F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
December 24, 2000
Yes, It's Getting Better All the Time!

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

With so many positive trends being recorded, it's getting harder and harder to be a pessimist.

When iconoclastic economist Julian Simon died nearly three years ago, he and his longtime research assistant, Stephen Moore, were hard at work on a new book charting the "greatest trends of the last 100 years." That book, entitled It's Getting Better All the Time, has now been published by the Cato Institute -- to the chagrin of doomsayers everywhere, whose cataclysmic predictions it thoroughly debunks. While conceding that "every day we are bombarded with bad news," Moore and Simon insist that, "over the course of the 20th century, almost every measure of material human welfare . . . has shown wondrous gains for Americans," and elsewhere across the globe "the same trend of improvement is evident."

Moore and Simon offer some historical perspective on our amazing century. "From the time man first walked on the earth through about 1700," they note, "the improvements in human life were minute. Yes, there were periodic major discoveries: fire, agriculture, water power, and the wheel. Yet from generation to generation the gains in living standards were imperceptible," say Moore and Simon. "But, starting in the mid-18th century with the dawning of the industrial age, the first flickers of real sustainable progress emerged." The pace picked up in the 19th century with the invention of "the steam engine, electricity, the automobile, rubber production, the rotary printing press, the sewing machine, and the stove," they continue. "But even by 1900 and even in the richer nations such as the United States, most people were very poor by today's standards. . . ."

Moore and Simon argue that "three relatively modern inventions have revolutionized human life" and account for most of the remarkable progress made in the 20th century. They point first to electric power, which "not only brought us literally out of the darkness but also launched thousands of inventions, all of which have enabled humankind to begin to harness the forces of nature and thus improve nearly every aspect of our daily lives." In second place on their list of "transforming" inventions are modern medical drugs. Third place goes to the microchip. "As the brains of the computer," Moore and Simon remark, "the semiconductor has been mankind's passport to a whole new universe of knowledge."

Simon and Moore pose and answer a question that continues to challenge many of their peers: "Why did so much of the progress of the past 100 years originate in the United States?" Their answer: "Freedom works. The unique American formula of individual liberty and free enterprise has cultivated risk-taking, experimentation, innovation, and scientific exploration on a grand scale that has never occurred anywhere before."

According to Simon and Moore, "Economic freedom and freedom from government repression, in particular, are necessary ingredients for human progress. In the United States," they observe, "for the most part and at least more than nearly anywhere else of consequence on the globe, the government has set down a reasonable rule of law, providing a well-balanced equilibrium between liberty and order, and then gotten out of the way."

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