This is the time of year for good cheer and optimism. Most everything will get better — health, life spans, economic prosperity, etc. For the past three years, most of mankind has suffered directly or indirectly from the pandemic, gross economic mismanagement, and the war in Ukraine.
Throughout human history, there have been many periods when incompetent leaders or worse have made a mess. But then, changes were made, and things got much better. That is bound to happen again — and life spans will increase, and most people will become wealthier. In 1860, the average American life expectancy was 39, which doubled by 2020 to 79. The world’s poorest nations have experienced some of the greatest gains in life expectancy, with China, for example, going from 44 to 76 years in the period from 1960 to 2017, a 73% gain. Similar gains have occurred in India and many other poor nations. Life expectancy is a good proxy for health.
Advances in the medical sciences are accelerating, and many argue that mankind is even close to solving the “aging” problem. Most diseases will soon be cured, as was done with smallpox, polio, chickenpox, etc. Cancer, heart disease and neurological conditions will probably be “cured” or prevented in the next several decades.
Doomsayers have been arguing for more than 30 years that climate change will soon kill most of us. But their predictions of rapidly rising sea and temperature levels have been almost uniformly excessive. The Arctic ice sheet has not disappeared, nor has snow disappeared from the U.S. and Europe. More balanced climate models now indicate that the changes will be very gradual over the next century so that humans can easily adapt and engineer to abate local problems, as mankind has since the end of the last ice age. This will provide plenty of time to find ways to bring carbon emissions down to a sustainable level without unduly damaging the world economy or destroying basic liberties.
The cost of energy and energy emission problems are likely to be solved in the next three decades. New-generation nuclear fission reactors, which are much safer and less costly to build, are ready to be constructed as soon as the political class starts acting like adults and gives permission. Even better, a successful fusion reactor test has just been announced, which produces more fuel than it consumes, and is safer without producing nuclear waste. Great advances are also being made in geothermal energy capture. All of this means that in the next several decades, low-cost, nonpolluting, almost unlimited electricity will be the norm. Unsightly, noisy, bird-destroying windmills will be found only in museums as examples of technologies that failed.
Public education has been a disaster, with huge increases in spending at the primary, secondary and college levels but no real improvement in test scores. The money has been burned up by a rapid rise in the number of “administrators” in schools at all levels and the never-ending growth of non-education programs and activities. The cure, as in most other areas of life, is competition. Educational choice is becoming increasingly popular. States like Florida have embraced it and are already showing better outcomes at a lower cost.
Higher education will be going through radical reform. Employers are offering lower wages and jobs to students who majored in grievance studies (i.e., sociology, racial theory, etc.), even at well-known schools. Those with woke attitudes are often troublemakers rather than productive workers. On the positive side, any motivated, reasonably bright person anywhere in the world who knows basic mathematics and English can go online and take almost any course or study in any discipline free of charge (which is a type of real utopia). Certification programs in many fields are growing rapidly, enabling people to demonstrate what they learned, regardless of how they learned it. Costly college degrees are becoming less valuable and will wither as schools become indoctrination camps rather than places to learn free thinking and critical reasoning.
The educational priesthood is about to get a good dose of painful reality. Educational entrepreneurs are increasingly offering a better and more useful knowledge product at a fraction of the cost of the traditional four-year university.
The great economic miracle, based on free markets and private property rights that lifted most of the world’s population out of poverty in the last half century, will revive — despite the current economic downturn. Most people will reach a level of prosperity in the coming decades that only the very rich enjoy today.
Every few decades, from at least the time of the French Revolution 230 years ago, there appear a group of self-appointed “intellectuals” who claim that if you give them power, they will provide equality and prosperity to all through their brand of socialism. Of course, it never works — and ends in economic chaos and tyranny. But despite its repeated failures, new socialists come along promising utopia to the economically and historically ignorant. Some always fall for the con game, and paradoxically, they are often the ones with the most formal education — and those who should know better — such as those in the news media.
The good news is the current madness shall pass, as it always does. Those who have learned from history and the creative and the entrepreneurs will rise out of the ashes and make life better. So, be optimistic.
• Richard W. Rahn is chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.