Standard of Living Is Rising, 60 Scholars Agree

November/​December 1995 • Policy Report

Despite the impression left by the news media and the environmental lobby, the world by virtually any standard is becoming more, not less, hospitable to human life. That is the message of an important new book edited by resource economist Julian L. Simon and published by the Cato Institute and Blackwell Publishers.

The State of Humanity, the product of over 60 authorities, updates and vastly expands the 1984 book The Resourceful Earth, edited by Simon and the late Herman Kahn. That book was intended to refute the influential 1980 Global Report to the President, which warned that “the world in 2000 will be more crowded, more polluted, less stable ecologically, and more vulnerable to disruption than the world we live in now.” In The Resourceful Earth, economists and scientists argued that the trends of the material conditions of the human race were all positive. As Simon writes in his introduction to The State of Humanity, “The years have been kind to our [1984] forecasts–or more importantly, the years have been good for humanity.”

The new volume assembles the work of an impressive array of experts not only in fields related to material resources but also in such areas as life expectancy, childhood mortality, health and disease, murder and suicide, and leisure time. The authors conclude that, despite the forecasters of doom, things continue to improve worldwide year by year. Other trends that persist on favorable paths include energy prices, oil supplies, nonrenewable resources, global forests, agricultural productivity, fish, farmland quality, and water and air quality. Fears about nuclear power, acid rain, global warming, stratospheric ozone, pesticides, and cancer are allayed. The final section of the book looks at public opinion on issues such as population growth and the environment.

“Every forecast of the doomsayers has turned out to be wholly wrong,” Simon writes in his introduction. “There is no convincing economic reason why these trends toward a better life should not continue indefinitely.”

The distinguished contributors include Nobel laureate Robert Fogel of the University of Chicago; energy economist Morris A. Adelman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; biologist Bruce Ames of the University of California, Berkeley; the late Aaron Wildavsky; risk assessment expert W. Kip Viscusi of Duke University; S. Fred Singer of the Science and Environment Policy Project; climatologist and Cato fellow in environmental studies Patrick J. Michaels of the University of Virginia; economist Alan Reynolds of the Hudson Institute; and Stephen Moore, Cato’s director of fiscal policy studies.