Context

Flawed Assumptions of China's Disastrous Childbearing Laws

The Chinese government is finally considering ending all of its cruel and pointless limits on childbearing, after softening its one-child policy to a two-child policy in 2016. To increase the birth rate, a recent South China Morning Post editorial even recommended that China adopt an “at least one child” policy. That is because, in a dramatic reversal, the government is now worried that its citizenry is producing too few, rather than too many, children. Not long ago, the government feared just the opposite.

China’s birth limits were intended to shrink the population, based on the idea that “too many” people spelled disaster. Overpopulation fears became popular among Chinese officials in the 1970s, when the central arguments behind the Club of Rome’s report The Limits to Growth were translated into Chinese and promoted by a mathematician named Song Jian.

The book warned that population growth could deplete resources and lead to a “collapse” of global society. It relied largely on computer simulations based on a dubious set of assumptions.

Anti-population paranoia was not new. Thomas Malthus published an essay in 1798 expressing much the same fears, although without the elaborate calculations. But helped by alarmists like Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich and the members of the Club of Rome, overpopulation hysteria underwent a renaissance in the 1970s. The Limits to Growth also promoted the idea that planners could use “systems analysis” to compute a country’s sustainable population size. In 1978, Song Jian calculated that China’s ideal population was between 650 million and 700 million people — in other words, 280 million to 330 million less than its actual population at the time.

Hence in 1979, China imposed the infamous policy that restricted each family to one child. The consequences were tragic, with millions of sterilisations and abortions, many of them forced. Families who committed the grave crime of having more than one child could be forced to pay fines many times more than their annual income. The family size limits, combined with a cultural preference for sons over daughters, have also led to female infanticide, sex-selective abortions and a highly skewed gender ratio. In 2007, the ratio among newborns reached 1.17 boys for every girl. By 2015, the ratio improved slightly to 1.15 boys for every girl, still far outside the global rate of 1.05 boys per girl.

While the human rights abuses alone are reason enough to oppose birth limits, the premise that “overpopulation” is a problem at all is incorrect. More people in the world means more people to solve problems, and less resource scarcity. As economist Julian Simon has written: “For all practical purposes there are no resources until we find them, identify their possible uses, and develop ways to obtain and process them. We perform these tasks with increasing skill as technology develops. Hence, scarcity diminishes.”

Human beings, with their inventive potential, are themselves, in Simon’s phrase, “The Ultimate Resource”. Each child born today eventually grows up to make resources less scarce, on average, by contributing to innovation and the global economy.

But perhaps the saddest part is that the birth restrictions did not even achieve their stated goal — ill-informed though it was. While China’s birthrate did fall during the period in which these childbearing policies were in place, the birthrate of neighbouring countries fell too, sometimes even faster — all without authoritarian laws limiting procreation. In fact, most of the fall in China’s birth rate occurred before the one-child policy was even implemented.

It is true that China’s birth rate was higher back in the mid-1960s, when the average Chinese woman had more than six children on average. But by 1979, the year the one-child policy began, that figure had already dropped to just under three children. The decline since then has been less dramatic, and perfectly in line with trends in neighbouring countries.

South Korea, where the fertility rate was very similar (and in fact slightly higher than China’s) in 1979, has seen an even steeper decline since then and today has fewer births per woman than China. So too does Hong Kong, an autonomous region of China where families are free to have as many children as they choose.

The data clearly indicates that the birthrate would have fallen without coercive restrictions on family size. Demographers widely accept that after a country’s average income passes about $5,000,  families tend to have fewer children.

Regardless of what the Chinese Communist Party decides, their limitations (or lack thereof) are unlikely to meaningfully affect the birth rate. The bottom line is that regardless of their effect, these restrictions unethically limit women’s and families’ choices and should be removed as soon as possible. And if implementing an “at least one child” policy, as the South China Morning Post’s editorial board desires, would involve punishing the childless, then that too is an inhumane and appalling idea.


About the Author

Chelsea Follett is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute and managing editor of Human Progress.

Heroes of Progress: Malcom McLean

Malcom McLean was n American truck driver and, later, businessman who developed the modern intermodal shipping container. McLean’s development of standardized shipping containers significantly reduced the cost of transporting cargo across the world. Lower shipping costs significantly boosted international trade which, in turn, helped to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. McLean’s “containerization” remains a vital pillar of our interconnected global economy today.

Before McLean developed the standardized shipping container, nearly all the world’s cargo was transported in a diverse assortment of barrels, boxes, bags, crates and drums. A typical ship in the pre-container era contained as many as 200,000 individual pieces of cargo that were loaded onto the ship by hand. The time it took to load and unload the cargo often equaled the time that the ship needed to sail between ports. That inefficiency contributed to keeping the cost of shipping very high. This is where McLean enters our story.

Malcolm (later Malcom) McLean was born in November 1913 in Maxton, North Carolina. When he graduated from high school in 1935, his family lacked the necessary funds to send him to college. Instead he began working as a driver for his siblings’ trucking company.

In 1937, McLean made a routine delivery of cotton bales to a port in North Carolina for shipment to New Jersey. As McLean couldn’t leave until his cargo had been loaded onto the ship, he sat for hours watching dozens of dock hands load thousands of small packages onto the ship. McLean realized that the current loading process wasted enormous amounts of time and money, and he began to wonder if there could be a more productive alternative.

In 1952, McLean thought of loading entire trucks onboard a ship to be transported along the American Atlantic coast (i.e., from North Carolina to New York). Although this idea would dramatically reduce loading times, he soon realized that these “trailer ships” would not be very efficient due to the large amount of wasted cargo space.  

Mclean modified his original design so that just the containers – and not the trucks’ chassis – were loaded onto the ship. He also developed a way for the containers to be stacked on top of one another. That was the origin of the modern-day shipping container.

In 1956, McLean secured a bank loan for $22 million. He used the money to buy two World War II tanker ships and convert them to carry his containers. Later that year, one of his two ships, the SS Ideal-X, was loaded with 58 containers and sailed from New Jersey to Houston, Texas. At the time, McLean’s shipping company offered transport prices that were 25 percent lower than those of his competitor as well as the ability to lock the containers in order to prevent cargo theft, which also appealed to many new customers. 

By 1966, McLean launched his first transatlantic service and three years later, McLean had started a transpacific shipping line. As the advantages of McLean’s container system became clear, bigger ships, more sophisticated containers and larger cranes to load cargo were developed. 

In 1969, McLean sold his first shipping company for $530 million ($3.8 billion in today’s money) and went on to start a string of other business ventures. Most notably, he purchased the shipping company United States Lines in 1978 and built a fleet of 4,400 container ships. McLean continued to refine his shipping containers for the rest of his life. He died at the age of 87 in Manhattan in 2001. When he died, Forbes Magazine called McLean “one of the few men who changed the world.”

In 1956, hand-loading cargo onto a ship in a U.S. port cost $5.86 per ton ($55.58 in today’s money). By 2006, shipping containers reduced that price to just 16 cents per ton ($0.21 in today’s money). HumanProgress’ Board Member Matt Ridley has noted that “the development of containerization in the 1950s made the loading and unloading of ships roughly twenty-times as fast and thereby dramatically lowered the cost of trade.”

This dramatic reduction in shipping costs boosted international trade. That means that consumers now have access to goods from around the world at a price lower than was previously thought possible. Similarly, reduced shipping costs have helped to boost the living standards of hundreds of millions of people in export-oriented developing countries over the last few decades.

Without McLean’s containers, global trade would be far below the level that it is today, and nearly all of us would be less well-off.


About the Author

Alexander C. R. Hammond is a researcher at a Washington DC think tank.

The Progressive Critique of Free Markets: A Response | Part 5

Free Markets, Social Darwinism, and Christianity

The early Progressives leveled two additional and particularly sharp criticisms against the free market that sought to place it beyond any moral defense. First, they argued that it amounted to laissez-faire, a thoroughgoing form of free-market economics that permits very few, if any, economic regulations. This criticism was potentially devastating because it claimed that free markets amounted to a form of anarchy that refused to countenance many salutary regulations. The charge appeared to be credible in large part because there were indeed some very prominent and influential advocates of laissez-faire in the 19th century. These included such intellectuals as Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. Henry Carter Adams, the influential progressive political economist, attacked Spencer’s call for “unregulated workings of the law of supply and demand.”The progressive Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. also famously attacked laissez-faire in his dissent in the Lochner decision, writing, “The Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics.”

Laissez-faire advocates were in some cases tainted by their support for Social Darwinism, a system of ethics that advocates leaving poor and suffering people to their own devices. This morally callous philosophy has done great harm ever since to the cause of economic liberty. Even in our day, the charge of Social Darwinism is leveled by some critics of the free market, who allege that the free market means that “you are on your own,” and that no one need be concerned for the most vulnerable people. At times, such rhetoric is clearly exaggerated. For example, a congressional proposal for modest tax-and-spending cuts that left core welfare state benefits in place was described by President Barack Obama as “thinly veiled social Darwinism.”

The second sharp progressive criticism against free markets—one that we continue to hear in our day from progressive Christians—is that it is unchristian. Progressive Christians are joined in their religious attack on free markets by the secular left, which offers a post-Christian, quasi-religious vision of secular economic redemption. These contemporary religious and quasi-religious criticisms originated in the Progressive Era. Like the charge that the free market amounts to laissez-faire, the progressive religious critique was also potentially devastating because it claimed that the free market stood outside the sacred moral framework of Western civilization.

The early progressive Christian alternative to the free market took the form of the Social Gospel. The Social Gospel was a 19th- and 20th-century protestant reform movement, especially prominent during the Progressive Era, that sought the fulfilment of one’s full Christian duty by means of progressive social, political, and economic reform. Ely and the protestant theologian Walter Rauschenbusch were the two most prominent Social Gospel advocates. Ely’s position as a political economist gave him special influence in the Social Gospel movement because he could bring to his Social Gospel reform advocacy his scholarly authority as an expert in economics. Ely argued that, properly understood, Christianity requires us to aim first and foremost for the secular redemption of the earth rather than entrance into Heaven in the afterlife. In opposition to two millennia of Christian thought, Ely wrote that “Christianity is primarily concerned with this world.” He rejected as an “unfortunate error” the traditional Christian view “that Christianity is concerned primarily with a future state of existence.”

Progressive earthly reforms would be our best way of practicing the second commandment of Christ, “love thy neighbor.” The Social Gospel’s grand secular goals were hugely ambitious, yet they stood within reach because every significant human problem could be solved in principle by means of the new, modern discipline of social science. Social science was the great and efficacious instrument for analyzing and solving human problems, thereby fulfilling Christ’s second commandment. And so, in Ely’s words, “the second commandment…in its elaboration, becomes social science or sociology.” Ely was joined in his call for Christian reform by his fellow progressive technocrats, and especially by his former student John Commons.

The free market stood in the way of Social Gospel reforms. For Progressives, its unchristian selfishness and dogmatic resistance to social science–based reforms rendered it morally illegitimate for a Christian people. The free market prevented individuals from fulfilling their full Christian duty to others, and every good Christian was required to reject the free market and support social science and progressive reforms. While in our day the Social Gospel is not expressly mentioned, its echoes remain in progressive Christianity, which argues that interventionist economics is needed if we are to fulfill our Christian duty to others. Both Social Gospelers and progressive Christians can thus pose as exponents of moral views closer to the West’s Christian heritage.

These two charges—that the free market amounts to laissez-faire anarchy and that it is unchristian—are both false. Laissez-faire economics is not identical to the natural rights free-market economics that comes to us from the American Founding. Natural rights free-market economics is consistent with the founding principles of the United States because free-market economics rests on a political framework that includes the belief that all men are created equal and that government exists to protect our pre-existing natural right to life, liberty, and property. In consequence, the economy under natural rights free-market economics must be subordinate to politics, meaning that the economy cannot be permitted to subvert the free political order upon which it rests.

To be consistent with the principles of the American Founding, political economy must incorporate the moral goal of the maintenance of a free society. This means, among other things, that economic relations can be regulated if they subvert the moral conditions of freedom, because if the moral conditions of freedom are harmed, then the free political order that grounds free markets will also be harmed. In other words, the political economy of the Founders aims at both political freedom and economic prosperity as moral goals—and therefore efforts at increasing prosperity must not be permitted to harm efforts at preserving and advancing political freedom. For this reason, for example, the government can outlaw prostitution or regulate the sale of liquor. Moreover, the government can regulate the economy to prevent force, fraud, and physical harm, including harm to oneself by way of self-destructive contracts. Natural rights free-market economics therefore permits police power regulations intended to prevent moral, economic, and physical harms. It elevates morality above unqualified economic gain. Laissez-faire advocates either deny the police power or gravely restrict it, and in that sense they fall outside of the boundaries of natural rights free-market economics.

Another major difference between laissez-faire economics and natural rights free-market economics concerns the government’s treatment of the poor. Natural rights free-market economics permits some basic welfare programs on the grounds that we are morally obliged to preserve those too poor to help themselves. As the great natural rights theorist John Locke put it, “Every one…when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind.” And indeed, the early republic did make provision for some welfare. Thomas Jefferson favorably described assistance to the poor by Virginia: “The poor, unable to support themselves, are maintained by an assessment on the titheable persons in their parish.” The goals of such public support were the preservation of the person’s life and, if possible, his self-sufficiency. Jefferson described an early form of workfare: “Vagabonds, without visible property or vocation, are placed in workhouses, where they are well clothed, fed, lodged, and made to labour.” This arrangement was apparently used quite extensively in early America: “Nearly the same method of providing for the poor prevails through all our states,” Jefferson wrote. By contrast with this minimal, natural rights welfare, laissez-faire proponents typically argue against all welfare programs. To be sure, laissez-faire economics is compatible with voluntary charity. And in our day, laissez-faire advocates (a group including many libertarians) frequently display admirable personal generosity toward the poor.

The Progressive Era charge that natural rights free-market economics is unchristian rested on a flawed understanding of Christianity. Social Gospel Christianity, one may argue, was not genuinely Christian because it denied the key Christian belief in the primacy of the afterlife over life on earth. It also implicitly denied original sin and so sought a secular, earthly redemption that, to an orthodox Christian, is unattainable.

The central error of the Social Gospel was its subordination of religion to politics and economics. By understanding Christianity as being fulfilled through politics and economics, it reduced Christianity to politics and economics. Today’s progressive Christianity retains the eschatology of traditional Christianity, and so it avoids the worst theological error of the Social Gospel. But like their Social Gospel predecessors, progressive Christians continue to insist on economic interventionism and income redistribution, while providing no persuasive argument for the theological necessity of such policies. In fact, Americans can be good Christians if they support minimal public welfare and are privately generous to the less fortunate.

The Way Ahead

The early Progressives noticed and addressed many legitimate problems of industrial society—but arrived at erroneous conclusions and solutions, many of which are being implemented to this day. The poor have always been with us, but they became much more visible as they crowded into our growing urban centers. Their problems could have been addressed by a combination of the free market, police power regulations at the state level, private charity, and minimal public welfare.

Instead, the early Progressives captured the moral imagination of countless economic reformers. Though Progressivism went into abeyance after World War I, it resurfaced in the 1930s with Roosevelt’s New Deal, which echoed many progressive arguments and carried out many of their policies. The next great surge in progressive economics occurred as a result of the Great Society. Since the 1960s, we have seen the federal government steadily increase its role in the economy, with only a moderate claw-back during the Reagan years. To this day, the American political system takes its bearings from the fundamental criticisms of the free market made over a century ago by Progressives, expressed through various interventions such as minimum wage laws, agricultural and industrial subsidies, and efforts to “correct” an allegedly unjust gap between rich and poor by way of income redistribution.

Yet despite a century of political success, interventionists have steadily failed to confront the strongest moral, theoretical, and practical arguments for free markets and against interventionism. Their failure provides an opening to advocates of economic liberty. A responsible, natural rights free-market economy (and not an austere system of laissez-faire) can and should capture the moral imagination of a new cohort of reformers. We can recover the natural rights regime of the Founders and their successors. But that recovery will mean returning to the Progressive Era confrontation between free markets and interventionism, seeing the natural rights regime and natural rights free-market economics as real, living, moral options, and reversing the choice the nation made to depart from its Founding. Advocates of economic liberty might reflect on and promote the Supreme Court’s opinion in Lochner. In delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice Rufus Peckham wrote:

There is no reasonable ground for interfering with the liberty of person or the right of free contract by determining the hours of labor in the occupation of a baker. There is no contention that bakers as a class are not equal in intelligence and capacity to men in other trades or manual occupations, or that they are not able to assert their rights and care for themselves without the protecting arm of the State, interfering with their independence of judgment and of action. They are in no sense wards of the State.

Lochner v. New York, at 57.

When most Americans return to the belief that adults can be presumed to be able to take care of themselves, we will have taken a large step toward recovering our economic liberty. The rest of the journey may take as long as the progressive march through our government and economy. We can copy their formula for long-term success: A principled critique of the existing order, combined with a clearly articulated vision of the new order.


About the Author

Luigi Bradizza, PhD, is Associate Professor of Political Science at Salve Regina University and the author of Richard T. Ely’s Critique of Capitalism.

Government Laws Are Not Contracts

Despite what you were taught in school, governance is ugly; in all forms, and at all times. Don't believe me? Attend a meeting of a local governing entity. You will find the council — omnipotent by vote, omniscient by delusion — seated before you at the table. All night long, they'll bicker and battle all the while proposing and dissecting plans and schemes with shouts and pounding shoes; Khrushchev moments indeed.

This is the reality of man lording over man, and it's been that way for eons. Ugly, just plain ugly. And it doesn't matter the span or purpose of the governing entity. This ugly reality holds equally true for the fist-fighting Taiwanese legislator as for the insult-hurling band booster. Power corrupts at all levels.

One other aspect of governance appears to be consistent at every level: the broader the scope of the proposed plan or idea, the further they reach beyond the stated bounds of the entity, the more receptive a hearing that the entity's council will give to the idea. Everyone dreams grandiose dreams, whether during solitary reflective moments or while monopolizing the public microphone. But it's the bully at the public mic, entertaining the media and sparse audience, whose dreams we must fear.

Given that these aspects are inherent in the essence of power, the issue is not how to improve systems of governance, but how to control their scope.

Because enforced contract law and full property rights are the foundations of freedom, governance systems should be based on enforceable contracts that defend property rights. The concepts of general welfare and public good have no place in such systems, as the intent of those ideals is to break contracts and trespass on property.

Governance — government — must be limited in a manner that is akin to a legal, binding contract, where rights are understood and unchanging. While a contract-based system will not change the ugly aspects of the lording class, it will limit the effects that the omnipotent and omniscient have on your pursuit of happiness.

The best way to compare the current systems of unbounded authority with that of contract-based systems is to attend meetings of a homeowners association and meetings at a local township hall. Both entities have documents that define the span and purpose of their respective assemblies, yet only the contract-based system shows any real restraint. Certainly, both dream of utopia, but only the homeowners association must accept the inherent realities of signed agreements.

In Ohio, townships can pass comprehensive plans and zoning codes in order to create orderly communities. Zoning codes are supposed to provide hard, fast rules akin to a written contract between community members with township officials acting as enforcers. Yet, zoning codes are perceived by the marginal vote getters and their appointed minions as something else entirely. In the hands of the township officials, zoning codes are, in the words of Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean when referring to the concept of parley, "…more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules."

Consider this situation: You moved into an area that is zoned as a conservation district where developments are limited to 1 home per acre, with natural exteriors, and abundant green space. You desired to live in your neighborhood since it is within the conservation district, an area that meets the development standards you prefer. You had assumed that the zoning codes in place would protect you from development based on subjectively lower standards.

After living in your new home for a year or so, you catch a notice in the local paper that your township is considering a proposed development on the fallow farm fields and woods that abut your backyard. So, you attend the zoning hearings to see what will become of your backyard vista. At those meetings you quickly remember the prescient words of Barbossa.

The zoning commissioners are willing to trade homes per acre, natural exteriors, and green space for a donation of an offsite piece of land for a future community park or fire station. Sure, you hold the zoning codes — still in force — in your hands as if it is a contract to be enforced by the township, yet the zoning commissioners and township trustees see that document as the starting point for exactions and extractions; what the developer considers extortion by other means.

You can complain and shout, but the governance system that you have encountered has no consideration for your assumed contract. The commissioners and trustees only care about their grandiose plans for a utopian community. Your long-term vision of your local neighborhood, based on current regulations, just met their long-term vision of posterity; the one where future residents sing praises to the plans and vision of the current ruling elite.

Now, consider the homeowners association (HOA). Certainly, the same taste of power has corrupted the key players. They have dreams too, but their dreams are limited by the restrictive covenant that governs use of the property covered by the association. Sure, they send out a monthly newsletter with words of wisdom regarding how residents should live their lives, but they can't do anything about it. The concepts of general welfare and public good are not defined on the deed filed at the county offices as purposes of the association.

Now, I'm not saying that some residents will not suffer the occasional annoyance as HOA trustees hold the color pallet against your mailbox to verify the hue of the stain which you applied, but they can't change the usage of your neighbor's property from residential to commercial. Nor can they subdivide properties or dig up sidewalks. The HOA members have utopian dreams, but contracts limit their reality to mending fences and mulching entrance ways.

Other than showing excessive exuberance at times, the HOAs are typically indicted in the press when the singular property owner wants to turn his front yard into a memorial for the flag, replete with search lights and a continually repeating sample of Taps. What's worse, the property owner knowingly agreed to such restrictions prior to purchasing the property. The homeowner, attempting to trample on the agreement, is hailed as the last defender of Lady Liberty herself, while the HOA, defending its contract with all homeowners, is perceived as evil incarnate.

Such inconveniences and annoyances are nothing compared to the damaged resulting from unbounded governance. As you move up the governmental food chain, you will find that each subsequent level reaps more damage, more ills. At the federal level, it is as if no bounds exist anymore. Sure, the separate branches mention the Constitution, but only as a means to pervert its moral authority.

Some will claim that the Constitution is our written contract, binding rule of law, and restrictive covenant, yet its perversion would seem to imply that contract governments, whether constitutional public or anarcho-libertarian private, are bound to fail.

But, not so fast. For the private supplier of governance, the entrepreneur across the street offering a similar service is enough of a threat to keep private governing bodies in line.

On the other hand, the political class simply requires rumblings from the masses. Rumble, and they shall fear. Shout, and they shall bend. Scream, and they shall wither.

The ilk that sit at the head of the table, whether local, state, or national, are most concerned about keeping their power and status. These are not men and women of principles. They are simply power seekers. They will wither and do as told once this great nation says, "Stop! Respect the Constitution." They would rather flip and flop than risk the next election.

The ruling elite know this, that's why they utilize a coerced education system to perpetuate their nonsense. Yet, a simple booklet such as the comic version of Hayek's Road to Serfdom can turn enough minds to shake the tables of power. But, just because many have lost sight of "Don't Tread on Me," doesn't mean all is lost. A little more education, a stronger tug on the collar of the elected, and the direction toward socialism could reverse overnight.

So, whether your concept of government is constitutional public or anarcho-libertarian private, contract governments will work. They'll be messy, the public version will take conviction of the governed, but their scope will not creep onto your property and liberty.


About the Author

Jim Fedako is an author at the Mises Institute, business analyst, and homeschooling father of seven in Columbus.

Europe's Strength Lies In the True Diversity of Its Nations

When Britain decided to leave the European Union on June 23, 2016, shockwaves undoubtedly went through Brussels and Europe in general. The EU has, of course, been going through many crises over the last decades, and especially in the years of the euro crisis, dissatisfaction was high in many member states. But the fact that one of the largest and most important member states decided to leave the project outright was a precedent.

At first, Brussels was in a state of utter shock — for many, it seemed as if the end of the EU was nigh. The crucial question then was how to recover from Brexit. Which direction should continental Europe take without Great Britain, its old love-hate relationship which decided to exit?

For many, it seemed obvious that the time had come to make a U-turn, to do less in the future. After all, the British did not vote to leave because too little integration had taken place at the European level. The euro crisis seemed to be another prime example that the EU had gone too far. In addition, the migration crisis demonstrated the inability of the member states to find a common denominator even in the most urgent crises. Meanwhile, Eurosceptic forces were gaining steam all over the continent.

But in a shocking turn of events, the decision was taken in Brussels, initiated by Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and the newly inaugurated French President Emmanuel Macron, to stand up for the "ever closer union" even more enthusiastically. In times of populism and burgeoning nationalism, the moment would be now, they felt, to defend the European project stronger than ever.

To this day, an endless stream of ideas has been voiced on how this could be done, all of these ideas having been presented in pompous speeches in parliaments, at universities and on debate stages. They all had one aspect in common: there has to be more integration, more centralization in Belgium's capital. Because if Europe does not continue along this path, Europe would return to an era that no one wants to live through again.

How the Brussels elite and some heads of government drew this lesson from Brexit is not quite clear at first glance. Of course, politicians can defend the EU as much as they want by calling it a peace project and success of free trade and liberalism — hardly anyone will disagree.

But the EU was already all of that several decades ago. What Brussels has done since is far from it — and far from the ideals of liberal democracy. To talk about democracy would be hypocritical at this point anyway, ever since multiple referenda in which countries voted against more integration have been ignored since the 1990s. And whether a powerful bureaucracy in a city hundreds of miles away from most citizens is particularly democratic is also questionable.

The argument of economic dynamism has similarly been left behind. Further deepening and strengthening the common market and continuing to dismantle barriers has long been ignored. In the same way, free trade with the outside world has been increasingly forgotten. Instead, protectionist and regulatory aspects have increasingly developed. Successful companies are being penalized nowadays, while the Commission is trying to finance the Brussels apparatus - and of course the billions in agricultural subsidies and redistribution programs to southern and eastern Europe — at the expense of private companies and citizens.

The euro, described by prominent economists like Hans-Werner Sinn as a "historical error," has suffered an enormous loss in value thanks to the monetary policy of the European Central Bank. This has led to economic impoverishment of several countries and the erosion of personal wealth of ordinary citizens, and has created an artificial bubble, which at some point threatens to burst, through the ECB’s zero interest rate policy.

At the same time, the popularity of the EU among Europeans has hardly improved. It may be true that the EU itself as an institution is more popular than ever before. But the same cannot be said about the work of the Brussels elite.

In summary, it can, therefore, be stated that the integration attempts of recent decades have failed, to put it mildly. So why then do federalists, the advocates of a federal, united, Europe, think that all we have to do is to go even further in order to finally reach the turning point?

Listening to the federalists, it quickly turns out that for them, the EU is more than just a supranational organization for the coordination of individual states. For them, the EU is Europe and Europe is the EU. If one disappears, the other does so, too. If you criticize one, you criticize the other. They live for this project; the success of the EU is more important to them than anything else. One could almost say that they feel the "Pulse of Europe" — or at least they believe so.

In this sense, the federalists follow a strongly progressive view on the EU. For them, a united Europe, imitating the United States of America, is the final goal for achieving ultimate peace and prosperity in Europe. The nation-states are mere relics of the past, perhaps even the main reason for the great wars of the twentieth century, which made the EU necessary. Instead of counting on national sovereignty and identity, those concepts would need to make way — similarly to anything else that could prevent bringing about the end state — for something much bigger: a European sovereignty and European identity.

For this reason, obvious problems such as, for example, the euro are simply ignored. For EU fanatics, the euro is not simply a currency that has gone wrong. For them, it is a symbol of the European project and criticizing it would be tantamount to criticizing Europe in general.

Instead, increasing integration is the only way to stay on the "right side of history." The United States of Europe is the final destination — and the fastest way to get there is pursued, regardless of the obstacles.

But federalists have to finally realize — and one would think Brexit would have been a good enough reason — that their progressivist philosophy of the EU will end in chaos. Economic disasters are ignored because of an irrational (self-)infatuation. Opposition of member states and citizens has no meaning whatsoever.

In the case of the latter, fanatics will often bring up the argument that all this would no longer be a problem once a European identity has been created. The citizens of Europe should see themselves as exactly that: citizens of Europe, not of Germany or France.

And the federalists are right about this to a certain extent: for if people were to see themselves primarily as Europeans, centralization in Europe's capital would indeed be much less absurd and more readily accepted. But who in Europe really sees themselves first and foremost as Europeans? It is an incredibly tiny minority and consists largely of the Erasmus generation, i.e. those who, at the expense of their fellow citizens, went on a “study” abroad semester and celebrated for three months on a beach in Spain or Portugal with their new European friends and now believe that this would justify disasters such as the euro or tax harmonization.

Meanwhile, the Brussels elite is considering on a daily basis how to spread European identity among ordinary citizens. But this cannot be done from above - except through coercion. If a European identity ever comes into being, it must come from the citizens themselves. As long as this is not the case, federalists will have to accept the reality that Europeans do not share their enthusiasm for the abolition of their nation-states for a large European apparatus.

And there is nothing wrong with that. After all, one of Europe's strengths has always been its diversity. The former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher summed this up in her famous 1988 Bruges speech: "Europe will be stronger precisely because it has France as France, Spain as Spain, Britain as Britain, each with its own customs, traditions and identity. It would be folly to try to fit them into some sort of identikit European personality.”

This decentralization is, after all, a characteristic that has also always made Europe unique. For centuries, the greatest thinkers have wondered why liberalism and capitalism, with its subsequent prosperity, was to first ascend in Europe. There are enough answers and in reality, the right one is probably a mixture of many different ones. However, it is widely agreed that the Kleinstaaterei, i.e. the hundreds upon hundreds of small states in Europe, was an important reason and at the very least a precondition .

One story goes that this pluralism made it possible for people to move quickly from one state to another with borders so close, enabling European citizens to choose where to settle - something that today must sound familiar. This freedom of choice and the simplicity of quickly moving on created competition between states to offer the most attractive place to live. And because a policy that was as free as possible turned out to be particularly successful for people, there was an incentive for states to offer such a policy.

Of course, it is not only the ideas of individual liberty, decentralization, and diversity that existed for the first time in Europe over a longer period of time. Other ideas have also emerged in their present form on this continent and they represent the exact opposite, that of centralism, collectivism, and dehumanization. These ideas would be those which showed their ugly face — and the ugliest face of Europe — in the twentieth century.

Today, the EU has the choice of which side to choose, which element of European history it wants to propagate. It is certainly far from the totalitarian regimes of the previous century. One can assume - and hope - that it will always be this way. And, of course, none of the Brussels elite has any intention of going in this direction.

And yet, the ideas that federalists have today share the same basis, even if accidentally. They want to centralize decisions in Brussels. They increasingly want to prevent free enterprise from being free. They want to seal themselves off from the outside world. They want to create an identity which has never existed before. And anyone who opposes these plans needs to be vilified as a populist, nationalist, or any other empty, nonsensical insult.

The federalists may think that their vision of the "ever closer union" is ground-breaking and innovative. But the idea of creating a mega-state is not new — the fact that this idea is still being considered in the 21st century is a sad example of how quickly one forgets.

Were the European project come — or degenerated — to this, the EU would be doomed to failure. Either it would sooner or later collapse because of its own blindness or, because of ignoring dissenting votes, would cause an even stronger uprising of actual nationalist forces - and would, thus, potentially produce exactly what is most feared and the prevention of which European integration even began in the first place.

However, there is an alternative — and a European alternative anyway. It is a Europe that once again sees the benefits of decentralization and pluralism. It is a European Union in which free and sovereign nation-states come together to cooperate. A European Union in which economic freedom is promoted and trade barriers reduced. A European Union, with which the European countries can come together in order to interact more freely with the rest of the world. And a European Union that can provide security in times of crises, in times of war on its own doorstep and in times of terrorism, instead of failing in nihilism and by being distracted because of another great reform idea.

First and foremost, it should be a European Union in which all citizens have a voice - a Europe in which - as far as possible - decisions are taken locally, not far away in Brussels. Such an EU would produce the best Europe has to offer. It would be an EU that really secures peace and promotes prosperity instead of getting caught up in utopian dreams.


About the Author

Kai Weiss is the Research and Outreach Coordinator at the Austrian Economics Center and a board member of the Hayek Institute.

Dismantling Free Markets Won't Solve Biodiversity Threat

Driven perhaps by envy at the attention that climate change is getting, and ambition to set up a great new intergovernmental body that can fly scientists to mega-conferences, biologists have gone into overdrive on the subject of biodiversity this week.

They are right that there is a lot wrong with the world’s wildlife, that we can do much more to conserve, enhance and recover it, but much of the coverage in the media, and many of the pronouncements of Sir Bob Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), are frankly weird.

The threat to biodiversity is not new, not necessarily accelerating, mostly not caused by economic growth or prosperity, nor by climate change, and won’t be reversed by retreating into organic self-sufficiency. Here’s a few gentle correctives.

Much of the human destruction of biodiversity happened a long time ago

Species extinction rates of mammals and birds peaked in the 19th century (mostly because of ships taking rats to islands). The last extinction of a breeding bird species in Europe was the Great Auk, in 1844. Thousands of years ago, stone-age hunter-gatherers caused megafaunal mass extinctions on North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar with no help from modern technology or capitalism. That’s not to say extinctions don’t still happen but by far the biggest cause is still invasive alien species, especially on islands: it’s chytrid fungi that have killed off many frogs and toads, avian malaria that has killed off many of Hawaii’s honeycreepers, and so on.

This is a specific problem that can be tackled and reversed, but it will take technology and science and money, not retreating into self-sufficiency and eating beans. The eradication of rats on South Georgia island was a fine example of doing this right, with helicopters, GPS and a lot of science.

We’ve been here before. In 1981, the ecologist Paul Ehrlich predicted that 50% of all species would be extinct by 2005. In fact, about 1.4% of bird and mammal species, which are both easier to document than smaller creatures and more vulnerable to extinction, have gone extinct so far in several centuries.

The idea that “western values”, or “capitalism”, are the problem is wrong

On the whole what really diminishes biodiversity is a large but poor population trying to live off the land. As countries get richer and join the market economy they generally reverse deforestation, slow species loss and reverse some species declines. Countries like Bangladesh are now rich enough to be reforesting, not deforesting, and this is happening all over the world. Most of this is natural forest, not plantations. As for wildlife, think of all the species that have returned to abundance in Britain: otters, ospreys, sea eagles, kites, cranes, beavers, deer and more. Why are wolves increasing all around the world, lions decreasing and tigers now holding steady? Basically, because wolves are in rich countries, lions in poor countries and tigers in middle income countries. Prosperity is the solution not the problem.

Nothing would kill off nature faster than trying to live off it. When an African villager gets rich enough to buy food in a shop rather than seek bushmeat in the forest, that’s a win for wildlife. Ditto if he or she can afford gas for cooking rather than cutting wood. The more we can urbanise and the more we can increase our use of intensive farming and fossil fuels, the less we will need to clear forests for either food or fuel.

Intensive farming spares land for nature

It’s been calculated that if today’s population were to be fed using the mainly organic yields of 1960, we would have to farm 82% of the world’s land, whereas actually we farm about 38%. Thanks to fertilisers, tractors, genetics and pesticides, we now need 68% less land to produce a given quantity if food than we did in 1960. That’s a good thing. Most sensible conservationists now realise that “land sparing” is the right approach – intensive farming plus land set aside, rather than inefficient farming with some nature in the fields. Professor Andrew Balmford of Cambridge University led a team that did thorough research showing that this is the better approach not just for land use but for other environmental issues too: they found that organic dairy farms cause at least 30% more soil loss, and take up twice as much land, as conventional dairy farming for the same amount of milk produced, for example.

Doing more with less

A favourite nostrum of many environmentalists is that you cannot have infinite growth with finite resources. But this is plain wrong, because economic growth comes from doing more with less. So if I invent a new car engine that gets twice as many miles per gallon, I’ve caused economic growth but we’ll use less fuel. Likewise if I increase the yield of a crop, I need less land and probably less fuel too. This “growth as shrinkage” happens all the time: think how much smaller mobile phones are than they once were.

The fact that species are recovering is ignored by the media

The BBC used a humpback whale song to illustrate species under threat of extinction. Humpback whales were down to a few thousand in the 1960s and listed as “endangered”. In 1996 as the population grew, they were downgraded to “vulnerable”. In 2008 as they became numerous, they were downgraded again to “least concern”. Today there are 80,000 of them, they are back to pre-exploitation densities in many parts of the world, and groups of up to 200 are sometimes seen feeding together, a success unimaginable when I was young. The same is true of many previously exploited species such as fur seals, elephant seals, king penguins and more.

For some reason, environmental activists hate talking about the success stories of conservationists in saving species, recovering their populations and reintroducing them to the wild. They prefer to dwell on the threats. This brings more publicity and donations, but it also spreads a counsel of despair, leaving many ordinary people feeling helpless, rather than engaged. It’s time for an honest debate about what we can do to save wildlife, rather than a Private Fraser cry of “we’re all doomed."


About the Author

Lord Viscount Matt Ridley is a scientist, journalist, and businessman. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into 31 languages and won several awards. He is a board member of Human Progress.

Heroes of Progress: Abel Wolman and Linn Enslow

Abel Wolman and Linn Enslow are two 20th century American scientists who discovered how to safely use chlorine to purify drinking water. Enslow and Wolman’s formula was perfected in 1923 and thanks to their discovery more than 190 million lives have been saved worldwide so far.

Using chlorine to purify water did not start with Wolman and Enslow. During a cholera epidemic in 1854, chlorine had been used to purify London’s drinking water. Similarly, the first American patent for a water chlorination system was granted in 1888. While it was accepted that chlorine could kill bacteria, little was understood about the cleansing process and, since chlorine can be poisonous to humans, using the chemical for water purification purposes remained dangerous.

In the early 1900s, cities across America were expanding at a rapid pace and luxuries such as indoor running water were becoming more widespread. With no safe or effective measures to clean their drinking water, city water suppliers often became unwitting disseminators of an array of diseases, including cholera, dysentery and typhoid. This is where Wolman and Enslow enter our story.

Abel Wolman was born in June 1892, in Baltimore, Maryland. Wolman was one of six children of Polish-Jewish immigrants to America. Although Wolman had initially wanted to go into medicine, his parents encouraged him to study engineering. In 1915, Wolman became the fourth person to receive a BS degree from John Hopkins University’s newly established Engineering School.

Linn Enslow was born in February 1891 in Richmond, Virginia. Enslow studied chemistry at John Hopkins University and it was there that he first met Wolman. After graduation, both Enslow and Wolman began working at the Maryland Department of Public Health. In 1918, the pair teamed up to study chlorine’s effect on water purification.

In creating their method of water purification, Enslow and Wolman analyzed chlorine’s effect on the acidity, bacterial content and taste of drinking water. By 1923, the pair had created a standard formula detailing the amount of chlorine needed to safely purify water supplies. Enslow and Wolman’s rigorous scientific research laid the foundation for water purification across the world.

After their breakthrough, Wolman took a more active role than Enslow in encouraging states and countries to adopt the formula. Eventually Wolman was able to apply the new water purification method to Maryland’s drinking water supply. By 1930, typhoid cases in the state had declined by 92 percent. By 1941, 85 percent of all U.S. water systems used the Enslow-Wolman formula. The rest of the world followed America’s lead.

Wolman’s career flourished. He became chair of the state Planning Commission in his early 30s, acted as a consultant to the U.S. Public Health Service, was the Chief Engineer at the Maryland Department of Public Health, and established the Department of Sanitary Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University in 1937

Throughout his life, Wolman sat on numerous boards and advised governments on water purification systems throughout the world. Wolman eventually retired in 1962. He died in 1989 in his native Baltimore at the age of 96.

In the meantime, Enslow went on to become the editor of the magazine Water and Sewage Works. He worked in that role until his sudden death from a heart attack in 1957.

Thanks to the work of Enslow and Wolman, billions of people now have access to drinking water that is free from an array of potentially deadly diseases. It is estimated that the adoption of their formula in water systems worldwide has saved almost 200 million lives.


About the Author

Alexander C. R. Hammond is a researcher at a Washington DC think tank.

The Progressive Critique of Free Markets: A Response | Part 4

The Charge of Worker Exploitation: Labor Unions and the Minimum Wage

In the late 19th-century, America’s free-market economy featured strong protections for private property and contract rights, prices of goods and services determined by supply and demand, and very little government intervention. Wages and prices were unregulated, as were most business operations. Government intervention was largely confined to stopping uses of property deemed harmful to others, under the long-standing sic utere doctrine, according to which people were forbidden from using their property in ways that injured the rights of others. As a result, the economy grew very rapidly during this time, and standards of living improved for everyone. However, economic gains were very unevenly distributed, prompting progressive critics to seek changes.

Progressive political economists made a number of arguments against free markets that gained increasing support among politicians, journalists, academics, clerics, and ordinary people, and eventually led to economic and political reforms of the free-market economy. These critics believed that workers were being exploited by businessmen on the grounds that they could force workers to accept low wages.

The political circumstances of the time seemed to confirm Progressives’ assertions. Because there were so many industrial workers available for hire—some coming from Europe in wave after wave of immigration in the decades before World War I, others moving from farms to urban areas—employers were provided with an abundance (and even an overabundance) of workers. In consequence, workers were forced to compete against each other for an occasionally scarce supply of industrial jobs. This had the effect of driving down some wages. Progressives complained that because wages were determined strictly by the free-market law of supply and demand, there was no necessary connection between wages and the cost of living. As the progressive economist John R. Commons put it:

The product of labour in all enterprises, like the product of the other factors of production, is subject to the law of diminishing returns. The larger the supply, the lower will be the value of the marginal product compared with the labour of producing it. Hence, whatever controls the supply of labour of a given class controls the marginal value of its product, and thereby the wages of the producers. The rate of wages is not determined by the cost of living.

Because workers could be paid less than what it cost them to live, the free market was accused of failing them in the most palpable and self-contradictory way possible: It was an economic system that failed to meet their most basic economic need for survival.

Progressives proposed an end to wage competition by means of labor unions. Unionized collective bargaining would prevent businessmen from playing workers against of each other and pushing down wages. The progressive political economist Simon Patten expressed the view that unions should be used “to secure the rewards of his work to the common laborer.” Put plainly, unions were needed to prevent workers from being cheated. Underlying this view of labor relations was the belief that workers and businessmen approached each other with unequal economic and, therefore, unequal bargaining power. Because workers were poorer than businessmen, they could not hold out for higher wages for very long without starving. This made them powerless and prisoners of their elemental fear of suffering and death. Such men could not be said to be truly free; they were more properly described as coerced by their fear. As the progressive legal reformer Roscoe Pound wrote, favorably quoting Lord Northington: “Necessitous men are not, truly speaking, free men, but, to answer a present exigency, will submit to any terms that the crafty may impose upon them.” Commons described their condition as one of “wage-slavery,” or “the dependence of one man upon the arbitrary will of another for the opportunity to earn a living.” By contrast, prosperous businessmen could use their greater wealth to outwait recalcitrant workers. Because workers were exploited by businessmen operating within the rules of the economic system, they were coerced by the system itself, that is, by free-market economics. What to free-market defenders seemed like an equal right to private property and voluntary contracts was to Progressives an immoral, systemic regime of coercion that indicted free-market economics to the core.

Today’s critics of free markets continue to echo the early progressive moral arguments against worker exploitation. They argue that lower-end workers must unionize if they are to prosper. Where unionization is difficult, they advocate for a substitute—the $15 per hour minimum wage. This proposal (already adopted by some cities and states) is meant to raise low-end wages in the face of economic stagnation and wage competition.

Progressive Era proponents of unionization did not understand that unionization intended to increase wages above the free-market rate had the effect of decreasing employment. They believed that employers could simply set wages higher if they wished. And yet, the same economic principles that caused Progressives to reject wage competition could be used to show that, in the absence of productivity increases, unions increase the cost of employment to the employer, thereby reducing employment. Workers then and now left unemployed by unionization are the hidden victims of this progressive reform.

Since the dawn of the industrial age, the path to prosperity for ordinary workers has been by way of increased productivity (that is, increased output per unit of input), not unionization. The same economic and moral logic that argues against unions can be applied to increases in the minimum wage. The hidden cost of a minimum wage is higher unemployment among some of the most vulnerable Americans—those without the work experience or training to warrant that wage. The economic cost of unionization and the minimum wage is simultaneously a moral mark against these forms of intervention.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the economic arguments against efforts to boost wages through unions and the minimum wage, the early Progressives (and many Americans since) were seen to have properly indicted the morality of the free market for sometimes not paying workers a living wage. It is certainly true that many workers at that time were not paid enough to get by. But here the progressive critique was exaggerated because it measured individual instead of household income combined with support from other sources, such as family members and neighbors. Furthermore, over time workers could gain experience and skill or benefit from productivity increases—and then earn higher wages. These were voluntary and therefore morally untainted methods of advancement.

Progressives were aware of some of these responses and rejected them. For example, Patten countered that “[d]ifficulties in towns are too massive to be surmounted by the altruism of such service as can be rendered by the mutual aid of family members and of neighbors.” Patten was at least partly correct. Urbanization led to an excess supply of labor and had in some respects made life more difficult for workers. As Ely pointed out, in early America, “independent farmers who tilled their own soil” could support themselves and thereby avoid being at the economic mercy of others. Moreover, “an abundance of unoccupied land furnished [a ‘hired man’] a frequent escape from his subordinate position.” Poverty was in some respects easier to bear in the agricultural economy that preceded the industrial economy. As Patten put it, the “poverty men of the country had some options in nature during the seasonal periods of plenty.” In that sense, they were more autarkic than urban dwellers, who had only their wages and who were therefore more vulnerable to unemployment.

But the economic vulnerability brought about by industrialization and urbanization was only part of the story. As even Patten acknowledged, pre-Industrial Era farmers were poor. As America industrialized, such men voluntarily urbanized in order to improve their material condition. Industrialization produced unquestionable benefits for millions of ordinary Americans, and so it was a great moral victory in the age-old struggle against poverty. All the same, urbanization then and now reveals a clear need for some way to ensure that the most vulnerable Americans do not starve in the event that their family and friends cannot help them during hard times. But unionization and the minimum wage were problematic solutions because of their harmful effects on vulnerable workers seeking employment.

Ideally, free-market defenders would have provided a persuasive alternative to Progressivism at the time. Had they done so, they might have halted the progressive intellectual advance and directed the political system toward free-market solutions to the problems of industrialization. But the absence of powerful defenders of the Founders’ regime in that generation, especially in the academy, meant that the Supreme Court remained the only bulwark capable of arguing against progressivism.

In the period during and just after the Progressive Era—until it was broken by President Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal—the judiciary harbored some of the most principled and thoughtful defenders of the Founders’ vision of economics. Regrettably, the judiciary had a limited intellectual visibility and influence. All the same, in a particularly important case, the Supreme Court turned away an attempt by progressives in Congress to institute a minimum wage for women in Washington, DC, by way of the Minimum Wage Act of 1918. That act was ruled unconstitutional in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital. Writing for the majority, Justice George Sutherland acknowledged that some women need income support. But as a means to achieving this, he deemed the minimum wage unjust:

To the extent that the sum fixed exceeds the fair value of the services rendered, it amounts to a compulsory exaction from the employer for the support of a partially indigent person, for whose condition there rests upon him no peculiar responsibility, and therefore, in effect, arbitrarily shifts to his shoulders a burden which, if it belongs to anybody, belongs to society as a whole.

He continued: “Certainly the employer, by paying a fair equivalent for the service rendered, though not sufficient to support the employee, has neither caused nor contributed to her poverty. On the contrary, to the extent of what he pays, he has relieved it.” In other words, it is not the employer’s fault that the employee is poor. Her wages, however low they might be, are just because they represent the value of her labor. And yet the employer is unjustly made to bear the full burden of rescuing her from poverty—beyond the wages that he is already paying her and that take her part of the way to solvency. The responsibility for raising her income should instead fall to society, because the moral obligation to prevent her from starving does not rest solely with her employer.

Sutherland’s moral analysis indicates that some form of minimal public welfare, and not the minimum wage, is a more appropriate and just response to the presence of degrading poverty. In his decision, Sutherland argued that unions are a constitutionally permissible way to increase wages. He presumably had in mind purely voluntary unions that do not seek coercive methods to prevent non-union laborers from taking their jobs. Coercive unions are an unjust imposition on the employer because they forcibly prevent employers from firing unionized workers at will and substituting willing, non-union workers. If workers cannot earn a living wage by means of individual employment or voluntary unions, a more just and moral alternative remains direct income support, if necessary, in the form of minimal public welfare.


About the Author

Luigi Bradizza, PhD, is Associate Professor of Political Science at Salve Regina University and the author of Richard T. Ely’s Critique of Capitalism.

On China, America must resume its moral leadership

There is no official estimate of how many Chinese were murdered by the Communist Party in Tiananmen Square as part of its infamous crackdown. With more than one million Chinese now locked away in dystopian concentration camps, it’s possible that the number killed in Xinjiang by Chairman Xi has already surpassed those slaughtered in 1989. Tiananmen happened, and no level of Orwellian censorship can change that. What few seem to recognize is that it’s very likely to happen again. The real question is about how the free world will respond when it does.

The US response to the massacre in 1989 is a mirror image of today’s calls for “restraint.” There was some bluster, but just days after the bloodbath, President George H. W. Bush said, “Now is the time to look beyond the moment to important and enduring aspects of this vital relationship for the United States.” This “restraint” set the tone for the next thirty years of post-Cold War dictatorship apologetics and the current US-China quagmire.

I’m not saying that the US should start trashing strategic alliances — far from it. Badmouthing and levying tariffs on allies is far from strategic. However, pretending that the human rights abuses of friends and foes shouldn’t have consequences is just as bad. Policymakers must recognize that too much restraint in the 21st century is a strategic miscalculation. Dictatorships do not operate in the same way as democracies. Treating them as if they do cedes the high ground and weakens our own position in any number of policy areas.

It is nothing short of a miracle that hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of abject poverty in a relatively short period of time. But the Communist Party allowed the Chinese people to do that. The Party does not allow ordinary Chinese to protest, to believe the “wrong” things, or even to walk around without monitoring. If we won’t support the aspiration for freedom of well over 1 billion people, we should stop pretending it’s a priority. China has 5,000 years of history and we often forget that the Communist Party has been around for a tiny fraction of that. If China is to reclaim its historical place in world politics, it will be without the Party.

America can’t make that decision for the Chinese people. The almost reflexive response to human rights abuses has become to impose sanctions. But how well will we be able to rally other nations to respect sanctions against an economy close to the size of our own? Or against a Party that has turned North Korean sanctions evasion into an art form?

Our approach should be that of leadership and the generosity characteristic of free societies. The Statue of Liberty in New York was dedicated in 1886, a gift from France in the wake of the American Civil War meant to serve as a constant reminder of the shared value of freedom. In 1989, the Chinese people in Tiananmen Square erected an aesthetically similar statue — the Goddess of Democracy. America should build a monument dedicated to the memory of Tiananmen. It should have a characteristically Chinese style because the new statue should ultimately be a gift to the Chinese people when their government is ready to transparently address what happened thirty years ago. America must return to shining the light of opportunity and liberty for all the world to see, lest the darkness of dictatorship — and its associated poverty and war — creeps back over the world.


About the Author

Clay R. Fuller is a Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on authoritarian survival, corruption, and the means through which dictators, terrorists, and criminals use free markets to restrict freedom, sow discord, and legitimize their actions. He also collects data on the use of special economic zones and sovereign wealth funds in nondemocratic countries.

Beware the Anti-Humanism of the Extremists

We are entering dangerous territory. The radicalisation of the environmentalist movement, as seen on the streets of London over the past week, is accelerating and is increasingly acquiring a darker aspect.

The anti-humanist strand of environmentalism is best exemplified by the renewed push to reduce the world’s population. Unlike in the past, when some governments, such as that of India, forced men and women into sterilisation programs and others, like the Chinese government, mandated “one-child” policies, these latest initiatives are voluntary. This makes them morally preferable, even if they remain intellectually incoherent. A populous world is a rich world and a rich world is better for the environment.

It should go without saying, though it bears repeating in some parts of the world, that motherhood ought to be entered into by consenting women. Under such circumstances, the optimal global birthrate and national birthrate would be determined by women’s personal decisions. Normally, these rates are impacted by a variety of factors including women’s religious beliefs where birth-control is concerned, economic forces and opportunity costs that women incur by joining the labour market instead of staying at home to care for children. But most people, including a lot of prospective mothers, are also influenced by broader social trends – the zeitgeist, if you will.

In pre-modern Europe, for example, religion, culture and society were often synonymous, and women were typically pressured into motherhood by commonly held beliefs, including those that said that it is “a woman’s duty to bear children and in doing so, make reparations for the sins of Eve. If she could not do so, she was a failure as a woman and lacked God’s grace”.

Today, a new quasi-religion is making inroads into popular culture and making claims about the optimal extent of female fecundity. The environmentalist movement, which started as a noble effort to make people and nature more symbiotic, increasingly sees human beings as a plague upon the planet. As such, environmentalism is running the risk of transmogrifying into a fully-fledged credo of anti-humanism.

Examples of this dangerous trend abound. BirthStrikers, for example, began in the United Kingdom as a voluntary organisation for people who have decided to eschew parenthood in response to the coming “climate breakdown and civilisation collapse”. According to the group’s Tumblr page, “We, the undersigned, declare our decision not to bear children due to the severity of the ecological crisis and the current inaction of governing forces in the face of this existential threat.”

FastCompany, a monthly American business magazine that focuses on technology, business, and design, recently ran a video that made the following claims: 

"In Fall 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report pointing out that we have only 12 years before the planet begins to feel the effects of catastrophic climate change if we don’t take action now … The four actions that would have the most impact on climate change are living car free, avoiding air travel, eating a plant-based diet and having fewer kids … When you look at the action of having one fewer child, when you’re thinking about how to account for that, you should probably account for the fact that that child is likely to go on to have their own children. Having another child is multiplicative … More people on the planet is going to entail using more resources and that just makes that number [carbon footprint] go so much higher than all the other things we looked at."

 According to FastCompany, 38 per cent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 “agree that couples should consider the negative impact of climate change when thinking about having kids”.

So, let’s start with some inconvenient truths. The world population, which is currently 7.7 billion, will likely peak at 9.8 billion people by around 2080 and fall to 9.5 billion by 2100. That’s according to Wolfgang Lutz and his colleagues at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. Assuming rapid economic, technological and educational advancements, all of which tend to lower birth rates, Lutz estimates that humanity could peak at 8.9 billion in 2060 and decline to 7.8 billion by 2100. Put differently, in 80 years the world’s population could end up being the same as it is today.

Lutz should be listened to because the United Nations, which projects the world population expanding to 11.2 billion by the end of the 21st century, has repeatedly overshot their population estimates by underestimating the effects of economic development on fertility. To that end, the most assured way of limiting population growth is not to reduce birth rates in developed countries, where they are trending below the replacement level of 2.1 babies per woman, but by promoting rapid economic development in under-developed countries, where birth rates continue to be above the global average of 2.4 babies per woman.

That said, we should beware a plateauing or, even, declining global population. A growing population produces more ideas. More ideas lead to more innovations, and more innovations improve productivity. Finally, higher productivity translates to better standards of living. As Gale L. Pooley from Brigham Young University, Hawaii and I found in a recent paper, “over the past 37 years, every additional human being born on our planet appears to have made resources proportionately more plentiful for the rest of us”. Put differently, the relationship between population growth and abundance seems to be a positive one.

Richer people, in turn, can expend more time, energy and resources on conservation. A total of 15 per cent of the earth’s land surface, or 20 million square kilometres, is now covered by protected areas. That’s an area more than three times the size of the entire United States. Marine protected areas now account for almost 7 per cent of the global ocean or some 25 million square kilometres. That’s an area more than twice the size of South America. Furthermore, countless scientists are working around the clock to identify endangered species in need of protection and even bringing extinct species back to life.

Back in February, the U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) asked, “Is it still OK to have children?” The answer is still “Yes, it is.”


About the Author

Marian L. Tupy is a senior policy analyst at the Cato Institute and editor of Human Progress.

Heroes of Progress: Kendrick and Eldering

Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering are two American scientists who created the first effective vaccine for the whooping cough. Thanks to their work, whooping cough has become preventable, and Eldering and Kendrick’s vaccine has been credited with saving over 15 million lives so far.

The whooping cough is an upper respiratory infection that typically afflicts infants. Although early symptoms are often quite mild, over time coughing bouts cause those infected to lose their breath, turn red, and vomit. At the end of a coughing bout, the child will often be desperately sucking in air, which results in a “whooping” noise. The disease, which is known as pertussis to scientists, after the bacteria Bordetella pertussis that causes it, can result in life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, and dehydration.

At its height in the 1930s, whooping cough killed more American infants than polio, measles, tuberculosis, and all other childhood diseases combined. This is where Kendrick and Eldering enter our story.

Pearl Kendrick was born in August, 1890, in Wheaton, Illinois. When she was just three years old, she developed a case of whooping cough. Kendrick was lucky enough to survive the illness and went on to have a happy childhood. She received her BS in Liberal Arts from Syracuse University in 1914.

Kendrick initially began her career as a high-school science teacher, but after a short time she started studying bacteriology at Columbia University, focusing on whooping cough. In 1917, she was recruited to work at the Michigan Department of Health. It would be here she would meet Grace Eldering.

Eldering was born in 1900, in Rancher, Montana. Like Kendrick, Eldering contracted and survived the whooping cough at a young age. Eldering studied Biology and English at the University of Montana and graduated in 1927.

In 1928, Eldering moved to Michigan and began volunteering at the Department of Health’s Bureau of Laboratories. After six months of volunteering, Eldering was placed on the payroll. In 1932, she transferred to the lab Kendrick ran in Grand Rapids.

Kendrick and Eldering instantly bonded and began working together on a whooping cough vaccine. However, as their efforts coincided with the Great Depression, funding for their vaccine was virtually nonexistent. As a result, Kendrick and Eldering developed their vaccine primarily during their off hours. This arrangement worked for a few years but by 1936 the pair was in desperate need of additional funds to continue trials for their test vaccine.

In an attempt to raise funds, Kendrick invited the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, to their laboratory. To everyone’s surprise, Mrs. Roosevelt accepted their invitation and during one day, Mrs. Roosevelt spent over thirteen hours with Kendrick. Soon after her visit, Mrs. Roosevelt helped to find the funds that allowed Kendrick and Eldering to continue the large-scale trial that they had begun in 1934.

Their trial eventually involved 5,800 children and the results were groundbreaking. The children who received the vaccine immediately demonstrated a strong immunity against the disease. In 1942, to reduce the discomfort for children receiving vaccines, Eldering and Kendrick combined three vaccines into a single shot. The use of the Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus (DPT) vaccine became routine throughout the United States in 1943. Thereafter, its use quickly spread across the world.

Both scientists received their PhDs from Johns Hopkins University; Kendrick in 1934 and Eldering in 1942.

Later in life, Kendrick left the Michigan Department of Public Health to teach at the University of Michigan. She died in 1980. Once Kendrick left, Eldering succeeded her as the head of the department. Eldering retired in 1969 and died in 1988. In 1983, both women were inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.

Tragically, each year 160,000 children continue to die after contracting whooping cough in the developing world. Although this figure continues to fall, there is much to be done before whooping cough is completely eradicated.

However, thanks to Eldering and Kendrick’s work, more than 15 million lives have already been saved, and it is likely that their vaccine will continue to save millions more.


About the Author

Alexander C. R. Hammond is a researcher at a Washington DC think tank.

The Progressive Critique of Free Markets: A Response | Part 3

The Attack on Classical Economics

The early progressive attack on natural rights and limited government amounted to a charge of dogmatism, that is, a zealous attachment to the false idea of natural rights, the social contract, and government as an artificial creation aimed at securing natural rights. Progressives argued instead that government pre-exists men and is not an artificial creation of men. They levelled that same charge of dogmatism at classical economics, which is the economic expression of natural rights and limited government. Progressives claimed that classical economics is a rigidly deductive economic system premised on one central ideal: that self-interest can be harnessed as a reliable impetus to economic prosperity. From that one premise, Ely argued, classical economists then blindly deduced a range of dogmatic economic commandments and prohibitions. For example, they insisted that wages and prices must be governed by the law of supply and demand, that no impediments be raised to privately arrived at contracts, and that private property gained by the use of this system must be respected and defended as justly and properly acquired. The free market was presented as necessary and natural because it respects everyone’s right to self-seeking actions, and because self-seeking actions were seen as reliable and productive guides to economic activity.

Progressives instead argued against both the premise that self-interest is a proper starting point for an economic system and the rigidly deductive method that, in their view, propagates this erroneous premise in the face of damaging economic consequences. As Henry Adams put it: “It is not true that, when a man advances his own interests or what he believes to be his own interests, he thereby necessarily advances the interests of society.” In other words, self-interest is not consistent with the common good. In his more progressive years, the political economist John Bates Clark argued that the conception of the self-interested man that forms the unit of analysis of classical economics is a mistake: “The assumed man is too mechanical and too selfish to correspond with the reality; he is actuated altogether too little by higher psychological forces.” Clark warned that the free market call of “‘[e]very man for himself’ is the principle of disorganization and chaos.”

With respect to free-market prescriptions, Progressives held that economic systems must be judged on the basis of their results, particularly the results for the most vulnerable members of society. And on that count, they argued that the free market was a failure. They wanted a more flexible economic system that would proceed empirically and which could be adjusted and planned by the government so as to produce more widely distributed benefits. Ely called this approach to economics the “look and see” method. Progressives argued for an economic system based, not on self-interest and competition, but rather on social obligation and cooperation. In their economic decisions, men should consciously seek the good of all and not just their self-interest. Progressives seized on one of the most powerful arguments against the free market: that the self-interest at the root of the free market has too strong a tendency to degenerate into selfishness. In short, Progressives argued that the moral core of the free market was deeply immoral.

In our day, Ely’s particular approach to economics continues to comprise a part of the progressive understanding of economics. As such, Progressives embrace government planning (for example, in health care) and continue to be skeptical of attempts by economists to harness self-interest in the service of individual and national prosperity. They work toward social obligation and cooperation by, in general, compelling distribution of income at the cost of voluntary, free-market methods of increasing wealth and economic security.

As an alternative to limited government, natural rights, and free markets, the early Progressives proposed their own systematic approach: social science, a discipline that includes economics, and which would replace the individual self-interest of the free market with an explicit orientation on the part of economic planners toward their vision of the common good, which they understood as the greatest possible flourishing of each individual. Progressives promised that social science would yield genuine knowledge of human affairs along the lines of the more traditional and very successful “hard” sciences. That knowledge would be gained empirically, following the scientific method, and not assumed dogmatically, as was allegedly the case with natural rights and classical economics.

Rather than following abstract principles or being guided by experience built up over centuries, Progressives sought to make the world anew. Just as with the natural sciences, the practitioners and leaders of social science would be scientific experts. These experts would replace the allegedly chaotic, unplanned, and unjust workings of the free market with rational, scientific, neutral, impartial, and just management of the economy. Such experts could be established in bureaucracies that in their very mission would be aimed at public-spiritedness and the common good of society. They could correct alleged abuses, such as worker exploitation and an unjust distribution of wealth. These experts would free us from the distractions, injustices, incompetence, partisanship, and paralysis of traditional democratic politics.

There would still be some room for democratic politics within this new system. Elected leaders would identify problems, authorize and fund bureaucratic solutions, and hold bureaucrats accountable. But the implementation of economic policy would be carried out by bureaucrats. The prominent progressive intellectual Herbert Croly made an especially powerful case for this reform. He outlined the basic structure of the new government:

In order to understand the function which the administration ought to perform in a social democracy a sharp distinction must be drawn between the administration and the executive.… [The executive’s] primary business is organizing a temporary majority of the electorate, and of carrying its will into legal effect.

By contrast, administrative “officials do not in theory exert any influence upon the policy of the government. These are professional servants, whose business it is to contrive the means necessary to execute existing laws and to carry out any policy which has been decided upon by a departmental chief or by the cabinet.” No human problem would be beyond the bailiwick of these expert administrators. In particular, the economy stood to be regulated in detail by such experts, initially by modest intrusions such as Progressive Era industrial commissions, later by an array of federal and state agencies spawned by the New Deal and the Great Society.

In our day, progressivism and the apparatus it created to govern America informs much of the nation’s political agenda, often in opposition to proponents of limited government. Inspired by progressivism and unconstrained by a belief in natural rights, Congress today routinely passes laws without regard to any constitutional grounding in its limited Article I, Section 8 enumerated powers. It has also delegated a portion of its legislative authority to administrative state agencies. Congress permits these bureaucracies to pass binding regulations, each of which has the power of the law. Though they are subject to congressional oversight, bureaucrats are free from direct democratic accountability. Moreover, their powers often encompass two or more of the branches of government, in apparent violation of the separation of powers. Though the early Progressives are rarely cited by contemporary progressives, in their departures from the Founders’ constitutional norms, both Congress (in delegating its power) and the administrative state (in its rule without democratic control) have helped to fulfill the political intention of the early Progressives.

Despite some important political victories, today’s progressives have prematurely claimed intellectual victory. Though contemporary progressives believe that the theory of natural rights has been refuted, a small-but-vigorous intellectual cohort has argued for its return. Contemporary defenders of natural rights make the philosophic and moral argument that property belongs by nature to the person who creates it—and not to the government that merely protects it. And they also argue that a larger, progressive government crowds out the free market by competing for resources, because government is funded by wealth extracted from free-market producers. Moreover, they point out that administrative state lawmaking qualifies and harms self-government because bureaucrats are not directly answerable to the voters.

Critics of progressivism also call for a more nuanced understanding of the morality of self-interest in economics. Progressives have routinely blurred the difference between rational self-interest and selfishness. The former is compatible with justice to oneself and one’s loved ones—and it is also compatible with justice to others. Besides not necessarily being of any harm to others, self-interest is the source from which citizens generate the wealth needed for generosity to others, without which charity is little more than a good intention. Perhaps most importantly, rational self-interest leads to a great deal of voluntary and peaceful cooperation with others, which causes otherwise self-seeking men to become habituated to serving others in the course of serving themselves. By contrast with rational self-interest, selfishness is narrow, cramped, and asocial. It is either indifferent to others or understands itself as serving the self specifically to the exclusion of or in opposition to others. Rational self-interest need not degenerate into selfishness, although any thoughtful person would readily acknowledge that that is a perpetual risk of rational self-interest.

With respect to narrow considerations of economic efficacy, rational self-interest has been the source of the greatest outpouring of wealth in human history. Not the immiseration of the poor—but rather their elevation to unheard of wealth—has been the main story of American rational self-interest in economics. This impressive practical outcome is simultaneously a great moral victory for the free market in the struggle against poverty.


About the Author

Luigi Bradizza, PhD, is Associate Professor of Political Science at Salve Regina University and the author of Richard T. Ely’s Critique of Capitalism.

Nationalist trend dominates EU Parliament elections

Nationalism and the decline of traditional party politics has rapidly spread across Europe and culminated in marked influence for those who question the European Union’s overreach in all aspects of government, the economy, and personal freedoms.

In European Parliament elections held May 23 to 26, nationalist and Eurosceptic parties made enormous gains for the 751 seats. Establishment Christian Democratic parties, known as The Group of the European People's Party (EPP), were elected to 179 seats and 24 percent of the vote. Collectively, Eurosceptic and nationalist parties gained 175 seats and 23 percent of the vote overall, represented by the following parties and breakdown: 

ECR - European Conservatives and Reformists Group (includes Brothers of Italy and Netherland’s Forum for Democracy): 63 seats and 8 percent of the vote.

ENF - Europe of Nations and Freedom Group (includes Freedom Party of Austria, France’s National Rally, and Italy’s Lega): 58 seats and 8 percent of the vote.

EFDD - Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group (includes Alternative for Germany, Italy’s Five Star, and the United Kingdom’s Brexit Party): 54 seats and 7 percent of the vote. 

After the election results were revealed this week, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini of the Lega Party proposed the ENF and EFDD should merge to strengthen their influence in the Parliament.

Nationalist Highlights

Austria

Elected to 18 seats; 7 for Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) with 35 percent of the vote, and 3 for the Freedom Party (FPO) with 17 percent of the vote.

France

Elected to 74 seats; 22 for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) with 23 percent of the vote, compared to 8 for President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche! (LN) and 8 percent of the vote.

Germany

Elected to 96 seats; 29 for Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) with 29 percent of the vote, with significant gains to 11 seats for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) with 11 percent.

Hungary

Elected to 21 seats; 13 for Victor Orban’s governing Fidez party and coalition partners with 52 percent of the vote.

Italy

Elected to 73 seats; 28 for Matteo Salvini’s Lega party with 34 percent of the vote, alongside 14 for governing coalition partners Five Star with 17 percent of the vote.

 Poland

Elected to 51 seats; 26 for the governing Law and Justice party with 45 percent of the vote.

United Kingdom

Elected to 73 seats; 29 for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party with 31 percent of the vote.

Why Falling Birth Rates Aren't Something to Celebrate

Traditionally, Easter is a celebration of new life and fertility, replete with rabbit imagery — a symbol of fecundity. Both globally and in the United States, birth rates are falling, and there is considerable debate as to whether that is a good or bad thing. On one side of the argument are those who believe that declining birth rates are a good thing, particularly from an environmental perspective. They are urging people to have fewer children. On the other hand, there are those who believe that overpopulation is not an acute problem, because birth rates are already declining. In fact, they argue, a smaller population could have negative economic consequences.

Let’s look at the former first. Earlier this month, HBO host Bill Maher said, “I can’t think of a better gift to our planet than pumping out fewer humans to destroy it,” and he claimed that the world is “too crowded.”  He is not alone in that belief. More than a third of U.S. millennials worry about the environmental effect of childbearing, including congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently questioned the ethics of producing more children. 

Some anti-natalists even call for government action to make birth rates fall even faster than they already do. Many prominent environmentalists — from Johns Hopkins University bioethicist Travis Rieder to entertainer Bill Nye “The Science Guy” — support tax penalties or other state-imposed punishments for having “too many” children. Bowdoin College’s Sarah Conly wrote a recent book advocating a “one-child” policy — like the one that China once had and had to abandon.

This group sees a population decrease as an urgent necessity, primarily because they believe that population growth leads to resource depletion. But new research inspired by the famous wager between economist Julian Simon and biologist Paul Erhlich has found just the opposite. Consider the amount of time it takes a typical worker to earn enough money to buy commodities — the “time price” of those items, so to speak.

The recently published “Simon Abundance Index” found that for each 1 percent increase in the world’s population, the average time price of 50 commonly used commodities declined by 0.934 percent. In other words, for each 1 percent increase in population, the cost of commodities has fallen by almost 1 percent. Each child born today eventually grows up to make resources less scarce, on average, by contributing to innovation and the global economy.

So, worrying about overpopulation makes little sense.

Moreover, fertility rates are falling already. In developing countries, falling fertility rates are driven by fewer infant and childhood deaths, allowing for smaller family sizes. More women in education and the workforce also result in lower birth rates. In developed countries, unrealistic social and cultural parenting expectations are making childbearing more burdensome than was the case for previous generations. Economist Bryan Caplan, for example, has argued that, in the United States, parents overestimate the work needed to be a successful parent and have fewer children than they otherwise would have as a result of that misconception. 

In fact, falling fertility rates could have far-reaching negative economic consequences as countries face aging and the working population shrinks. With fewer people to innovate, the pace of progress could slow down. As the authors of the “Simon Index” noted, “In addition to more labor, a growing population produces more ideas. More ideas lead to more innovations, and more innovations improve productivity. Finally, higher productivity translates to better standards of living.”

And the more new people in the world engaging in cooperative exchange and putting their minds toward solving problems — including environmental problems — the better off we will all be. Because, as Julian Simon put it, human beings truly are the ultimate resource. Whatever problems we face in the future, it is human ingenuity that will need to rise to the occasion.


About the Author

Chelsea Follett is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute and managing editor of Human Progress.

The Progressive Critique of Free Markets: A Response | Part 2

The Attack on Natural Rights and Limited Government

The progressive attack on free markets went beyond the practical and moral attack on the visible effects of the free market to an attack on its underlying principles. Progressives rejected the theoretical foundations of classical economics and the regime of natural rights upon which it rested. These attacks took the same form in both cases. They charged that both systems were rigidly theoretical, outdated, and disconnected from real world, contemporary, practical effects. They considered contemporaneous defenders of the Founding and of the free market to be ideologues for preferring their theory despite what Progressives claimed were its real-world failings in economics and politics.

To understand the progressive attack on natural rights, we must first understand natural rights. Natural rights are “inalienable,” as the Declaration of Independence states. Our rights are natural insofar as we are born with them. These natural rights include our rights to life, liberty, and property. It is the task of government to “secure these rights,” as the Declaration says. Rights are not gifts or endowments of the government. Government is an artificial creation established by and subordinate to the “consent of the governed.” Accordingly, ordinary citizens hold sovereignty over their government. Government is, so to speak, a tool of self-governing people by which they protect their rights. As such, the structure of government described in the Constitution of 1787 is aimed at setting up a limited government that secures our natural rights and little else.

In the economic realm, this especially means a vigorous and effective protection in law for our natural right to property and contract. That we have a natural right to contract is seen quite clearly in the Declaration of Independence, where our right to contract expresses itself in a social contract between sovereign individuals that establishes the government. These property and contract rights are centrally important to the economy. Private property rights protect private capital investments and profits. Without private property rights, there can be no secure holdings of property over time, which makes economic activity nearly impossible. Contract rights permit mutually beneficial, voluntary exchanges of goods and services between individuals. Without contracts rights, such exchanges might not occur, to the disadvantage of the individuals and the nation.

America’s founding philosophy, Constitution, and legal system were based on and in turn defended and promoted natural rights. The political and economic liberty created by the protection of natural rights made it easy for the United States to adopt the new discipline of what we now call classical economics. Political economists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo proposed a system of free-market economics based on a right to private property, a right to contract freely, and a system of prices determined by supply and demand. For the first time in human history, self-interest in economics was lauded and, especially in America, openly institutionalized.

The economically coordinated self-interest of individuals, with willing buyers and sellers engaged in voluntary and mutually beneficial exchange, would secure the common good understood as individual and national prosperity. This economic system fit very easily into and was a logical outcome of the political framework provided by the Founders. The free market was seen as a moral system because it was based on a respect for our natural rights. And it worked very well. In the decades after the Civil War, America industrialized, entered the Gilded Age, and became the wealthiest country in human history.

The early Progressives, however, rejected both the Founding principles and the economic system of classical economics that it protected. They rejected the Founders’ belief in natural rights—in particular a natural right to property and contract. According to the influential progressive political economist Richard T. Ely, the doctrine of natural rights was part of “an unscientific eighteenth century social philosophy” that “has long ago been totally discredited by science.” There was never an actual historical state of nature in which men formed a government based on a social contract. Instead, Progressives argued, government is natural to man and not an artificial creation of man. It pre-exists the individual, and the individual cannot be understood outside government. Rights are not natural. Rather, they come from government, which pre-exists and forms the individual. As Ely wrote: “Rights are acquired in and through society,” not belonging to individuals by nature. In consequence, the government should be free to prevent allegedly exploitative contracts, regulate wages and prices, and tax the wealthy to support the social development of others as the government deems fit. Doing so violates no natural right to property because there is no natural right to property.

In addition to rejecting the doctrine of natural rights and the principles on which classical economics is based, Progressives also rejected the Founders’ conception of limited government. The Founders and their 19th-century successors believed that (to pick one example) economic intervention aimed at supporting workers’ incomes by means of a minimum wage was not only imprudent, but also an unjust, immoral, and unconstitutional violation of property and contract rights. They believed that legislating in this area would take us beyond the proper limits of government power.

It is true that many Founders departed from strict free-market theory by supporting, for example, tariffs or a national bank. But these departures were intended as a means of encouraging domestic enterprise, not inhibiting the private property and contract rights that lay at the core of the free market. The Founders wanted to secure the freedom of individuals to use and profit from their talents and hard work. They wanted productivity and national prosperity. And so, while many supported tariffs, they also supported free enterprise and not domestic economic intervention and guidance. In consequence, the regime that the Founders put in place leaned heavily in the direction of limited government.

In general, the early Progressives attacked limited government as an obsolete holdover from the 18th century. For Ely, the Founders understood liberty “in its negative aspects. Restrictions and restraints are found upon liberty, and it is thought that once we clear these away, liberty will assert itself as a benign force.” Negative liberty, which confined government to protecting only our natural rights, was based on the belief that citizens would be capable of living free lives so long as they were not impeded from doing so. By contrast, Progressives argued for a more positive liberty that aimed at moving citizens toward allegedly more enhanced and fulfilled lives.

The doctrine of positive liberty served as the permission for a range of economic interventions and programs that would have been seen as violations of property and contract rights by the Founders and their 19th-century successors. Today, to pick just a handful of examples among many, we have programs such as community-development grants, new homebuyer subsidies, and alternative-energy programs. These programs are defended on the grounds that they enhance the lives—the positive liberty—of Americans. There is no theoretical upper limit to positive liberty and therefore no limit in principle to how large the government might grow in efforts to promote it. The doctrine of positive liberty therefore threatens limited government.

During the Progressive Era, judges tended to oppose Progressivism and support robust free-market legal principles. And so a range of progressive interventionist measures aimed at allegedly “protecting” workers from what Progressives imagined was exploitation were seen by the courts as illegitimate violations of limited government and property and contract rights (including the contract rights of workers), a legal impediment that deeply upset Progressives.

To be sure, economic regulations were permitted in free-market America, under the long-established “police power” of state legislatures. The police power is the authority of the legislature to regulate private and economic life with a view to protecting health, safety, and morals. The police power permitted the government to regulate or outlaw uses of one’s property if such uses would violate the rights of others. Under the police power, states could, if they wished, legislate against, for example, the spread of disease (“health”) or unsafe working conditions (“safety”) or public vulgarity (“morals”), among other offenses. Morals legislation was justified on the grounds that licentiousness is incompatible with the moral conditions of a free society. Such legislation could extend to any behavior that threatened the moral order of society or the individual self-control necessary to free government. In other words, morality understood as one of the conditions of freedom took precedence over economic gain. The police power could not, however, be used for specifically progressive ends. For example, it could not be used to prevent alleged wage exploitation or to redistribute wealth—because doing so would violate one’s natural right to property and contract, and it would not intrude on the moral conditions of freedom.

The early Progressives were deeply upset that so many of the interventionist measures for which they called were rejected as falling outside the police power. One case in particular drew their strong protests. In the landmark case of Lochner v. New York, the Supreme Court overturned a New York law that limited, on health and therefore police power grounds, the number of hours per week that bakers could work in bakeries. The majority argued that while the law was presented as a health measure, it was in fact a surreptitious attempt by New York to “protect” workers from purported exploitation by employers who wanted them to work excessive hours. The Court argued that bakers were mature adults capable of looking after their own economic interests and forming contracts and did not need to be protected from alleged “exploitation.” The Court struck a blow for limited government and free markets, but earned the opposition of Progressives, who were anxious to expand greatly the government’s regulation of the economy.

Despite progressive opposition, legal support for a robust right to property and contract continued until the 1930s. But under pressure from Franklin Roosevelt, the Supreme Court eventually succumbed to economic interventionism in NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., ending the so-called Lochner Era of relatively unrestrained free markets in America. Ever since, the Supreme Court has permitted an extremely broad range of economic interventions by both the federal and state governments—interventions that go well beyond the traditional understanding of and limits to police power. It took decades of steady intellectual, political, and legal efforts for Progressives to win their battle over limited government.

In our day, the result is most apparent in tens of thousands of pages of regulations governing nearly every aspect of the economy, promulgated by unelected bureaucrats and often qualifying free-market arrangements.

Legislation aimed at abating alleged worker exploitation now includes the minimum wage, limits on hours worked, and mandatory vacation and family leave time. These laws fall outside permitted police power legislation because they touch on contractual arrangements that violate no one’s natural rights. Moreover, the federal government routinely passes workplace and product safety laws in violation of federalism and the traditional understanding that only the states are permitted to exercise a general police power.


About the Author

Luigi Bradizza, PhD, is Associate Professor of Political Science at Salve Regina University and the author of Richard T. Ely’s Critique of Capitalism.

Heroes of Progress: Johannes Gutenberg

Johannes Gutenberg, a 15th century German goldsmith and inventor, who created the first metal movable-type printing press. Gutenberg’s inventions inlcuded a process for mass-producing movable type, the use of oil-based ink for printing books, adjustable molds, mechanical movable type and the use of a wooden printing press similar to the agricultural screw presses of that time.

Gutenberg's ideas started a printing revolution, which greatly improved the spread of information. The printing press helped to fuel the later part of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution, thus setting the stage for the start of the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 18th century.

Relatively little is known about Gutenberg’s early life. It is believed he was born sometime between 1394 and 1404 in the city of Mainz, the Holy Roman Empire (today’s Germany). We do know that Gutenberg was born into a wealthy patrician merchant family and he grew up learning the trade of goldsmithing.

In 1411, the Gutenbergs were exiled from Mainz following an uprising against the patrician class. We don’t know much about Gutenberg’s life over the following fifteen years, but a letter written by him in 1434 indicates he was living in Strasbourg (today’s France). Moreover, legal records from that same year indicate that he was a goldsmith and a member of the Strasbourg militia.

Whilst in Strasbourg, Gutenberg created metal hand mirrors that pilgrims bought and used when visiting holy sites (it was thought hand mirrors could capture the holy light from religious relics). Gutenberg’s metal working skills proved useful when he developed the metal movable-type used in the printing press.

In 1439, Gutenberg encountered financial problems. Unable to placate his investors, Gutenberg is said to have shared a “secret” with them. It is speculated that the secret was a much-improved process of printing. A year later, Gutenberg supposedly declared that he had perfected the art of printing. That said, a workable prototype of his printing press remained a long way off.  

In 1448, Gutenberg moved back to Mainz. With the help of a loan from his brother-in-law, Arnold Gelthus, he was able to build an operating printing press in 1450. A working press enabled Gutenberg to convince Johann Fust, a wealthy moneylender, to lend him more capital to fund further refinement of the printing process. Peter Schöffer, Fust's son-in-law, also joined the enterprise and it is likely that Schöffer designed some of the press’ first typefaces.

It is widely accepted that Gutenberg had two presses, one for lucrative commercial texts, and another reserved for printing the Bible. In 1455, the first 180 copies of The Gutenberg Bible were completed. However, in the same year, Fust sued Gutenberg and demanded his money back, accusing Gutenberg of the misallocation of funds. The court ruled in favor of Fust, which gave him possession of the printing workshop and half of all the printed Bibles.

The court’s ruling left Gutenberg effectively bankrupt. Undeterred, Guttenberg managed to open a small printing shop in Bamberg (Bavaria) in 1459, where he continued printing Bibles. In 1465, Prince Archbishop of Mainz recognized Gutenberg's accomplishments by naming him a Hofmann or a gentleman of the court. That meant that until his death in 1468, Gutenberg could live comfortably on the court’s large annual stipend.

Gutenberg's innovation quickly spread throughout Europe and beyond. That meant that books and pamphlets became much cheaper and more easily accessible. The deluge of printed texts helped to increase literacy rates throughout the continent. Medical, scientific and technical knowledge proliferated, improving the lives of millions. Philosophical, religious and political treatises abounded. The monopolistic controls that guilds and nobility held over Europe's economic and social life for centuries were broken.


About the Author

Alexander C. R. Hammond is a researcher at a Washington DC think tank.

Turkey’s Erdogan – Friend or Foe to the West? Part 3

The Ottoman Myth

Is it the intention of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to restore, once again, the lost Islamic greatness and Caliphate through Turkish demographic domination of the European lands that the Ottoman Empire once held?

The Ottoman Empire was a Muslim state that existed in various forms between 1299-1923. It survived for more than 600 years, coming to an end in 1922 when it was replaced by the Turkish Republic and various successor states in southeastern Europe and the Middle East. When Mehmed II the Conqueror led the Ottoman Turks to seize the ancient Eastern Roman city of Constantinople in 1453, he ended the 1,000 year reign of the Byzantine Empire and its 800-year resistance against Muslim armies. The city is now known as Istanbul and marks the geographical crossing point between Europe and the Middle East. Because of its location at the point where the continents of Asia and Europe meet, Anatolia – Turkey – has been a major junction for people migrating or conquering since the beginning of civilization.

Once encompassing most of southeastern Europe to the gates of Vienna, the Ottoman Empire comprised of present-day Hungary, the Balkan region, Greece, and parts of Ukraine; portions of the Middle East now occupied by Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Egypt; North Africa as far west as Algeria; and large parts of the Arabian Peninsula. Ottoman domination revived the sentiment of lost Muslim greatness under the Islamic Caliphate, reaching its pinnacle under Selim I and his son Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century, when the Turk armies advanced through the Balkans and Hungary into Austria. Defeat at the Battle of Vienna, where victory would have allowed the Turks to conquer Europe unhindered, led the Ottoman Empire further into decline and they used the concept of the Caliphate as an instrument of statecraft as Europe gained economic and military dominance.

The Ottoman Empire lost key regions of land during its downfall when Greece won independence in 1830 after a revolt, the Congress of Berlin declared the independence of Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria in 1878, and losing nearly all their conquered territories in Europe during the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913. The Ottoman Turks entered the First World War in 1914 on the side of the Central Powers that included Germany and Austria-Hungary and were defeated in 1918. Under a treaty agreement, most Ottoman territories were divided between Britain, France, Greece, and Russia. The Ottoman Empire officially ended in 1922 when the title of Ottoman Sultan was eliminated. Turkey was declared a republic in 1923 and the Caliphate was abolished in 1924.

The Ottoman Empire was replaced by a significantly smaller country simply known as Turkey and several smaller nations were born out of land in the Middle East, including the states of Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the idea of Palestine. At this time, the al-Saud family, which seized Ottoman territory in Arabia and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, began the region’s transformation.

Albania became an independent nation for the first time in over 400 years. The Armenian Genocide laid the ground for the more-homogeneous nation-state that eventually became the Republic of Turkey. The Turkish government denies recognition of the Genocide and contends that, although atrocities took place, there was no official policy of extermination implemented against the Armenian people as a group.

How Anti-Humanism Is Gaining Ground

“We must act now [by] having fewer children” to prevent environmental catastrophe, including the extinction of millions of species. That’s according to a recent CNN segment on the newly released report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. To emphasize the supposed link between population growth and a planetary disaster, CNN interviewed the Stanford University biologist and author of the 1968 bestselling book, The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich.

Ehrlich, who has been warning of a link between overpopulation and a series of environmental catastrophes for over five decades, has previously stated that Earth can only sustain 500 million people. There are currently over 7.7 billion people on the planet. Surely there are better ways to deal with environmental problems than reducing the human race by 94 percent. Alas, in spite of Ehrlich’s long record of failed predictions, more and more people are embracing his anti-humanist agenda.

Whether it’s Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s questioning the morality of childbearing, a birth-strike movement that encourages people to forego parenthood despite the “grief that [they say they] feel as a result,” or political commentator Bill Maher claiming, “I can’t think of a better gift to our planet than pumping out fewer humans to destroy it,” a misanthropic philosophy known as “anti-natalism” is going increasingly mainstream.

The logical conclusion of this anti-humanist ideology is, depressingly, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (Vhemt). According to its founder, activist Les Knight, Vhemt (pronounced “vehement”) is gaining steam. “In the last year,” Knight told the Daily Mail, “I’ve seen more and more articles about people choosing to remain child-free or to not add more to their existing family than ever. I’ve been collecting these stories and last year was just a groundswell of articles, and, in addition, there have been articles about human extinction.”

Over 2,000 new people have “liked” the movement’s Facebook page since January and, more importantly, the number of people fulfilling the movement’s goals (regardless of any affiliation with the movement itself) is growing. The U.S. birth rate is at an all-time low. According to the latest figures from the Center for Disease Control, the total U.S. fertility rate for 2017 was 1.77 babies per woman (i.e., below the replacement rate of 2.1 babies per woman needed to maintain the current population).

Recent examples of writings that are warming to the idea of human extinction include the New Yorker’s “The Case for Not Being Born,” NBC News’ “Science proves kids are bad for Earth. Morality suggests we stop having them,” and the New York Times’ “Would Human Extinction Be a Tragedy?” which muses that, “It may well be, then, that the extinction of humanity would make the world better off.” Last month, the progressive magazine FastCompany released a disturbing video entitled, “Why Having Kids Is the Worst Thing You Can Do for the Planet.”

Some anti-natalists are not content with promoting the voluntary reduction of birth rates, and would prefer to hurry the process along with government intervention. Various prominent environmentalists, from Johns Hopkins University bioethicist Travis Rieder to science popularizer and entertainer Bill Nye, support the introduction of special taxes or other state-imposed penalties for having “too many” children. In 2015, Bowdoin College’s Sarah Conly published a book advocating a “one-child” policy, like the one China abandoned following disastrous consequences including female infanticide and a destabilizing gender ratio of 120 boys per 100 girls, which left around 17 percent of China’s young men unable to find a Chinese wife. Even after that policy’s collapse, she maintains it was “a good thing.”

Modern-day anti-humanism emerged in the 1970s, midwifed by a doomy strain of environmental pessimism led by Ehrlich (but with intellectual antecedents dating back to Thomas Malthus in the 18th century). Ehrlich’s widely read The Population Bomb originally opened with the lines, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

Thanks to human ingenuity in the form of the Green Revolution, that didn’t happen. The challenge of feeding a growing population led instead to technological innovation and that produced a solution: higher agricultural productivity and falling food prices. Far from leading to starvation, more humans exchanging ideas and innovating have ensured that the supply of food rose to meet growing demand. Ehrlich quietly removed his failed prognostication from subsequent editions of his book, but his ideas caught on among some strands of the environmentalist movement.

Undeterred, Ehrlich and many likeminded doomsayers are still claiming that disaster is imminent, despite their previous predictions repeatedly failing to materialize. Just last year, Ehrlich compared human population growth to the spread of cancer, informing The Guardian, “It is a near certainty in the next few decades, and the risk is increasing continually as long as perpetual growth of the human enterprise remains the goal of economic and political systems … As I’ve said many times, ‘perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell.’”

Once anti-humanism had infected the environmental movement, it soon spread through parts of the political Left. Robert Zubrin’s book Merchants of Despair gives an overview of the partial reversal of the Left's traditional commitment to advancing the human condition, in favor of a project that viewed humanity as a plague upon the Earth,

Instead of The Grapes of Wrath, they carried copies of The Population Bomb … Instead of “Stop the War,” their buttons read “Stop at two” [children]; instead of “Power to the people,” their slogan was “People pollute.”

These anti-natalists believe that a world without humans, or with significantly fewer of them, would eventually revert to a pollution-free paradise with abundant natural resources.

As one human extinction proponent put it just last month in a letter to his local paper, “In approximately 20,000 years after human extinction, this magnificent resistant biosphere will return to its perfection.” If humanity fails to reduce its numbers, extinction proponents fear resource shortages and environmental catastrophe. “How could anybody,” an official Vhemt member, Gwynn Mackellen, wondered aloud to The Guardian, “produce a new human when the effects of humans are very obvious, I feel, and the situation is getting worse.”

These extinction advocates, however, have misunderstood the evidence about population growth’s true impact on the planet. The late University of Maryland economist Julian Simon rejected the idea of overpopulation as a problem in his 1981 book The Ultimate Resource. He believed that, on the contrary, more people in the world means more people to solve problems. “There is no physical or economic reason,” he wrote, “why human resourcefulness and enterprise cannot forever continue to respond to impending shortages and existing problems with new expedients that, after an adjustment period, leave us better off than before the problem arose.”

In 1980, Simon made a bet with Ehrlich. Ehrlich would choose a “basket” of raw materials that he expected to become scarcer in the coming years. At the end of a specified time period, if the inflation-adjusted price of the basket was higher than at the beginning of the period, that would indicate the materials had indeed become scarcer and Ehrlich would win the wager; if the price was lower, that would mean the resources had instead become more abundant, and Simon would win. The stakes would be the ultimate price difference of the basket at the beginning and end of the time period. Simon ultimately won, and Ehrlich duly sent him a check for the price difference.

New research, inspired by the Ehrlich-Simon wager, has further confirmed that, contrary to the anti-humanists’ claims, population growth goes hand-in-hand with more abundant resources. Consider the amount of time it takes an average worker to earn enough to buy a basket of common commodities-the “time-price” of those items. The Simon Abundance Index found that between 1980 and 2017, “the time-price of our basket of 50 basic commodities declined by 0.934 percent for every one percent increase in population. That means that every additional human being born on our planet seems to be making resources proportionately more plentiful for the rest of us.”

There are some notable environmentalists who recognize the fact that humans are capable of creating abundance instead of scarcity. Environmentalists who take the rational and techno-optimistic view, sometimes called “enlightenment environmentalists” or “ecomodernists,” still believe in humanity’s ability to tackle environmental problems with innovation and ingenuity. Examples include Harvard University’s Steven Pinker and the Breakthrough Institute’s Michael Shellenberger, who both hold that technologies such as nuclear power can reduce emissions. And the research of Rockefeller University environmental science professor Jesse H. Ausubel, who was integral to setting up the world’s first climate change conference in Geneva in 1979, has shown how technological progress can allow nature to rebound, even while food and other resources have become more plentiful.

Unfortunately, ecomodernists appear to be a minority within the environmental movement. Too many people still agree with Ehrlich that humans are analogous to cancer cells and long for the reduction or even extinction of our species. One third of Americans in the millennial generation say they are deeply concerned about the environmental impact of having children. Not that long ago, well within the living memory of a millennial such as myself, a 2002 episode of Aaron Sorkin’s popular political drama The West Wing could still quip that “Death is bad” remained a praiseworthy left-wing position. The scriptwriter took it for granted that everyone ought to be in favor of human flourishing. If only that were still the case.


About the Author

Chelsea Follett is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute and managing editor of Human Progress.

The Existential Threat of Pandemic Pathogens: Part 2

There's lots of other things to think about when you think about infectious disease. Helminths, ectoparasites, amoeba, non-carbon based, so that's something when you talk about the mission to Mars, and thinking about how you're going to deal with organisms that may or may not come back there.

So there's lots of different things to think about, but really our consensus was that viruses are most likely going to be the GCBR agent, because of their mutability and their rapidity of spread, and their lack of an antiviral.

But when you get into viruses, there's so many viruses. There's lots of different rules and exceptions. Would the virus's genes be RNA, or DNA? Will it copy itself in the cytoplasm of a cell or will it be in the nucleus? Will it have a segmented genome like flu? Flu is one of the most prolific viruses, and the reason why it's so good at infecting people is because it can shuffle its genes, because they're all on a segment, and it can basically be like a deck of cards that switches different genes. So that's something that is really important to think about, whether it's segmented versus non-segmented. Does it have a really big genome like MERS and SARS? Or is it a very small genome?

And then what about these ones that are spread by mosquitoes? They get very high levels of the blood in people, are those the kind of viruses that are gonna be able to cause GCBR? In just a couple of headlines a monkey pox, which is a DNA virus that people are very nervous about in the wake of the smallpox eradication, people aren't vaccinating for smallpox routinely anymore, now monkey pox has resurged and the vaccine was protective against monkey pox.

So when you think about viruses, there's lots of different things to think about. Probably when you think about GCBR-level risks, flu goes to the top of this list, because it's done it so many times before. And we do have this scare right now that's been going on since probably the 1990s, regarding avian influenza. That's a picture from my local county fair in my hometown outside of Pittsburgh.

And when you think of avian flu, one of the scariest versions of this is H7N9. We're right now in the sixth wave, but in the fifth wave we saw some very, very scary things happen. You saw changes showing this virus being more likely to be able to transmit between humans, we've seen antiviral resistance in this strain, we've seen the genetics of the strain change so much that the vaccine that's stockpiled, there was a mismatch. And we've seen it evolve high pathogenicity in chickens.

This is the CDC's ranking of viruses. A and B are both H7N9. So it's at the highest risk for emergency impact. So this is probably one of the scariest viruses that we face. And it meets a lot of those criteria that we talked about.

When you look at the steps in pandemic emergence, there's a bunch of steps that a virus has to do, this is specific for influenza. We're already down to around 3 to 4. The infection is replicating sufficiently to produce infectious virus, but we're seeing very stuttered human transmission. But we're getting down that road with H7N9.

So this isn't something that's very theoretical, what I'm talking about, this is something that we're dealing with today, now, in China, with H7N9.

I think what the CDC does is they actually rank the different properties of the virus, which I think is a very good thing to do. It might not always be accurate, but it does definitely give you some framework for how to evaluate viruses, and that's what we were doing with this framework, was trying to take this type of an assessment tool of viruses, of influenza, and apply it to the whole microbial world. And that's what this new paradigm that we made was going to try to accomplish.

So what do you do when you come up with these ideas, when you come up with these types of lists of things that might cause this? You can do what CEPI did. CEPI is the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation. It's a major funder for vaccine research, and what they did is they came up with a list that they took from the WHO blueprint for research, and picked some to actually go after.

I think that's one way to do this, where you have diseases that meet this criteria, then you invest money to go into it, to develop vaccines.

People did think about space bacteria, but it's unlikely that space bacteria, if they're adapted to Mars, are going to be able to do very well in humans on Earth, because there's totally different conditions that would allow them to flourish on one planet, that wouldn't apply to another planet.

We talked to lots of people that were thinking about salamanders and frogs, which are being decimated by these sapronotic pathogens, but don't necessarily affect humans.

So a couple more conclusions there. Any microbe is capable of causing a GCBR. But we believe that RNA viruses are the most pressing and likely threat, because of their mutability, their zoonotic potential. Bacterial antimicrobial resistance is unlikely to reach GCBR levels, and GCBR level of widespread fungal disease is unlikely due to its temperature restrictions, and there are very select conditions for a prion-caused GCBR.

The last part of the talk, I just want to emphasize a few things. We're always surprised about infectious disease, and I list a bunch of them here. H1N1 coming from Mexico, zika, SARS, MERS, and there's lots of people investing in surveillance and prediction approaches.

I think there's two basic approaches. There is this global virome approach, where people will go out and sequence everything that they want to do, and try to find a list of viruses that are out there. It tells you maybe what's coming, but it's very expensive, and 99 percent of those viruses are probably not going to pose any threat to humans. Also, what if the next GCBR or the next pandemic is not viral?

So that's one way to do it. Or there's another way to do it. I think this is the way I favor. It's looking at people that are getting infected by novel diseases. Looking at people like bush meat hunters, people who work in abattoirs, looking for what's called viral chatter, things that go from the first forays of a pathogen into humans. And then, looking at different hot spots. Instead of trying to sequence things, focus on things that are actually causing infections.

And then you think about unknown diagnoses. 50% of our septic shock cases, even in the United States, don't have a diagnosis, and I think that people just treat for symptoms and not necessarily for fevers. So I think that we're going about this a little bit wrongly. I think going after these unknown etiologies, all over the world, trying to figure out where these infections are occurring and actually running things down to specific diagnoses, instead of just saying, "You've got some viral syndrome." I think that's the way to go about it.

A headline just came out of Nature a couple of days ago that really validates what we're saying, which is that you should spend much more on surveying actual infections, not on trying to predict things by viral cataloging. So, what's out there, is lots of biological dark matter. We've got lots of viruses out there, lots of bacteria out there that nobody knows about. And I think we're at the stage now, that we have this tricorder culture, that Captain Kirk is holding there from Star Trek, where Bones, the doctor, would just scan someone and know exactly what they have.

We've got lots of new technologies, and I think that you can start and figure out what disease X is going to be, and that's the new WHO nomenclature for the unknown unknown. And I do think we're at that point now, but only if we actually harness these diagnostic tests.

When you think about infectious disease risk, you have to also think about human actions and that there are human actions that can enhance pandemic potential. Mistakes, political or scientific, fears of the unknown and also, complex disasters. So, if there's a war, for example, at the same time as an infectious disease, it can raise something to a GCBR-level.

So I'm going to conclude here, people keep asking me for books to read. There are lots of people who are first trying to get into this field. These are some of the ones that I could think of, that I think are interesting. This is an article I wrote for The Atlantic, Why Hasn't Disease Wiped Out the Human Race? If you just Google that, you'll find that under my name in the Atlantic, where I try to summarize some of the stuff that I talked about here. And then, these are some interesting books that I think really give you a flavor for this, and a few other ones that I didn't have pictures of.

A Viral Storm by Nathan Wolf and Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC by McCormick, that's the book that really got me interested in all of that. It came out in 1996. And this is the book that really started for me when I was a little child. That was the one that my parents read me over and over and over again, which is the story of the rabies vaccine. So, thank you for your interest and I'm happy to take any questions in the time that's remaining, and I have office hours as well and feel free to follow me on Twitter or read my blog. Thanks again for your attention.


 About the Author

Effective Altruism is a project of The Centre for Effective Altruism, a registered charity in England and Wales. Effective altruism is changing the way we do good. Effective altruism is about answering one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most? Rather than just doing what feels right, we use evidence and careful analysis to find the very best causes to work on. But it's no use answering the question unless you act on it. Effective altruism is about following through. It's about being generous with your time and your money to do the most good you can.

The Progressive Critique of Free Markets: A Response | Part 1

The American economy today is mixed: It is partly free, vibrant, prosperous, and entrepreneurial—and partly unfree, obstructed, and lethargic. The free part is governed by the principles of our Founding and the U.S. Constitution, which safeguard private property and contract rights that permit us to gain, hold, use, and dispose of property. This legal structure has produced the most prosperous and innovative economy in human history. The unfree part of our economy, by contrast, is caused by changes—many of which are still in place today—brought about by Progressive thinkers and activists beginning in the late 19th century. To grasp what has happened, what may come, and how to revive our economic health, we must grasp the significant moral differences between the free-market political economy of the Founders and the interventionist political economy of the Progressives.

For free-market proponents, including America’s Founders, morality demands a respect for private property and contract rights. The economic system must therefore be subordinated to and consistent with property and contract rights. Men must be free to use their talents and improve their material circumstances in voluntary agreements with other men, provided they do not directly violate the right to life, liberty, and property of other people. The goals of such economic activity are individual and national prosperity. Though leery of government intervention, America’s Founders were not opposed to economic regulations. Their political economy is compatible with and requires a degree of regulation with a view to health, safety, and morals so as to prevent uses of property harmful to the rights of others and to maintain the conditions of freedom. In consequence, free-market political economy permits and even requires economic regulations to restrain commercial activity that is harmful to our moral health, such as drug trafficking and prostitution.

This approach is distinct from and should not be confused with laissez-faire economics. While laissez-faire economics is also based on private property and contract rights, it often prohibits salutary government regulations. For example, natural rights free-market economics allows state and local governments to regulate food safety and prohibit the sale of unsafe drugs, whereas many laissez-faire advocates improperly see such regulations as unjust intrusions on an individual right to voluntary exchange. Laissez-faire advocates typically argue for the complete or near-complete separation of state and economics.

The progressive reaction against free-market economics originated during the Progressive Era, a period that lasted from about 1880 to 1920. At that time, reform-minded political economists rejected the free market and the limited government bequeathed to us by the Founding Fathers. Progressive Era political economists such as Richard T. Ely, John R. Commons, and Simon Patten believed that limited government was based on a false theory of natural rights, and that private property and contract rights were therefore purely a creation of the government and not ours by nature. While they rejected natural rights and limited government on theoretical grounds, they also thought that the Founders’ political economy led to a damaging selfishness that harmed ordinary citizens. They thought the free market immoral because it harmed workers by underpaying and overworking them and, in general, by permitting the economically powerful to dictate harsh terms of employment to the economically weak. They subordinated the discipline of economics to a moral ideal of redistributive social obligation and cooperation, with the goals of more widely distributed economic benefits, the maximum flourishing of each individual, and a workplace that does not compel men to choose between being unemployed and submitting to harsh terms of employment. Like the free-market proponents they sought to replace, Progressives wanted individual and national prosperity, but believed that the free market could secure neither.

The progressive rejection of natural rights permitted them to propose a massive increase in the scope, size, and power of the federal government. They wanted intrusive and elaborate economic regulations aimed at reducing the power of businessmen, managing the economy, and improving the wages and working conditions of ordinary workers. They wanted much greater assistance for and relief from conditions harmful to the poor. They wanted government staffed by a permanent administrative bureaucracy of supposedly impartial, scientific experts. They wanted social and economic problems analyzed and resolved by elites professionally trained in the new discipline of social science. Above all, progressives wanted a broad moral reorientation away from competition and self-interest and toward cooperation and central planning.

These Progressive Era political economists were joined by progressive academics, politicians, journalists, and social justice activists. They called their movement “Progressivism” because they believed that Americans were on the cusp of a new era of progress whose goals and methods would make obsolete the political and economic thought of the past and propel us toward transformative and redemptive social, economic, and political reforms. Over time, they gradually altered America’s legal system and politics to make it more tolerant of interventionism and less accepting of natural rights and economic liberty. Their gradualism permitted them to present themselves as prudent—and thereby deflect charges of radicalism. They were careful not to devastate the economy by totally repudiating private property and contract rights. They favored a mixed economy and not a thoroughgoing socialism. In the many decades since the Progressive Era, one generation after another has been inspired by progressive visionary idealism to take up and advance the cause of progressive reform. In our day, self-described liberals and progressives in academia, think tanks, the media, and government are the heirs of these early Progressives.

Today’s interventionists are opposed by defenders of economic liberty, largely professional economists and economics professors, who regularly deploy very technical, pro-free-market economic theories to argue against intervention—often to little or no effect. Progressives have placed their economic views in the service of moral concerns and are unimpressed by pro-free-market technical refutations. If we are to recover our economic liberty, we must return to and confront the original moral arguments for progressivism made during the Progressive Era, and in particular, the belief that ordinary people cannot properly secure their interests by means of the free market. The critique of free markets as impractical and immoral was not as sound as the early Progressives imagined. As the heir to that early progressive critique, today’s progressive economics is no sounder in its rejection of free markets.


About the Author

Luigi Bradizza, PhD, is Associate Professor of Political Science at Salve Regina University and the author of Richard T. Ely’s Critique of Capitalism.