Author: Marian L. Tupy

Goodbye to Hong Kong?

I shall always regret not visiting Hong Kong while it was still under British control or while the city remained the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.” For reasons I will get into below, I feel a special affection for the city, and will mourn the loss of its political autonomy and, potentially, the end of its economic prosperity. For classical liberals, Hong Kong had been a beacon of hope for half a century. Peter the Great is said to have built St Petersburg to be “Russia’s window to the west.” Hong Kong was supposed to be liberalism’s window to the future. The city’s fabled wealth was built on four pillars of classical liberalism: limited government, rule of law, free trade, and fiscal probity. And, it worked! We hoped that the rest of the world would follow a similar path. When Britain obtained the territory following the First Opium War (1839 – 1842), British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston denounced the acquisition as a “barren rock with nary a house upon it” …

Beware Your Innate Pessimist

With the COVID-19 lockdown upon us, anxiety and depression are on the rise. It would be irresponsible to downplay the risks that the novel coronavirus poses to America’s health and economy. But excessive pessimism is also in no one’s interest. Problems and their purported solutions must be evaluated dispassionately. Evidence, reason, and science rather than intuition or emotion must guide us during this difficult moment. Unfortunately, some of our most basic impulses evolved at a time when the world was very different from the one we now inhabit. “Our modern skulls house a stone age mind,” note Leda Cosmides and John Tooby from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Consequently, that mind can mislead us as we address today’s problems, including those of anxiety and depression, in ways that can have unintended and harmful consequences. What sort of “habits of the mind” have we developed over the hundreds of millennia we spent living in a world that was more inhospitable than our own? First, we have evolved to prioritize bad news. “Organisms that treat threats …

Land Repossessions Were Disastrous for Zimbabwe. Will South Africa Repeat the Same Mistakes?

On March 6th, 2020, the government of Zimbabwe “gazetted new legislation under which former landowners may opt for repossession [of confiscated land] or monetary compensation [for confiscated land]. The new regulations will apply to indigenous farmers [i.e., Zimbabwean nationals] whose farms were appropriated, as well as to those whose land was [originally and supposedly] protected by bilateral treaties.” So reported press in South Africa (a country I shall return to below). For now, let me confess to mixed emotions. First, reports from Zimbabwe ought to be treated with skepticism. The rule of law in that country does not exist. So, whether the government gazettes a reasonable sounding legislation or not may prove to be irrelevant in the long run. Second, I am elated. I have been writing about the catastrophic moral and practical consequences of land expropriation in Zimbabwe for exactly two decades. The official reversal of “land-reform” in that country is a source of deep personal and professional satisfaction. Let me start there… Beginning in 2000, the government of the late Zimbabwean dictator Robert …

How To Think About Our Problems

As I travel around the United States, giving presentations on human progress, I am encouraged by the enthusiasm with which the audiences receive my message of the improving state of the world. Still, someone in the audience invariably asks, “What worries you?” That’s understandable. Our species has evolved to see the glass of human existence as half empty. To plan for problems ahead, such as droughts, was a better survival strategy than expecting an eternity of bountiful harvests. Here I attempt to outline different types of problems that we will face in the future and evaluate the degree of “alarm” with which those problems should be treated. First, consider known problems with known solutions. Global warming, for example, appears to be a problem that’s partly caused by excessive emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. A third of all U.S. CO2 emissions come from energy generation. But, much of that energy could be produced in a more environmentally friendly way with zero CO2-emitting nuclear power. Unfortunately, irrational fear of nuclear fission and excessive regulatory …

The Battle to Feed All of Humanity Is Over. Humanity Has Won

As the editor of a website documenting human progress, I am sometimes asked to name the one statistic that best exemplifies the improving state of the world. The rising life expectancy immediately comes to mind, for to a dead person, all the other indicators of human well-being are irrelevant. Luckily, almost everyone knows that people today live much longer than our ancestors did. As such, I often end up talking about food consumption. For millennia, people lived on the edge of starvation. Today, starvation has disappeared outside of war-zones. Let’s look at some data. In his 1968 book The Population Bomb, Stanford University biologist and “overpopulation” alarmist Paul Ehrlich famously predicted that “The battle to feed all of humanity is over … hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Between 1968 and 2017, the world’s population increased by 113 percent from 3.55 billion to 7.55 billion. Over the same time period, the average global food supply per person per day rose from 2,334 calories …