A must-read essay.
As Boaz says at the outset of The Libertarian Mind, “In a sense, there have always been but two political philosophies: liberty and power.” …
[The new liberalism, by inspiriting for the first time in history a great mass of ordinary people, produced a massive explosion of betterments. Steam, rail, universities, steel, sewers, plate glass, forward markets, universal literacy, running water, reinforced concrete, automobiles, airplanes, washing machines, antibiotics, the pill, containerization, free trade, computers, the cloud. It yielded in the end an increase in real income per head by a factor of thirty, and a startling rise in the associated ability to seek the transcendent in Art or Science or God or Baseball.
I said 30. It was a stunning Great Enrichment, material and cultural, well after the classic Industrial Revolution.
The Enrichment was, I say again in case you missed it, three thousand percent per person, near enough, utterly unprecedented. The goods and services available to even the poorest rose by that astounding figure, in a world in which mere doublings, increases of merely 100 percent, had been rare and temporary, as in the glory of fifth century Greece or the vigor of the Song Dynasty. In every earlier case, the little industrial revolutions had reverted eventually to a real income per head in today’s prices of about $3 a day, which was the human condition since the caves. Consider trying to live on $3 a day, as many people worldwide still do (though during the past forty years their number has fallen like a stone). After 1800 there was no reversion. On the contrary, in every one of the forty or so recessions since 1800 the real income per head after a recession exceeded what it had been at the previous peak. Up, up, up. Even including the $3-a-day people in Chad and Zimbabwe, world real income per head has increased during the past two centuries by a factor of ten, and by a factor of thirty as I said, in the countries that were lucky, and liberally wise. Hong Kong. South Korea. Botswana. The material and cultural enrichment bids fair to spread now to the world.
And the enrichment has been equalizing. Nowadays in places like Japan and the United States the poorest make more, corrected for inflation, than did the top quarter or so two centuries ago. Jane Austen lived more modestly in material terms than the average resident of East Los Angeles.
HT: Arnold Kling.