- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Whenever delegates from countries around the world get together it is almost always bad news for freedom and capitalism. The U.N. Earth Summit on "sustainable development" being held in South Africa has been no exception.

So far the conference has been an all-too- predictable bashing of rich nations for holding back the poor nations. The rich nations (read the United States) are asked to do more to alleviate AIDS, more to reduce global poverty, more to protect the Earth's natural resources, more to feed the hungry, and more to stop mythical global warming. All that was left off the list was cleaning all the world's dirty laundry.

Once again we hear the moronic refrain from self-righteous and yet repressive leaders of poor nations that the U.S. with 5 percent of the world's population uses 25 percent of the world's resources. (No mention that the U.S. also produces more than 25 percent of the worldís output of AIDS drugs, food, vaccines, infant formula, humanitarian aid, and the list could go on to the bottom of the page.)

There is, overall, a false message of doom and decline in the Earth Summit, as if the Earth's eco-system is on the verge of collapse and that human beings are worse off now than in the past. It isn't true. Sure in some of the heartbreaking repressed nations of Africa things are getting worse. But in the rest of the world things are almost universally getting much better in terms of health, in terms of material progress, and in terms of a cleaner environment.

Here are some of the most encouraging trends you will not hear about among the elitist government officials gathered in South Africa this week:

• Life expectancy: In the rich countries life expectancy the broadest measure of health and a safe environment has increased by 30 years over the past century. Even in poor countries life expectancy has risen at an astonishing pace. The average resident of a poor nation can expect to live nearly twice as long as his or her 19th-century counterpart. Most of humanity enjoys better health and longevity than the richest people in the richest countries did just 100 years ago.

• Health: Parents should reflect long and hard on one statistic whenever they think life isn't treating them well these days: the death rate of children under 14 has fallen by about 95 percent since 1900. The child death rates in just the past 20 years have incredibly been halved in India, Egypt, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, South Korea, Israel and scores of other nations. Almost all the major killer diseases prior to 1900 tuberculosis, typhoid, smallpox, whooping cough, polio, malaria to name a few, have been nearly eradicated, thanks to progress in medical know-how almost all of which originated in the evil capitalist nation called the United States.

• Nutrition and diets have been improving the world over. Gale Johnson, the agriculture expert at the University of Chicago, has discovered that fewer people worldwide died from famine in the 20 century than in the 19th century not just as a percentage of the population, but in absolute numbers. That is a spectacular achievement in our ability to feed the planet, given that the world population is some 4 times higher today than 100 years ago.

• Education: The world's inhabitants are better educated, not worse, than in prior periods. Illiteracy has fallen by more than two-thirds in the U.S. and even by a greater percentage in many poor nations.

• Environment: Economic development is the best way to clean the environment. Poverty is the biggest impediment to clean air and water.

Consider the U.S.: Smog levels have declined by about 40 percent, and carbon monoxide is down nearly one-third since the 1960s even though there are nearly twice as many cars. Some of the most impressive advances in cleaning the air have been recorded in the dirtiest cities, including Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Chicago. Airborne lead is down more than 90 percent from 40 years ago. Contaminated drinking water killed hundreds of thousands of Americans annually 100 years ago, versus very few deaths today.

• Natural Resources: By any measure, natural resources have become more available rather than more scarce. Consider copper, which is representative of all the metals. The cost of a ton is only about a tenth of what it was 200 years ago. There is evidence that oil the most worrisome of resources because it is mostly burned up and therefore cannot be recycled has actually been getting cheaper to produce.

What has been the driving force behind this miraculous progress. Three words: free market capitalism. If only the intellectual elite and the power-holders around the world in South Africa this week would go home and deregulate their economies, cut tax rates, expand democracy, and cut government rules and bureaucracies, we could blaze a path to alleviating world poverty in a generation or two. If only markets, not governments, controlled the price and usage of natural resources, we would see a further abundance of food, minerals and energy enough for the entire world to share in the bounty.

The U.N. Earth Summit is based on a cancerous and discredited creed of limits to growth. It is insane to hope that people who believe in limits to growth will create the conditions that nurture growth. Even the term "sustainable development" is offensive and suggests that economic development and improving the environment are somehow incompatible which is precisely the opposite of the historical record.

Where there is economic development and capitalism, there is clean air and clean water and well-educated citizens and abundant resources and low disease rates. Where there is no capitalism, there is an abundance of these maladies.

It really is all that simple.

The only real limits to growth are created by wrongheaded conferences populated by selfish and unthinking do-gooders.

Freedom will save the planet if only governments will allow it.


Stephen Moore is president of the Club for Growth.

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