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Throughout most of human civilization, centuries of men have starved, died from the elements (for lack of proper housing), suffered terrible health, and barely lived. Even today, starvation kills millions. In so many places in the world, many struggle to exist. With an inquiry focused on tying economics to religion, University of Chicago professor Luigi Zingales explains that "Economists, sociologists, and political scientists have long been interested in explaining the economic success of certain countries and the persistent poverty of others."

Yet, in about three generations, our ability to feed ourselves, to care for our health, to build the most fantastic of homes, to enjoy the finest of luxuries and, overall, to protect human life has skyrocketed beyond imagination. The natural resources were always there, so we can't attribute it to that. People have always worked hard throughout history too, so that doesn't seem to explain it completely either.

The mainstream of human progress by Henry Grady Weaver. The full book is available for free at the link below.

The full book is available for free here

It wasn't bureaucratic edict to invent that led to the most significant discoveries of those generations. Creativity didn't occur as the result of laws formalizing what was and wasn't legal. The human energy to build wasn't planned by economic decree or provided via bailouts. Inspiration wasn't ordered from on-high. Genius wasn't produced via the whip. It wasn't avoidance of punishment that rewarded the life-givers. The most significant technical progress did not come from waging wars. It wasn't the initiation of force that led people to trade with each other. Wealth wasn't created through the government's printing press.

Even though material accomplishments aren't everything, life can't improve without production and distribution of material wealth. History is the story of progress and regress by degrees. If we are to continue our progress and avoid regression, it is important to understand the principles and accomplishments that brought us thus far, as well as the shortcomings in our structures that limit or destroy human achievement.

How do you explain human progress in such a relatively short timeframe? What are the key factors to human progress "which [have] so quickly transformed a hostile wilderness into the most prosperous and advanced country that the world has ever known?" What has prevented progress? Notwithstanding its critical flaws and negative aspects, in terms of human progress, what was it that made the US jump so far ahead of all other countries in such a short period of time? Was it the right kind of government, or the right kind of authority, or a more sound religion... or was it something else? What are the most effective and efficient ways to harness human energy to satisfy human needs?

The Questions

Why did men die of starvation for 6,000 years? Why is it that we in America have never had a famine?

Why did men walk and carry goods (and other men) on their straining backs for 6,000 years - then suddenly, on only a small part of the earth's surface, the forces of nature are harnessed to do the bidding of the humblest citizen?

Why did families live for 6,000 years in caves and floorless hovels, without windows or chimneys - then within a few generations, we in America take floors, rugs, chairs, tables, windows, and chimneys for granted and regard electric lights, refrigerators, running water, porcelain baths, and toilets as common necessities?

Why did men, women, and children eke out their meager existence for 6,000 years, toiling desperately from dawn to dark - barefoot, half-naked, unwashed, unshaved, uncombed, with lousy hair, mangy skins, and rotting teeth - then suddenly, in one place on earth there is an abundance of such things as rayon underwear, nylon hose, shower baths, safety razors, ice cream sodas, lipsticks, and permanent waves?

The Answers

It's incredible, if we would but pause to reflect! Swiftly, in less than a hundred years, Americans have conquered the darkness of night - from pine knots and candles to kerosene lamps, to gas jets; then to electric bulbs, neon lights, fluorescent tubes.

We have created wholly new and astounding defenses against weather - from fireplaces to stoves, furnaces, automatic burners, insulation, air conditioning.

We are conquering pain and disease, prolonging life, and resisting death itself - with anesthetics, surgery, sanitation, hygiene, dietetics.

We have made stupendous attacks on space - from oxcarts, rafts, and canoes to railroads, steamboats, streetcars, subways, automobiles, trucks, busses, airplanes - and attacks on time through telegraph, telephone, and radio.

We have moved from backbreaking drudgery into the modern age of power, substituting steam, electricity, and gasoline for the brawn of man; and today the nuclear physicist is taking over and finding ways for subduing to human uses the infinitesimally tiny atom - tapping a new source of power so vast that it bids fair to dwarf anything that has gone before.

It is true that many of these developments originated in other countries. But new ideas are of little value in raising standards of living unless and until something is done about them. The plain fact is that we in America have outdistanced the world in extending the benefits of inventions and discoveries to the vast majority of people in all walks of life.

How Did It Happen?

Three generations - grandfather to grandson - have created these wonders which surpass the utmost imaginings of all previous time. How did it come about? How can it be explained? Just what has been responsible for this unprecedented burst of progress, which has so quickly transformed a hostile wilderness into the most prosperous and advanced country that the world has ever known?

...A Natural Outgrowth

In the last analysis, all of these advantages are the natural, normal outgrowth of a political structure which unleashed the creative energies of millions of men and women by leaving them free to work out their own affairs - not under the lash of coercive authority, but through voluntary cooperation based on enlightened self-interest and moral responsibility.

That's why plows are now made of steel. That's why America has led the world in production accomplishments. That's why we've been able to win wars started by nations that make a regular business of fighting. That's why we are able to feed the victims of pagan aggression.

And last but not least, that's why the people of the United States, who occupy only 6 per cent of the world's land area and who represent less than 7 per cent of the world's population, own:

85 per cent of the world's automobiles

60 per cent of the life insurance policies

54 per cent of the telephones

48 per cent of the radio sets

46 per cent of the electric power capacity

35 per cent of the world's railway mileage

30 per cent of the improved highways

92 per cent of the modern bathtubs

Before the war, Americans consumed:

75 per cent of the world's silk

60 per cent of the world's rubber

50 per cent of the world's coffee

40 per cent of the world's salt.

That last item may sound a bit trivial. I was tempted to leave it out, but some of my economist friends tell me that the amount of salt used is one of the best indications of a nation's production and general standard of living. If so, that statement leads to the startling conclusion that the people of the United States are exactly nine times better off than the people in the rest of the world.

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In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. - Carl Sagan