May

17

 The book, The Improving State of the World, by Indur M. Goklany, published in 2007, provides a foundation for those who wish to know how the quality of life compares to the past. It is valuable for kids who wish to have a rudder and some facts to understand how much better conditions are today than the old days. It's valuable for adults as it provides a complete menu of the reasons that the world is so much better today due to trade, and economic development and technology, and how this has improved our environment. It's valuable for scientists in that it debunks specious arguments against modernity so rampant and accepted today that they threaten to prevent future progress. It's valuable for investors in that it provides a backdrop to understand the forces and conditions that have led to the incredible profusion of increased wealth and 10,000-fold per century returns that long-term investors have been visited with and that they can expect to be enhanced in the next century.

This book is the latest, most complete, and modern update to a long line of optimistic works that started with Julian Simon's The State of Humanity and continued with Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist. It contains data updated through 2005 in almost every area where the quality of life or the environment can be measured.

It starts with a quote from Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, typical of the bleak view of the world propagandized by Dickens, comparing a 19th century industrial town, where not a blade of grass was seen to grow unfavorably to Hades. It ends with a paean to the good that trade can accomplish: "trade is part of the web of institutions necessary for helping to satisfy the needs and wants of a large and mobile affluent global population while limiting environmental impacts. Such trade in good, services, ideas, and knowledge enhances economic growth, helps diffuse technology worldwide, ensures efficient movement for food, natural resources and capital from surplus, reduces pressures on marginal lands and other natural resources."

Chapter two presents 6 tables and 18 figures showing that any way you measure it, human well being has improved almost everywhere in the world. This includes longevity, education, hours worked, health, access to sanitation, safe water, infant mortality, and nutrition. The main source of the improvement has been the increased wealth that has enabled improved technology to better life.

Chapter 3 shows that globalization has reduced poverty in all countries and that the gap between the high income and low income countries has been decreasing because of globalization and mainly due to trade and information transfer. Within countries, the gap between rural and urban welfare has been decreasing. "The poor are better off because they have benefited from the technologies developed by the rich, and their situation would have been further improved" had there been more globalization, and less subsidies and import barriers

Chapter 4 contains the main original contribution of the book. Its main theme is a cyclical theory of take off due to technology that explains why human well-being has improved more in the past two centuries ever before.

The first thread in the argument is that human well-being is a direct function of the increases in income over time. Also, it argues that the higher the income in a country, the higher the well-being.

The second thread is that additional income gives more benefits to human well-being at the lowest levels of wealth.

Finally with great leaps and little empirical data and completely faulty statistical methodology of how not to use regressions, Goklany comes up with his grand theory of cyclical benevolent circles. "Progress in human well-being in the past two centuries was sustained if not put into motion by a cycle consisting of the mutually reinforcing co evolving forces of economic growth, technological change, and free trade. A self-explanatory diagram of the main linkages is contained in his box 4-1.

 The rest of the book shows how technology and improved income improves the environment mainly through more efficient use of cropland.

The book has the facts and figures, and the rudiments of analyses that provide the most modern framework available for documenting the improving state of the world.

Finally, in spite of many areas where the authors reach is much greater than his grasp, especially his use of regression methods, and adjustment for where the state of human welfare would be without rises in income and technology, this is an excellent and relatively current book that I highly recommend. I bought copies for each of my seven children and all of my colleagues at the office.


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