Sunday, March 8, 2015

Heinlein Quote On Well-Being

I am not sure which of Robert Heinlein’s works this came from, but it speaks to the improvement of well-being in human history:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as "bad luck”.

Blame Glenn Harlan Reynolds for the lack of a better citation. I drew this from his USAToday piece entitled “France’s Demographic Bad Luck” which discusses the skyrocketing rates of emmigration of French Jews to Israel.

More generally, outside of macroeconomics, people tend to view economic growth as an entitlement provided for them by society: living standards have always improved in my lifetime, therefore there’s no threat that they won’t continue to improve.

If you believe that, go talk to Argentinians.

If you don’t believe that, begin to recognize that economic growth derives from a set of institutions that aren’t permanent, and weren’t planned by politicians and bureaucrats. But politicians and bureaucrats are quite willing to pull those institutions down if they think it will get them votes or perquisites. And then they’ll blame bad people (e.g., it’s Bush’s fault), or bad luck (e.g., our current expansion being weak), or bad influences (e.g., China’s crackdown on western influences just as Chinese women engage in birth tourism), bad foreigners (e.g., the current Germans are bad because some Germans used to be Nazis but current Greeks are good because some Greeks used to be major western philosophers), or bad hypothetical bogeymen (e.g., we need to enforce net neutrality now because it hasn’t been violated yet).

Via Newmark’s Door.

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