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Location: LaGrange, Kentucky, United States

The opinions and interests of a husband, analyst and Iraq war veteran.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Competing world views

In an excellent essay at Reason, Indur M. Goklany makes the case for preserving the institutions that ensure our prosperity, and in turn, give us the means to export that prosperity to developing nations.

Environmentalists and globalization foes are united in their fear that greater population and consumption of energy, materials, and chemicals accompanying economic growth, technological change and free trade—the mainstays of globalization—degrade human and environmental well-being.

Indeed, the 20th century saw the United States’ population multiply by four, income by seven, carbon dioxide emissions by nine, use of materials by 27, and use of chemicals by more than 100.

Yet life expectancy increased from 47 years to 77 years. Onset of major disease such as cancer, heart, and respiratory disease has been postponed between eight and eleven years in the past century. Heart disease and cancer rates have been in rapid decline over the last two decades, and total cancer deaths have actually declined the last two years, despite increases in population. Among the very young, infant mortality has declined from 100 deaths per 1,000 births in 1913 to just seven per 1,000 today.


The proximate cause of improvements in well-being is a “cycle of progress” composed of the mutually reinforcing forces of economic development and technological progress. But that cycle itself is propelled by a web of essential institutions, particularly property rights, free markets, and rule of law. Other important institutions would include science- and technology-based problem-solving founded on skepticism and experimentation; receptiveness to new technologies and ideas; and freer trade in goods, services—most importantly in knowledge and ideas.

In short, free and open societies prosper. Isolation, intolerance, and hostility to the free exchange of knowledge, technology, people, and goods breed stagnation or regression.

[Emphases mine]

As Milton Friedman said, "A society that puts equality...ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom."


Or, you could always live as a pauper in self righteous solidarity with Gaia and, you know, actual poor people.

A sour odor hovered oh-so-slightly in the air, the faint tang, not wholly unpleasant, that is the mark of the home composter. Isabella Beavan, age 2, staggered around the neo-Modern furniture — the Eames chairs, the brown velvet couch, the Lucite lamps and the steel cafe table upon which dinner was set — her silhouette greatly amplified by her organic cotton diapers in their enormous boiled-wool, snap-front cover.

A visitor avoided the bathroom because she knew she would find no toilet paper there.

Welcome to Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style. Isabella's parents, Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at Business Week, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.

An equally interesting article, though for entirely different reasons. Beavan and Conlin seem decent enough, but I have my doubts as to the virtue of conspicuous non-consumption. The ascetic impulse (joining a monestary or building a hermit's cabin in the woods) that I understand. What I don't understand is the desire to abstain so publicly. Then again, I don't grok the allure of going on Jerry Springer, either.

I first bristled against this kind of "philosophy of personal sacrifice" a year ago when Rod Dreher put out his Crunchy Con Manifesto. It's obviously well intentioned, but I just can't get behind this thinking. "Less is more" can't feed hungry children in Africa or comfort abused women in the Mid-East. However, prosperity and surplus, the boon of freedom, can.

(Rod now blogs at BeliefNet.com and frequently turns out sublime essays on a diverse array of topics. Though we disagree, his talents as a writer were never in question.)

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