amazon in both paperback and e-book.

Monday 20 May 2024

"We share those basic desires regardless of race. It’s that commonality that makes race irrelevant."

"Against a backdrop of high-profile, negative statistics it is easy to overlook the positive.
    "For instance, the fact that 64 percent of Maori are employed is rarely reported. For context, the employment rate for all New Zealanders is 68.4%. The difference isn’t vast.
    "In excess of 400,000 Maori have jobs, provide products and services and pay tax. ...
    "97 percent of Maori aged 15 or older are not in prison or serving a community sentence or order. Over 99 percent of Maori are not gang members. ...
    "[A]s an ethnic group Maori take a lot of heat ... because it suits certain political aspirants to promote the negative... [Yet i]t feels safe to say that most people want to live peaceful, happy and productive lives. We share those basic desires regardless of race. It’s that commonality that makes race irrelevant."
~ Lindsay Mitchell, from her post 'Time for some perspective'

When the best don't rise to the 'top'

"It is not in the nature of politics that the best men should be elected. The best men do not want to govern their fellow men."
~ George E. MacDonald (early 20th-century editor of the Freethought paper Truth Seeker), from the collection Fifty Years of Freethought


Saturday 18 May 2024

What's 'woke'? Let me explain.


You hear it all the time now.'Woke.' "He's woke." "She's woke." "That's woke." Woke, woke. woke. You hear it all the time.

But 'woke' to what?

James Lindsay likes tweaking the noses of those that are called 'woke,' but he's a fairly knowledgable chap too. "There's a right name for the 'Woke' ideology," he explains, "and it's 'Critical Constructivism.' Critical constructivist ideology is what you "wake up" to when you go 'Woke'." He explains in a lengthy Twitter thread:

Reading this book [above], which originally codified it in 2005, is like reading a confession of Woke ideology. Let's talk about it.
    The guy whose name is on the cover of that book is credited with codifying critical constructivism, or as it would be better to call it, critical constructivist ideology (or ideologies). His name is Joe Kincheloe, he was at Magill University, and he was a critical pedagogue.
    Just to remind you, critical pedagogy is a form of brainwashing posing as education that is the application of critical theory to educational theory and praxis as well as teaching and practice of critical theories in schools. ... [C]ritical pedagogy was developed ... to use educational materials as a 'mediator to political knowledge,' i.e., excuse to brainwash.
    The point of critical pedagogy is to use education as a means not to educated but to raise a critical consciousness in students instead. That is, its purpose is to make them 'Woke.' What does that entail, though? It means becoming a critical constructivist, as Kincheloe details.

As some people have said, it always starts with teacher mis-education. 

Note what we've already said, though. Yes, Marcuse. Yes, intersectionality. Yes, CRT and Queer Theory et cetera. Yes, yes, yes. That's Woke, BUT Woke was born and bred in education schools. I first recognised this right after [Helen Pluckrose and I] published our 2020 book 'Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody.'
    Critical pedagogy, following people like Henry Giroux and Joe Kincheloe, forged together the religious liberationist Marxism of [Paulo] Freire, literally a Liberation Theologian, with the 'European theorists,' including both Critical Marxists like Marcuse and postmodernists like Foucault.
    In other words, when Jordan Peterson identifies what we now call 'Woke' as 'postmodern neo-Marxism,' he was exactly right. ["Yes,no, and sort of," says philosopher Stephen Hicks.] It was a neo-Marxist critique that had taken a postmodern turn away from realism and reality. The right name for that is 'critical constructivism.'

CRITICAL CONSTRUCTIVISM CONTAINS (OR SYNTHESISES) two disparate parts: 'critical,' which refers to Critical Theory (that is, neo-Marxism or Critical Marxism), and 'constructivism,' which refers to the constructivist thinking at the heart of postmodernism and poststructuralism.
Critical Theory we all already generally understand at this point. The idea is pretty simple: 
  • ruthless criticism of everything that exists; 
  • calling everything you want to control 'oppression' until you control it; 
  • finding a new proletariat in 'ghetto populations'; blah blah blah.
    More accurately, Critical Theory means believing the world and the people in it are contoured by systems of social, cultural, and economic power that are effectively inescapable and all serve to reproduce the 'existing society' (status quo) and its capitalist engine.
    Critical Theory is not concerned with the operation of the world, 'epistemic adequacy' (i.e., knowing what you're talking about), or anything else. They're interested in how systemic power shapes and contours all things and how they're experienced, to which they give a (neo)-Marxist critique.
    Constructivism is a bit less familiar for two reasons:
We've done a lot of explaining and criticising Critical Theory already, so people are catching on, and it's a downright alien intellectual landscape that is almost impossible to believe anyone actually believes.
You're already very familiar with the language of constructivism: 'X is a social construct.' Constructivism fundamentally believes that the world is socially constructed. That's a profound claim. So are people as part of the world. That's another profound claim. So is power. I need you to stop thinking you get it and listen now because you're probably already rejecting the idea that anyone can be a constructivist who believes the world is itself socially constructed. That's because you're fundamentally a realist, but they are not realists at all.
    Constructivists believe, as Kincheloe says explicitly, that nothing exists before perception. That means that, to a constructivist, some objective shared reality doesn't exist. To them, there is no reality except the perception of reality, and the perception of reality is constructed by power.
    I need you to stop again because you probably reject getting it again. They really believe this. There is no reality except perceived reality. Reality is perceived according to one's social and political position with respect to prevailing dominant power. Do you understand?
    Constructivism rejects the idea of an objective shared reality that we can observe and draw consistent conclusions about. Conclusions are the result of perceptions and interpretations, which are colored and shaped by dominant power, mostly in getting people to accept that power.
    In place of an objective shared reality we can draw conclusions about, we all inhabit our own 'lived realities' that are shaped by power dynamics that primarily play out on the group level, hence the need for 'social justice' to make power equitable among and across groups.
    Because (critical) constructivist ideologies believe themselves the only way to truly study the effects of systemic dominant power, they have a monopoly on knowing how it works [despite the contradiction in terms], who benefits, and who suffers oppression because of it. Their interpretation is the only game in town.
    All interpretations that disagree with critical constructivism [they insist] do so for one or more bad reasons, for example:
  • not knowing the value of critical constructivism, 
  • being motivated to protect one's power on one or more levels, 
  • prejudice and hate, or
  • having bought the dominant ideology's terms, etc. 
CRITICAL CONSTRUCTIVISM IS PARTICULARLY HOSTILE to 'Western' science, favouring what it calls 'subjugated knowledges. This should all feel very familiar right now [hello Mātauranga Māori], and it's worth noting that Kincheloe is largely credited with starting the idea of 'decolonising' knowledge. 
    Kincheloe, in his own words, explains that critical constructivism is a 'weltanshuuang,' that is, a worldview, based on a 'critical hermeneutical' understanding of experienced reality. This means it intends to interpret everything through critical constructivism.
    In other words, critical constructivism is a hermetically-sealed ideological worldview (a cult worldview) that claims a monopoly on interpretation of the world by virtue of its capacity to call anything that challenges it an unjust application of self-serving dominant power.
    When you are "Woke," you are a critical constructivist, or at least suffer ideological contamination by critical constructivism, whether you know it or not. You believe important aspects of the world are socially (politically) constructed, that power is the main variable, etc.
    More importantly, you believe that perception (of unjust power) combined with (that) interpretation of reality is a more faithful description of reality than empirical fact or logical consistency, which are "reductionist" to critical constructivists.
    This wackadoodle (anti-realist) belief is a consequence of the good-ol' Hegelian/Marxist dialectic that critical constructivism imports wholesale. As Kincheloe explains, his worldview is better because it knows knowledge is both subjective and objective at the same time.
    He phrases it that all knowledge requires interpretation, and that means knowledge is constructed from the known (objective) and the knower (subjective) who knows it. It isn't "knowledge" at all until interpretation is added, and critical constructivist interpretation is best.
    Why is critical constructivist interpretation best? Here comes another standard Marxist trick: because it's the only one (self)-aware of the fact that 'positionality' with respect to power matters, so it's allegedly the only one accounting for dominant power systems at all.

WE COULD GO ON AND on about this, but you hopefully get the idea. Critical constructivism is the real name for 'Woke.' It's a cult-ideological view of the world that cannot be challenged from the outside, only concentrated from within, and it's what you 'wake up' to when Woked. [A different name for 'Critical Constructivism': Cognitive Onanism.]
    Critical constructivism is an insane, self-serving, hermetically sealed cult-ideological worldview and belief system, including a demand to put it into praxis (activism) to recreate the world for the possibility of a 'liberation' it cannot describe, by definition. A disaster.
    There is a long, detailed academic history and pedigree to 'Woke,' though, so don't let people gaslight you into believing it's some right-wing bogeyman no one can even define. It's easily comprehensible despite being almost impossible to grok like an insider.
    People who become 'Woke' (critical constructivists) are in a cult that is necessarily destructive. Why is it necessarily destructive? Because it rejects reality, and attempts instead to understand a 'reality' based in the subjective interpretations of power .....
    Furthermore, its objective is to destroy the only thing it regards as being 'real,' which are the power dynamics it identifies so it can hate them and destroy them. Those are 'socially real' because they are imposed by those with dominant power, who must be disempowered. Simple.

To conclude, Woke is a real thing. It can be explained in great detail as exactly what its critics have been saying about it for years, and those details are all available in straightforward black and white from its creators, if you can just read them and believe them.


Friday 17 May 2024

The More Resources We Consume, the More We Have

It seems counterintuitive, but it's true: The freer we are, the more resources we have. And as Marian Tupy points out in this guest post, globalisation supercharges the process of knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination, thereby leading to even greater resource abundance. Humans, he points out, especially those living in the countries on the frontier of innovation, create knowledge that allows us to grow our resources well in excess of the resources that we consume. Turns out that the more we consume, the more we have ...

The More Resources We Consume, the More We Have

by Marian Tupy

It is conventional wisdom that adding billions of people to the global economy must result in increased use and therefore greater scarcity of resources, but that is wrong.

Resources have become significantly cheaper since 1980 relative to wages, thereby becoming much more abundant.

Humans, especially those living in countries on the frontier of innovation, create new knowledge that allows us to grow our resources well beyond our consumption.

Globalisation allows this new knowledge to flow from the countries on the frontier of innovation to the “catch‐​up” nations, leading to improved economic and environmental outcomes worldwide.


Common sense dictates that adding billions of people to the global economy—and the subsequent rise in production and consumption—must result in increased use and, therefore, greater scarcity of resources. Many of the academic and nonacademic opinions agree on that point, but they are all mistaken. Relative to wages, resources have grown significantly cheaper since 1980, thereby becoming much more abundant. We thus face a seeming contradiction: the more resources we use, the more we end up with. Resolving that requires us to understand the key role played by the creation of knowledge.

Knowledge possesses a peculiar characteristic: the more knowledge we consume, the more knowledge we have. Furthermore, generation of new knowledge is the exclusive domain of the human mind. So, the more people who inhabit the planet and partake in global exchange, the more knowledge is created. This new knowledge, in turn, expands our resource base. Globalisation—or the process of interaction and integration between people and companies worldwide—supercharges the process of knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination, thereby leading to greater resource abundance.

Empirical Evidence for Falling Resource Prices

The Simon Abundance Index, which I coauthored with Gale L. Pooley, is an annual measure of the relationship between population growth and the abundance of 50 basic commodities, including food, energy, materials, minerals, and metals. The base year of the index is 1980, and the base value of the index is 100 percent. In 2020, the index reached 708.4 percent. In other words, the index rose by 608.4 percentage points over the preceding four decades, implying a compound annual growth rate in resource abundance of around 5 percent and a doubling of global resource abundance every 14 years or so.

The Simon Abundance Index is measured in time prices, or the number of hours that the average worker must work to earn enough money to buy something. To calculate a commodity’s time price, the nominal price of a commodity is divided by the global average nominal wage per hour worked. Between 1980 and 2020, the average nominal price of the 50 commodities rose by 51.9 percent and the global average nominal hourly wage rose by 412.4 percent. So the average time price of the 50 commodities fell by 75.2 percent.

The personal resource abundance multiplier is calculated by dividing the average time price of the 50 commodities in 1980 by the average time price of the 50 commodities in 2020. The multiplier tells us how much more of a resource a person can buy for the same hours of work between two points in time. Pooley and I found that the same hours of work bought one unit in the basket of 50 commodities in 1980 and 4.03 units in the same basket in 2020.

The average worker’s personal resource abundance rose by 303 percent. The compound annual growth rate in personal resource abundance amounted to 3.55 percent, implying that personal resource abundance doubled every 20 years.

Between 1980 and 2020, the average time price of the 50 commodities fell by 75.2 percent and the world’s population increased by 75.8 percent. So, for every 1 percent increase in the world’s population, the average time price of the 50 commodities decreased by almost 1 percent (i.e., −75.2 percent ÷ 75.8 percent = −0.992 percent).

Note that the personal resource abundance analysis looks at resource abundance from the perspective of an individual human being. The question we aim to answer is: How much more abundant have resources become for the average worker?

Population resource abundance analysis, in contrast, allows us to quantify the relationship between global resource abundance and global population growth. You can think of the difference between the two levels of analysis by using a pizza analogy. Personal resource abundance measures the size of a slice of pizza per person. Population resource abundance measures the size of the entire pizza pie.

The population resource abundance multiplier is calculated by multiplying the change in personal resource abundance with the change in global population (i.e., 4.03 × 1.758). The multiplier of 7.08 corresponds to the 708.4 percent increase in the Simon Abundance Index. It indicates an increase in the global resource abundance of 608.4 percent at a compound annual growth rate of around 5 percent. As such, Pooley and I estimate that global resource abundance doubled every 14 years or so.

Finally, let us look at the resource abundance elasticity of population. In economics, elasticity measures one variable’s sensitivity to a change in another variable. If variable x changes by 10 percent, while variable y, because of the change in x, changes by 5 percent, then the elasticity coefficient of x relative to y is 2.0 (i.e., 10 ÷ 5). A coefficient of 2.0 can be interpreted as a 2 percent change in x corresponding to a 1 percent change in y.

Pooley and I found that every 1 percent increase in population corresponded to an increase in personal resource abundance (i.e., the size of the slice of pizza) of 4 percent (i.e., 303 ÷ 75.8). We also found that every 1 percent increase in population corresponded to an increase in population resource abundance (i.e., the size of the pizza pie) of 8.03 percent (608.5 ÷ 75.8).

Knowledge Creation and Resource Expansion

There are several ways in which humans can make resources more abundant. To start, consider the increase of supply. When the price of a commodity increases, people have a monetary incentive to start searching for new sources of that commodity. For example, when the price of petroleum increases, people will look for more oil deposits. Thus, after a century of petroleum use, we have more known reserves of oil than ever before. Moreover, much of the Earth’s crust, not to mention the ocean floor, remains unexplored. The potential for finding much more petroleum when the price of oil is high enough to induce us to dig deeper and explore more exotic locations is very high. The supply of petroleum can also be increased through technological change. Many of the oil fields that were previously deemed exhausted still contain a great deal of oil trapped in underground shale rock. Replacing conventional oil drilling with hydraulic fracturing allows us to get at that oil in an economical way.

Increased efficiency is also important. Efficiency can increase in relative and absolute ways. For example, when the Coca‐​Cola can first appeared on the market in the late 1950s, it contained three ounces of aluminum. Today, it contains half an ounce. Of course, it is possible to decrease the amount of aluminum in each soda can while producing so many cans that the absolute amount of aluminum used increases. Remarkably, Andrew McAfee from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the total amount of resources used by the US economy peaked in the first decade of the new millennium and then started to decline. To be precise, 66 out of 72 resources tracked by the US Geological Survey were “post‐​peak” when McAfee wrote his book More from Less in 2019. In the meantime, the US economy continued to expand. Similar trends could be observed in the United Kingdom and some other advanced economies.

Dematerialisation helps to explain why economic growth and resource use reduction can go hand in hand. Most readers will be familiar with thick blue copper cables that ran from the walls of most hotel rooms in the United States until recently. That cable enabled hotel guests to access the internet—a task that can now be accomplished via Wi‐​Fi. No cables are necessary, and all that saved copper can be used somewhere else. The iPhone is another example of dematerialisation, for it replaces (or substantially decreases the need for) calculators, satellite navigation, watches, torches, radios, compasses, cameras, postal mail, telephones, voice recorders, stereos, alarm clocks, and many other things. In addition to the materials not used in the process of making an iPhone, we must also add the energy not used in the mining of the resources that are no longer needed and in the running of all the separate devices that the iPhone replaces.

New knowledge can also help us create ever more value from the same resource. Around 5,000 years ago, someone in Mesopotamia noticed that when sand is heated to 3,090 degrees Fahrenheit, it melts and turns to glass. Our distant ancestors’ first use of glass was for decorative purposes, such as glass beads. Sometime later, they started to use sand to make glass jars, cups, and, later still, windows. Today, we use glass in fiberoptic cables and microchips. With every step of the way, the value we derived from a grain of sand increased, and no one knows what marvelous innovations will rely on sand in the future. The US economist Thomas Sowell is thus surely correct to observe that 
“the cavemen had the same natural resources at their disposal as we have today, and the difference between their standard of living and ours is a difference between the knowledge they could bring to bear on those resources and the knowledge used today.”
Consider also our ability to turn a previously useless or even harmful resource to our benefit. In the early 20th century, when oil was the primary target of drilling operations, natural gas was often seen as a byproduct with little or no economic value. As such, gas was frequently vented into the atmosphere or flared (burned off), which was wasteful and environmentally harmful. Moreover, natural gas leaks were a significant hazard, particularly in oil fields, where accidental ignitions could lead to explosions. Today in advanced economies, we have the technology to capture, transport, sell, and use gas in great volumes, thereby increasing our resource base and reducing our carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

Substitution is a crucial economic concept that’s much underappreciated by the public. Generally, we don’t care how we obtain a good or a service, so long as we get it at an acceptable cost. Thus, humans felled forests to get the wood they needed to heat their homes and slaughtered whales to get the lamp oil for illumination. Today, many of us heat and light our homes using electricity derived from a variety of sources, including mostly carbon‐​dioxide‐​free nuclear fission, with the added benefit that both forests and whales have rebounded. Those concerned about resources that are currently in high demand (such as lithium, which is needed to make batteries for electric vehicles) should take substitution into account. No one knows what resources will be needed to make batteries in 50—let alone 100—years’ time. But new technology‐​driven surprises are almost guaranteed.

We can also recycle and reuse our resources. The aforementioned copper internet cables, for example, were almost certainly recycled and turned into something else—perhaps copper pipes used in residential plumbing. The 14,000 tons of US government silver, which was used in electromagnets needed by the Manhattan Project to make atomic bombs, was similarly recovered after the end of World War II and added to the stock of precious metals that propped up the value of the US dollar. The point is that atoms of copper, silver, zinc, and much else are only temporarily assigned to perform a certain task. If necessary, they can be extracted and reassigned to make or do something else.

While humans have explored only a tiny fraction of our planet, it is theoretically possible that at some point in the distant future we could encounter an acute shortage of a resource, such as the very rare rhodium, which is currently used in catalytic converters. Let us further assume that the limits on the natural supply of that metal cannot be overcome via increased efficiency, dematerialisation, substitution, recycling, or anything else.

In such a case, our descendants could turn to transmutation. Transmutation, which was once a province of alchemy, became real in 1919 when scientists turned nitrogen into oxygen. According to an article I coauthored with University of Oxford physicist David Deutsch
“Today, transmutation is everywhere. The smoke detectors in our homes, for example, contain americium—a manmade radioactive metal produced by plutonium’s absorption of neutrons in nuclear reactors. Specialists transmuted lead into gold many years ago—though the process is currently uneconomical, for it requires far too much energy to replace mining.”
The key to transmutation, then, is plentiful, reliable, supercheap energy, which could be provided by, for example, future fusion reactors. Lest we forget, it was via fusion (nucleosynthesis, to be precise) that many of the elements we use on Earth were created in the first place. Incredibly high temperatures and pressures inside different stars transformed lighter elements into heavier ones, and the heavier elements dispersed throughout the universe after supernovae. Some of those elements eventually helped to form our planet and can be mined in Earth’s crust.

By the time humanity needs to resort to such sophisticated measures to increase our resource base, we may well be a spacefaring civilisation, mining the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter by ourselves or with the help of AI robots. The belt is rich in resources, including water. Water, which covers 71 percent of our planet, is key, for it contains hydrogen, which also happens to be the most common element in the universe. The Big Bang only created the lightest elements, primarily hydrogen. All other elements are derived from those. A combination of hydrogen and fusion, therefore, could allow us to create everything else we need de novo—indefinitely.

Globalisation, the Spread of Knowledge, and Resource Creation

In the 2021 edition of the Simon Abundance Index, Pooley and I found that the time price of wheat fell by 76.1 percent between 1980 and 2020. That means that for the same number of hours of work that would have bought our worker a pound of wheat in 1980, he or she could have bought 4.18 pounds of wheat in 2020. Resource abundance of the worker rose by 318 percent, growing at a compounded annual rate of 3.64 percent, thereby doubling every 19.4 years. (The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian war on Ukraine affected these numbers negatively, yet Pooley and I found that the trend still holds in the 2024 edition of the index.)

Over the same period (1980–2020), the world’s population rose from 4.44 billion to 7.82 billion, or by 76 percent. Put differently, for every 1 percent increase in global population, the time price of wheat fell by 1 percent. In addition to population growth, the latest round of globalisation, which is generally taken to have started in 1980, added billions of new workers to the global economic exchange. These factors contributed to a massive increase in resource consumption and output not only in the countries on the frontier of innovation, such as the United States and those in Western Europe, but also in the “catch‐​up” countries, such as Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Vietnam, and the nations of the former Eastern bloc. Personal incomes and consumption rose.

Yet wheat, a staple eaten all over the world, became much more abundant. Here the salutary effects of globalisation are easily discernible because several Western companies have been at the forefront of the agricultural revolution that provided technologies, seeds, and farming practices that enhanced wheat productivity in the catch‐​up countries. Consider some real‐​life examples:
  • Syngenta’s disease‐​resistant wheat varieties. Syngenta, a global agribusiness company headquartered in Switzerland, has developed wheat varieties that are resistant to common diseases and pests. For instance, in parts of Africa and Asia, Syngenta’s disease‐​resistant wheat varieties have helped farmers combat issues such as wheat rust, a major threat to wheat crops. These varieties have not only increased yields per acre of land but also ensured more stable wheat production.
  • John Deere’s advanced agricultural machinery. American company John Deere is known for its advanced agricultural machinery. The adoption of this machinery in countries such as India and Ethiopia has revolutionised wheat farming. Mechanised tractors, planters, and harvesters have increased the efficiency of planting and harvesting wheat, leading to higher yields and reduced labor costs.
  • BASF’s agronomic solutions. German chemical company BASF provides various agronomic solutions, including fertilisers and pesticides, which are crucial in wheat cultivation. For example, in countries such as Mexico and Pakistan, the use of BASF’s fertilisers and pesticides has resulted in better wheat crop health and increased yields by controlling pests and enhancing soil fertility.
  • Bayer’s crop science innovations. Bayer, following its acquisition of Monsanto, has become a key player in agricultural technologies. The company’s development of integrated crop solutions, including advanced seed treatments and chemical products, has improved wheat yields. For example, in Brazil and parts of Africa, Bayer’s products have helped farmers grow wheat more efficiently, even under challenging climatic conditions.
  • DuPont’s hybrid wheat seeds. DuPont (now part of Corteva Agriscience after a merger with the Dow Chemical Company) has developed hybrid wheat seeds that are tailored to specific climatic and soil conditions. These seeds have been particularly effective in Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, where they have helped boost wheat yields through improved disease resistance and stress tolerance.
  • CIMMYT’s collaboration with Western companies. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), though not a commercial entity, collaborates with Western companies to develop high‐​yielding wheat varieties. CIMMYT’s work in countries such as Kenya and India, often in partnership with Western agricultural companies, has led to the introduction of wheat varieties that are well‐​suited to local conditions, resulting in significant yield improvements.
The results of the spread of information and technologies from the countries on the frontier of innovation to the catch‐​up countries are readily discernible. In 1980, wheat productivity measured in 100 grams per hectare was lower, sometimes substantially, in the catch‐​up countries relative to the United States and Western Europe. By 2020, some had overtaken the United States, while all of them, including the United States, remained less productive relative to Western Europe. Still, all the selected catch‐​up countries experienced greater productivity gains than the United States and Western Europe between 1980 and 2020.

Environmental Benefit

The period of globalisation saw absolute poverty (the threshold of which is considered to be earning wages of $2.15 or less per day) measured in 2017 dollars adjusted for purchasing power parity decline from 43.8 percent in 1981 to 8.9 percent in 2019. Concomitantly, the calorie supply per person rose from 2,497 in 1981 to 2,928 in 2018, or by 17 percent. In Africa, the world’s poorest continent, the calorie supply per person rose from 2,238 to 2,604, or by 16 percent, over the same period. That’s higher than the Portuguese calorie supply in the early 1960s. This trend is likely going to improve in the future, raising the obvious question: What will happen to the animal and plant habitats as humans strive to produce more food and other resources? The answer is once again counterintuitive.

Writing about US corn production in 2015, Jesse H. Ausubel, an environmental scientist at the Rockefeller University, said, 
“The average yield of American farmers is nowhere near a ceiling. In 2013, David Hula, a farmer in Virginia, grew a US and probably world record: 454 bushels of corn per acre—three times the average yield in Iowa.… In 2014, Hula’s harvest rose 5 percent higher to 476 bushels, while Randy Dowdy, who farms near Valdosta, Georgia, busted the 500‐​bushel wall with a yield of 503 bushels per acre and won the National Corn Growers Contest. ... If we keep lifting average yields toward the demonstrated levels of David Hula and Randy Dowdy … then an area the size of India or of the United States east of the Mississippi could be released globally from agriculture over the next 50 years or so.”
A similar story can also be told of wheat, rice, barley, potatoes, casava, beans, and other crops. There is no obvious limit on our ability to produce ever more staples per hectare, thus returning ever larger chunks of the planet back to nature, except for the generation of knowledge and its dissemination to (and acceptance in) the least developed corners of the world. Whether lab‐​grown meat can alleviate the environmental footprint of cattle, chicken, and pig farming is still an open question. At present, the knowledge to make lab‐​grown meat economical does not exist. But knowledge is not stagnant. It grows, and those who are betting against lab‐​grown meats may yet lose their shirts. Finally, the exploitation of raw materials has grown much cleaner in recent decades, a trend that’s likely to continue as nations develop and, per the environmental Kuznets curve, place greater emphasis on environmental quality.


Humans, especially those living in the countries on the frontier of innovation, create knowledge that allows us to grow our resources well in excess of the resources that we consume. Consequently, resources have grown much cheaper relative to wages and, therefore, more abundant. In terms of overall human well‐​being, however, it is globalisation that allows the new knowledge to flow from the countries on the frontier of innovation to the catch‐​up nations. Finally, the planet and its biosphere benefit as catch‐​up nations adopt best practices and begin to approximate the care for the environment that’s characteristic of innovative societies.

* * * * 

Marian L. Tupy is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, coauthor of the Simon Abundance Index, and editor of the website

First published at the Cato at Liberty blog, part of their series Defending Globalisation.