onsdag 13 februari 2013

The Rational Optimist - A better today: the unprecedented present

I det första kapitlet av The Rational Optimist beskriver Matt Ridley hur otroligt fantastiskt bra vi har det jämfört med hur det var förr. Kärnan av utvecklingen måste ses som rejält positiv:
Since 1800, the population of the world has multiplied six times, yet average life expectancy has more than doubled and real income has risen more than nine times. Taking a shorter perspective, in 2005, compared with 1955, the average human being on Planet Earth earned nearly three times as much money (corrected for inflation), ate one-third more calories of food, buried one-third as many of her children and could expect to live one-third longer. She was less likely to die as a result of war, murder, childbirth, accidents, tornadoes, flooding, famine, whooping cough, tuberculosis, malaria, diphtheria, typhus, typhoid, measles, smallpox, scurvy or polio. She was less likely, at any given age, to get cancer, heart disease or stroke. She was more likely to be literate and to have finished school. She was more likely to own a telephone, a flush toilet, a refrigerator and a bicycle. All this during a half-century when the world population has more than doubled, so that far from being rationed by population pressure, the goods and services available to the people of the world have expanded. It is, by any standard, an astonishing human achievement.

Averages conceal a lot. But even if you break down the world into bits, it is hard to find any region that was worse off in 2005 than it was in 1955. Over that half-century, real income per head ended a little lower in only six countries (Afghanistan, Haiti, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia), life expectancy in three (Russia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe), and infant survival in none. In the rest they have rocketed upward. Africas rate of improvement has been distressingly slow and patchy compared with the rest of the world, and many southern African countries saw life expectancy plunge in the 1990s as the AIDS epidemic took hold (before recovering in recent years). There were also moments in the half-century when you could have caught countries in episodes of dreadful deterioration of living standards or life chances – China in the 1960s, Cambodia in the 1970s, Ethiopia in the 1980s, Rwanda in the 1990s, Congo in the 2000s, North Korea throughout. Argentina had a disappointingly stagnant twentieth century. But overall, after fifty years, the outcome for the world is remarkably, astonishingly, dramatically positive. The average South Korean lives twenty-six more years and earns fifteen times as much income each year as he did in 1955 (and earns fifteen times as much as his North Korean counter part). The average Mexican lives longer now than the average Briton did in 1955. The average Botswanan earns more than the average Finn did in 1955. Infant mortality is lower today in Nepal than it was in Italy in 1951. The proportion of Vietnamese living on less than $2 a day has dropped from 90 per cent to 30 per cent in twenty years.

The rich have got richer, but the poor have done even better. The poor in the developing world grew their consumption twice as fast as the world as a whole between 1980 and 2000. The Chinese are ten times as rich, one-third as fecund and twenty-eight years longer-lived than they were fifty years ago. Even Nigerians are twice as rich, 25 per cent less fecund and nine years longer-lived than they were in 1955. Despite a doubling of the world population, even the raw number of people living in absolute poverty (defined as less than a 1985 dollar a day) has fallen since the 1950s. The percentage living in such absolute poverty has dropped by more than half – to less than 18 per cent. That number is, of course, still all too horribly high, but the trend is hardly a cause for despair: at the current rate of decline, it would hit zero around 2035 – though it probably wont. The United Nations estimates that poverty was reduced more in the last fifty years than in the previous 500. (s. 17-18)
Alltså, de allra flesta har fått det bättre runt om hela världen. Utvecklingen har inte varit så bra som den skulle ha kunnat vara, givetvis, men hur världen verkligen ser ut nu är en oumbärlig kunskap.

Lite senare i boken beskriver Ridley även hur bättre det har blivit genom att visa hur mycket mindre tid vissa produkter kostar:
This is what prosperity is: the increase in the amount of goods or services you can earn with the same amount of work. As late as the mid-1800s, a stagecoach journey from Paris to Bordeaux cost the equivalent of a clerks monthly wages; today the journey costs a day or so and is fifty times as fast. A half-gallon of milk cost the average American ten minutes of work in 1970, but only seven minutes in 1997. A three-minute phone call from New York to Los Angeles cost ninety hours of work at the average wage in 1910; today it costs less than two minutes. A kilowatt-hour of electricity cost an hour of work in 1900 and five minutes today. In the 1950s it took thirty minutes work to earn the price of a McDonalds cheeseburger; today it takes three minutes. Healthcare and education are among the few things that cost more in terms of hours worked now than they did in the 1950s. (s. 25)
Men, har detta inte skett just genom att vi förstört världen vi bor på?
Well all right, says the pessimist, but at what cost? The environment is surely deteriorating. In somewhere like Beijing, maybe. But in many other places, no. In Europe and America rivers, lakes, seas and the air are getting cleaner all the time. The Thames has less sewage and more fish. Lake Eries water snakes, on the brink of extinction in the 1960s, are now abundant. Bald eagles have boomed. Pasadena has few smogs. Swedish birds eggs have 75 per cent fewer pollutants in them than in the 1960s. American carbon monoxide emissions from transport are down 75 per cent in twenty-five years. Today, a car emits less pollution traveling at full speed than a parked car did in 1970 from leaks. (s. 20)
Ren miljö är något åtråvärt, det är något vi vill ha. Men dess värde är inte absolut; om det vore något man själv fick besluta om att investera i är det ganska troligt att man inte skulle göra det om det ledde till en mycket lägre inkomst. Men, när ens inkomst är högre är man beredd att bry sig om mer om den, vilket kanske är en förklaring till att miljön faktiskt förbättras i de rika länderna!

Men, är det verkligen bättre att leva längre nu, innebär det inte bara fler år av sjukdomar och elände?
That is all very well, say pessimists, but what about quality of life in old age? Sure, people live longer, but only by having years of suffering and disability added to their lives. Not so. In one American study, disability rates in people over 65 fell from 26.2 per cent to 19.7 per cent between 1982 and 1999 – at twice the pace of the decrease in the mortality rate. Chronic illness before death is if anything shortening slightly, not lengthening, despite better diagnosis and more treatments – the compression of morbidity is the technical term. People are not only spending a longer time living, but a shorter time dying. (s. 21)
Men, även om inkomsterna har stigit, även för de fattiga, nog har väl de rika blivit otroligt mycket mer rikare än de fattiga? Ja, sedan 1970-talet har tendensen mot ett mer ekonomiskt jämlikt samhälle stannat av, men inte enbart av negativa anledningar:
The reasons for this are many, but they are not all causes for regret. For example, high earners now marry each other more than they used to (which concentrates income), immigration has increased, trade has been freed, cartels have been opened up to entrepreneurial competition and the skill premium has grown in the work place. All these are inequality-boosting, but they stem from liberalising trends. (s. 22)
Och hur lyckliga är folk av all denna välstånd, blir vi verkligen lyckligare? Den traditionella åsiktenbland ekonomer, sedan Richard Easterlin publicerade den första artikeln i ämnet 1974, är att alla blir lyckliga av en högre inkomst. Fast bara upp till en viss nivå. Därefter blir folk bara glada av pengar om de är relativt sett mer rika än andra, vilket innebär att alla i samhället inte blir rikare. Det finns dock forskning som pekar på att den här bilden är felaktig och Ridley ser den som mer trovärdig, att rikedom tenderar att göra folk rikare. Han kvalificerar dock det påståendet:
There are some exceptions. Americans currently show no trend towards increasing happiness. Is this because the rich had got richer but ordinary Americans had not prospered much in recent years? Or because America continually draws in poor (unhappy) immigrants, which keeps the happiness quotient low? Who knows? It was not because the Americans are too rich to get any happier: Japanese and Europeans grew steadily happier as they grew richer despite being often just as rich as Americans. Moreover, surprisingly, American women have become less happy in recent decades despite getting richer.
Så, samhället håller på och blir rikare. Varför? Genom att vi alla specialiserar oss på att producera någon enskild grej, och sedan säljer den till marknaden (alla andra i samhället) och på marknaden köper de saker man själv vill ha. Bevisen för att sådan arbetsfördelning är bra är lätta att hitta, men Ridley tar upp två intressanta fall. Det ena är nog bekant: Thomas Thwaites försökte göra en brödrost helt på egenhand, vilket han misslyckades totalt med. Det andra fallet är också intressant:
Kelly Cobb of Drexel University set out to make a man’s suit entirely from materials produced within 100 miles of her home. It took twenty artisans a total of 500 manhours to achieve it and even then they had to get 8 per cent of the materials from outside the 100-mile radius. If they worked for another year, they could get it all from within the limit, argued Cobb. To put it plainly, local sourcing multiplied the cost of a cheap suit roughly a hundred-fold. (s. 37)
Det Kelly Cobb och Thomas Thwaites försökte göra var att producera, i olika grad, helt på egen hand. Helt autarkiskt, utan att förlita sig på de samhällets arbetsfördelning. Och det gjorde deras ansträngningar så mycket mindre effektiva. Varför är då arbetsfördelning bra?

Den här uppdelningen av arbete och specialisering innebär en specialisering av kunskap, så att vi alla blir experter på något litet område och delar med oss av den kunskapen till alla andra i utbyte mot att använda deras kunskap. Deras nya upptäckter kan du ta del av, likt hela marknaden kan ta del av dina upptäckter. Och hela systemet fungerar utan att det finns en övergripande plan av vad som skall konsumeras och produceras. Det som finns är en ofantlig mängd individuella planer vilka koordineras på marknaden.
‘In civilized society,’ wrote Adam Smith, an individual ‘stands at all times in need of the co-operation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons.’ In Leonard Read’s classic 1958 essay ‘I, Pencil’, an ordinary pencil describes how it came to be made by millions of people, from loggers in Oregon and graphite miners in Sri Lanka to coffee bean growers in Brazil (who supplied the coffee drunk by the loggers). ‘There isn’t a single person in all these millions,’ the pencil concludes, ‘including the president of the pencil company, who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how.’ The pencil stands amazed at ‘the absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being.’

This is what I mean by the collective brain. As Friedrich Hayek first clearly saw, knowledge ‘never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess’. (s. 40)
Detta innebär att där det inte finns någon arbetsfördelning, där finns det inte något välstånd. Men, skall det ändå inte ha varit bättre förr, för jägar- och samlarsamhällena? Vissa saker verkar ha varit bra, som att de åt en rätt bra diet, men varje grupp låg nästan ständigt i krig med andra grupper.
Here is the data. From the !Kung in the Kalahari to the Inuit in the Arctic, two-thirds of modern hunter-gatherers have proved to be in a state of almost constant tribal warfare, and 87 per cent to experience annual war. War is a big word for dawn raids, skirmishes and lots of posturing, but because these happen so often, death rates are high – usually around 30 per cent of adult males dying from homicide. The warfare death rate of 0.5 per cent of the population per year that was typical of many hunter-gatherer societies would equate to two billion people dying during the twentieth century (instead of 100 million). At a cemetery uncovered at Jebel Sahaba, in Egypt, dating from 14,000 years ago, twenty-four of the fifty-nine bodies had died from unhealed wounds caused by spears, darts and arrows. Forty of these bodies were women or children. Women and children generally do not take part in warfare – but they are frequently the object of the fighting. To be abducted as a sexual prize and see your children killed was almost certainly not a rare female fate in hunter-gatherer society. After Jebel Sahaba, forget the Garden of Eden; think Mad Max. (s. 45-46)
Så, vi har det ändå rätt så bra ställt. Så bra som människor någonsin haft det. Men, hur uppstod det hela? Det tar Ridley upp i nästa kapitel.

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