On Wednesday, President Obama stated an irrefutable fact: the state of humanity is better than any time before. He said,
…if you had to choose any moment to be born in human history, not knowing what your position was gonna be, who you were gonna be, you’d choose this time. The world is less violent than it has ever been. It is healthier than it has ever been. It is more tolerant than it has ever been. It is better fed than it has ever been. It is more educated than it has ever been. Terrible things happen around the world every single day but the trend lines of progress are unmistakable.
This is merry news, especially since he is helping to spread the message of Cato’s new website, HumanProgress.org. And who could help to spread it faster than the leader of the free world?
His understanding of the reasons for improvements in human well-being is unclear, though he seems to imply that people, left to their own devices, will try to improve their lot:
(T)he trend lines of progress are unmistakable. And the reason is because each successive generation tries to learn from previous mistakes and push us, the course of history, in a better direction.
The President is correct in recognizing that progress is most commonly realized when people are left free to pursue their enlightened self-interest. Consider the following examples:
Life expectancy and economic freedom were both higher in Venezuela than in Chile in the 1970s. As Venezuela became less economically free and Chile became more economically free, Chile caught up with Venezuela and eventually overtook it. Today, life expectancy in liberal Chile is higher than in socialist Venezuela.
Consider also China’s reforms: As China embraced free market policies, its poverty rate has plummeted.
Obama did his young audience a service in teaching them that the world is the best it has ever been. These massive improvements were the result of no one’s intention, other than the intention to better one’s own life through free markets. Look no further than North and South Korea, East and West Germany, and Taiwan and pre-reform China for evidence of the power of free markets to create sustainable development.