- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

Contrary to some of the glummer assessments of the 20th century, two Cato Institute scholars have published a book saying the past 100 years were indeed the best of times.

Nearly everything life expectancy, infant mortality, pollution and disease has improved dramatically since 1990, according to "It's Getting Better All the Time," by Stephen Moore and Julian L. Simon.

Mr. Simon, a Cato senior fellow, died in 1998 and Mr. Moore, director of fiscal policy at the institute, finished the book for him.

The authors present a case of life being vastly more improved for nearly everyone on the planet.

"The 19th century … was an era of tuberculosis, typhoid, sanitariums, child labor, child death, horses, horse manure, candles (still), 12-hour workdays, Jim Crow laws, tenements, slaughter houses and outhouses," they write. "Lynchings were common occurrences back then… . To live to 50 was to count one's blessings.

"For a mother to have all four of her children live to adulthood was to dramatically beat the odds of nature. About one in four American children in the 19th century perished before the age of 14. One hundred years ago, parents lived in fear of their child's dying; nowadays, middle-class suburban parents live in fear of their child's not making the county select soccer team."

Illiteracy in developing countries has plummeted from 70 percent to 20 percent in 100 years, they write. In the United States, about one in four children receives a college degree, compared with one in 20 in 1900. Before the 1920s, 1 percent of all black Americans had a college degree. Now 20 percent do.

Nearly everyone is wealthier and healthier, they write; fewer mothers die giving birth. In 1900, the maternal death rate was 100 times higher than today.

At the beginning of the century, almost no women attended college. Now more women attend college than men. In 1950, half of American female workers had a high school degree. Now 90 percent do.

Some of the biggest gains have been made in athletics. Records in pole vault, the mile and almost every track-and-field event have been broken again and again. "Even mediocre high school track runners," they write, "can run the mile faster than the world's fastest man 50 years ago."

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