Thursday, September 07, 2006

Live Long And Prosper

There's an excellent piece at TCS Daily, by Donald J. Boudreaux, who is Chair of the Economics Department at George Mason University. He gives us a clear look at the growing prosperity in the Western World, and how good we've had it ever since the industrial revolution. Lest we think that those of us who don't inhabit the upper tax brackets here in the States are not prosperous, because we compare ourselves to the Joneses (or the Rockefellers), he gives us a rundown of all the ways even poorer Americans out-rich our predecessors. I think most of us know we have it better than many of our contemporaries in poorer countries as well. Even people I know who struggle to pay the bills each month still have a place to live, a telephone, TV, DVD player, microwave, etc., so clearly, compared to eras when even the very rich didn't have indoor plumbing, we're doing pretty well.

Boudreaux comments that many think that the key to our well-heeled lives lies in technology. I find we definitely tend to measure our prosperity in terms of technology, as with the list above, so I guess I do tend to link the two. He says this is an error, and that what makes us, and others around the world, prosper beyond anything history has ever known is the impetus of free markets, which enable those technological advances. He draws from the example of modern-day countries in which people still use wooden carts to take goods to market, live in dirt huts, and die young, from causes ranging from Malaria to starvation, despite the fact that the technology exists which could change these situations. What the people lack in the countries where these conditions exist is economic freedom. Boudreaux's article isn't too long, nor is it in confusing economist-speak, but it does having some interesting facts and figures. Have a look.