Even allowing for the many people who still live in abject poverty, our own generation has access to more calories, watts, horsepower, gigabytes, megahertz, square feet, air miles, food per acre, miles per gallon, and, of course, money than any who lived before us. This will continue as long as we use these things to make other things. The more we specialize and exchange, the better off we’ll be.
7. Global trade enriches our lives
By 9 a.m., I have shaved with an American razor, eaten bread made with French wheat and spread with New Zealand butter and Spanish marmalade, brewed tea from Sri Lanka, dressed in clothes made from Indian cotton and Australian wool, put on shoes of Chinese leather and Malaysian rubber, and read a newspaper printed on Finnish paper with Chinese ink. I have consumed minuscule fractions of the productive labor of hundreds of people. This is the magic of trade and specialization. Self-sufficiency is poverty.
8. More farm production = more wilderness
While world population has increased more than fourfold since 1900, other things have increased, too—the area of crops by 30 percent, harvests by 600 percent. At the same time, more than two billion acres of “secondary” tropical forest are now regrowing since farmers left them to head for cities, and it is already rich in biodiversity. In fact, I will make an outrageous prediction: The world will feed itself to a higher and higher standard throughout this century without plowing any new land.
9. The good old days weren’t
Some people argue that in the past there was a simplicity, tranquillity, sociability, and spirituality that’s now been lost. This rose-tinted nostalgia is generally confined to the wealthy. It’s easier to wax elegiac for the life of a pioneer when you don’t have to use an outhouse. The biggest-ever experiment in back-to-the-land hippie lifestyle is now known as the Dark Ages.
Although the world population is growing, the rate of increase has been falling for 50 years. Across the globe, national birth rates are lower now than in 1960, and in the less developed world, the birth rate has approximately halved. This is happening despite people living longer and infant-mortality rates dropping. According to an estimate from the United Nations, population will start falling once it peaks at 9.2 billion in 2075—so there is every prospect of feeding the world forever. After all, there are already seven billion people on earth, and they are eating better and better every decade.
11. Oil is not running out
In 1970, there were 550 billion barrels of oil reserves in the world, and in the 20 years that followed, the world used 600 billion.
So by 1990, reserves should have been overdrawn by 50 billion barrels. Instead, they amounted to 900 billion—not counting tar sands and oil shale that between them contain about 20 times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia. Oil, coal, and gas are finite, but they will last for decades, perhaps centuries, and people will find alternatives long before they run out.
12. We are the luckiest generation
This generation has experienced more peace, freedom, leisure time, education, medicine, and travel than any in history. Yet it laps up gloom at every opportunity. Consumers do not celebrate their wonderful field of choice and, according to psychologists, say they are “overwhelmed.” When I go to my local superstore, I do not see people driven to misery by the impossibility of choice. I see people choosing.