Progress. 10 reasons to look to the future with optimism
On 25 January 2018, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised the Keynote Lecture "Progress. 10 reasons to look to the future with optimism" given by Johan Norberg, economic essayist and Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute on the occasion of the presentation of the book of the same title published by Deusto, Value School and the Juan de Mariana Institute.
Johan Norberg, a Swedish economic essayist and active international lecturer, is a regular contributor to the global media and writes a column for the Metro newspaper. His works deal with entrepreneurship, freedom, economics and globalisation. He is a board member of the Mont Pelerin Society in Switzerland, an expert at the Cato Institute in Washington and a senior fellow at the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels. He has written fifteen books, of which the following have been published in Spain In defence of global capitalism (Unidad Editorial, 2005) and Financial Fiasco: How Americans' obsession with real estate and easy money caused the economic crisis (Unidad Editorial, 2015).
When you look at the dominant views in today's major economic debates, it seems as if the world is about to collapse. Some studies talk about the huge number of jobs that will be lost due to technological development; other reports emphasise the increase in income inequality in Western countries over the last thirty years; still others refer to the jobs in industrialised nations that globalisation has caused to disappear and the factories that have moved to places with cheap labour; still others question the future of social protection, and so on and so forth. This depressing picture in the public debate seems to justify William Goodwin's claim that economics is the dismal science. Johan Norberg disagrees with this pessimistic view and invites us to look at the future with more optimistic eyes. Norberg, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, refutes the idea that the pessimist is a well-informed optimist, because he bases his optimism precisely on the information he extracts from the data, especially when he analyses them with a historical perspective, and he explained this at the conference that took place on 25 January 2018 at the Rafael del Pino Foundation, on the occasion of the presentation of his book Progreso. Ten reasons to look to the future with optimism. Norberg does not believe that any time in the past was better than the present, but quite the opposite. He takes the drama out of negative economic views and invites us to reflect that the world is not as bad as it seems, especially thanks to advances in science and technology. What happens is that change solves some problems while new ones appear and this leads us to think that we were better off then than we are now, especially when that now is marked by a frenetic pace of change. Faced with this, human beings tend to feel impotent, depressed, incapable of dealing with what is supposedly coming, and this leads them to think that they were better off before. However, when you analyse the data, and you do it with a historical perspective, you can see that in the past human beings were far from being better off than they are now. This is what he explains in his book and, to justify his position, he gave two of the ten reasons he gives in the text: the improvement in life expectancy and the reduction in poverty. In the last two hundred years, life expectancy has increased from 35 years to current levels, where there is no longer a country, no matter how poor, that does not exceed 40 years of age, when previously none reached that level. In the West, it even exceeds 80 years of age. And this is possible because people neither starve to death, as in the past, nor die of diseases that today can be cured with a simple antibiotic. Two hundred years ago, too, 95% of the world's population lived in extreme poverty, a situation defined today as living on less than two dollars a day. But the industrial revolution arrived, the division of labour appeared, free trade came and things changed radically, to the point that extreme poverty has fallen to 9%, when 25 years ago it affected 37% of humanity, and it has done so thanks to globalisation. In fact, every day 1,400 people around the world are lifted out of poverty and we have two billion people doubling their income every ten years. When these figures are put forward, the opponents of globalisation immediately try to defend their position by putting forward other figures that talk about the increase in income inequality in the world. And Norberg again qualifies the sense of the criticism, firstly because inequalities between countries have been reduced and, secondly, because those countries that were more egalitarian in the past were so because they had very low incomes, that is, they were egalitarian, but in poverty. Moreover, when people emerge from poverty, not everyone does so at the same rate, so inequalities increase. But Norberg says that what is relevant is not that, but the reduction of poverty. Thanks to poverty reduction, people have more access to food and improve their nutrition. They also have access to medical care, medicines, surgery, etc., because technological developments and the actions of entrepreneurs have reduced the prices of things that are now part of our daily lives, of our well-being. This has led to an increase in life expectancy from the age of 35, to the point where a child born today has a very high probability of reaching retirement age. And globalisation makes it easier to pass on the knowledge, the way of using things, that lies behind it all. Freedoms play a key role in these achievements, in particular three of them: the freedom to explore new knowledge (about the body, about algorithms, etc.), the freedom to experiment with it through new technologies and business models, and the freedom to exchange across knowledge and technology frontiers. With this, the chances of solving the world's problems are greater because there are more people thinking and working on them thanks to these three freedoms. However, these freedoms are threatened by populism, both right-wing and left-wing, because people do not understand the progress we are making. On the contrary, they only see threats and because they feel threatened, they ask for protection. People believe, from the news, that everything is terrible and social networks make this more dangerous. They ask for protection because, as a survival instinct, human beings remember bad times better. But we must not forget that progress is based on freedom, and we cannot take it for granted if freedom disappears or is restricted.
The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.
The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.