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GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History by Diane Coyle
"Robert Solow", Asian financial crisis, Berlin Wall, big-box store, Bretton Woods, BRICs, business cycle, clean water, computer age, conceptual framework, crowdsourcing, Diane Coyle, double entry bookkeeping, en.wikipedia.org, endogenous growth, Erik Brynjolfsson, Fall of the Berlin Wall, falling living standards, financial intermediation, global supply chain, happiness index / gross national happiness, hedonic treadmill, income inequality, income per capita, informal economy, Johannes Kepler, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, Long Term Capital Management, mutually assured destruction, Nathan Meyer Rothschild: antibiotics, new economy, Occupy movement, purchasing power parity, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Reagan, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, University of East Anglia, working-age population
Alexander Fleming first discovered penicillin in the laboratory in 1928. There were medical trials throughout the 1930s. In 1942, Merck’s first commercial batch of the lifesaving antibiotic, a precious five and a half grams of it (half the entire stock of the United States) was used on a patient with streptococcal septicemia. By 1950, it was in mass production and its price had fallen to four cents a dose, the same as one-sixteenth of a gallon of milk.3 It was not just that this flood of innovations existed but that so many people could afford them. As the economic historian David Landes observed, Nathan Meyer Rothschild, the richest man in the world of his time, died in 1836 for want of an antibiotic to cure an infection.4 This is what GDP growth consists of. So what was going wrong by the late 1960s, a decade that ended with students in the streets throwing stones and crude Molotov cocktails at the police, workers on strike, power cuts, and citizens hoarding food?
You can try this for yourself on websites that allow you to create a personal ISEW, giving different components weights according to your personal priorities; I could not make the index match GDP growth no matter what weights I tried.36 Besides, although it is useful for everyone to be able to create their own policy target, depending on how much they care about crime rather than clean rivers, so they know for whom to vote in the next election, the published official statistics need to be impersonal, not personalized. The alternative indicators also err in only subtracting from measured GDP. In addition to adding in the value of household production, they ought to be adjusting the measure upward to take account of the improvements that come from innovation. These are difficult indeed to measure. How could one begin to estimate the impact on society’s welfare of new products such as antibiotics in the 1940s, or central heating and air conditioning, or the Internet and mobile phones? Earlier, we saw how hard it is to capture quality improvements in some items in GDP. In chapter 6 I’ll return to the challenge of measuring innovation and the variety of products and services available. For now, it’s enough to acknowledge that, as the economic historian Brad DeLong expresses it, “Modern growth is so fast it’s off the scale.”37 Although GDP does not measure welfare directly, it does contribute to it and is highly correlated with things that definitely do affect our well-being, such as life expectancy and infant mortality.
Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-Hour Workweek by Rutger Bregman
autonomous vehicles, banking crisis, Bartolomé de las Casas, basic income, Berlin Wall, Bertrand Russell: In Praise of Idleness, Branko Milanovic, cognitive dissonance, computer age, conceptual framework, credit crunch, David Graeber, Diane Coyle, Erik Brynjolfsson, everywhere but in the productivity statistics, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, full employment, George Gilder, George Santayana, happiness index / gross national happiness, Henry Ford's grandson gave labor union leader Walter Reuther a tour of the company’s new, automated factory…, income inequality, invention of gunpowder, James Watt: steam engine, John Markoff, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, Kodak vs Instagram, low skilled workers, means of production, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microcredit, minimum wage unemployment, Mont Pelerin Society, Nathan Meyer Rothschild: antibiotics, Occupy movement, offshore financial centre, Paul Samuelson, Peter Thiel, post-industrial society, precariat, RAND corporation, randomized controlled trial, Ray Kurzweil, Ronald Reagan, Second Machine Age, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, Skype, stem cell, Steven Pinker, telemarketer, The Future of Employment, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, universal basic income, wage slave, War on Poverty, We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters, wikimedia commons, women in the workforce, working poor, World Values Survey
Since 1990, the TB mortality rate has dropped by nearly half. Since 2000, the number of people dying from malaria has been reduced by a quarter, and so has the number of AIDS deaths since 2005. Some figures seem almost too good to be true. For example, 50 years ago, one in five children died before reaching their fifth birthday. Today? One in 20. In 1836, the richest man in the world, one Nathan Meyer Rothschild, died due to a simple lack of antibiotics. In recent decades, dirt-cheap vaccines against measles, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, and polio have saved more lives each year than world peace would have saved in the 20th century.14 Obviously, there are still plenty of diseases to go – cancer, for one – but we’re making progress even on that front. In 2013, the prestigious journal Science reported on the discovery of a way to harness the immune system to battle tumors, hailing it as the biggest scientific breakthrough of the year.
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker
3D printing, access to a mobile phone, affirmative action, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anti-communist, Anton Chekhov, Arthur Eddington, artificial general intelligence, availability heuristic, Ayatollah Khomeini, basic income, Berlin Wall, Bernie Sanders, Black Swan, Bonfire of the Vanities, business cycle, capital controls, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, carbon footprint, clean water, clockwork universe, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, Columbine, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dark matter, decarbonisation, deindustrialization, dematerialisation, demographic transition, Deng Xiaoping, distributed generation, diversified portfolio, Donald Trump, Doomsday Clock, double helix, effective altruism, Elon Musk, en.wikipedia.org, end world poverty, endogenous growth, energy transition, European colonialism, experimental subject, Exxon Valdez, facts on the ground, Fall of the Berlin Wall, first-past-the-post, Flynn Effect, food miles, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, frictionless, frictionless market, germ theory of disease, Gini coefficient, Hans Rosling, hedonic treadmill, helicopter parent, Hobbesian trap, humanitarian revolution, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, income inequality, income per capita, Indoor air pollution, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of writing, Jaron Lanier, Joan Didion, job automation, Johannes Kepler, John Snow's cholera map, Kevin Kelly, Khan Academy, knowledge economy, l'esprit de l'escalier, Laplace demon, life extension, long peace, longitudinal study, Louis Pasteur, Martin Wolf, mass incarceration, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Mikhail Gorbachev, minimum wage unemployment, moral hazard, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, Nate Silver, Nathan Meyer Rothschild: antibiotics, Nelson Mandela, New Journalism, Norman Mailer, nuclear winter, obamacare, open economy, Paul Graham, peak oil, Peter Singer: altruism, Peter Thiel, precision agriculture, prediction markets, purchasing power parity, Ralph Nader, randomized controlled trial, Ray Kurzweil, rent control, Republic of Letters, Richard Feynman, road to serfdom, Robert Gordon, Rodney Brooks, rolodex, Ronald Reagan, Rory Sutherland, Saturday Night Live, science of happiness, Scientific racism, Second Machine Age, secular stagnation, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, Simon Kuznets, Skype, smart grid, sovereign wealth fund, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, Stuxnet, supervolcano, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, total factor productivity, union organizing, universal basic income, University of East Anglia, Unsafe at Any Speed, Upton Sinclair, uranium enrichment, urban renewal, War on Poverty, We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters, women in the workforce, working poor, World Values Survey, Y2K
According to an account of an 1878 Memphis epidemic, the sick had “crawled into holes twisted out of shape, their bodies discovered later only by the stench of their decaying flesh. . . . [A mother was found dead] with her body sprawled across the bed . . . black vomit like coffee grounds spattered all over . . . the children rolling on the floor, groaning.”2 The rich were not spared: in 1836, the wealthiest man in the world, Nathan Meyer Rothschild, died of an infected abscess. Nor the powerful: various British monarchs were cut down by dysentery, smallpox, pneumonia, typhoid, tuberculosis, and malaria. American presidents, too, were vulnerable: William Henry Harrison fell ill shortly after his inauguration in 1841 and died of septic shock thirty-one days later, and James Polk succumbed to cholera three months after leaving office in 1849.
Ewald notes, “I don’t think that we are close to understanding how to insert combinations of genetic variants in any given pathogen that act in concert to generate high transmissibility and stably high virulence for humans.”61 The biotech expert Robert Carlson adds that “one of the problems with building any flu virus is that you need to keep your production system (cells or eggs) alive long enough to make a useful quantity of something that is trying to kill that production system. . . . Booting up the resulting virus is still very, very difficult. . . . I would not dismiss this threat completely, but frankly I am much more worried about what Mother Nature is throwing at us all the time.”62 And crucially, advances in biology work the other way as well: they also make it easier for the good guys (and there are many more of them) to identify pathogens, invent antibiotics that overcome antibiotic resistance, and rapidly develop vaccines.63 An example is the Ebola vaccine, developed in the waning days of the 2014–15 emergency, after public health efforts had capped the toll at twelve thousand deaths rather than the millions that the media had foreseen. Ebola thus joined a list of other falsely predicted pandemics such as Lassa fever, hantavirus, SARS, mad cow disease, bird flu, and swine flu.64 Some of them never had the potential to go pandemic in the first place because they are contracted from animals or food rather than in an exponential tree of person-to-person infections.
Doctors themselves used to be a major health hazard as they went from autopsy to examining room in black coats encrusted with dried blood and pus, probed their patients’ wounds with unwashed hands, and sewed them up with sutures they kept in their buttonholes, until Ignaz Semmelweis (1818–1865) and Joseph Lister (1827–1912) got them to sterilize their hands and equipment. Antisepsis, anesthesia, and blood transfusions allowed surgery to cure rather than torture and mutilate, and antibiotics, antitoxins, and countless other medical advances further beat back the assault of pestilence. The sin of ingratitude may not have made the Top Seven, but according to Dante it consigns the sinners to the ninth circle of Hell, and that’s where post-1960s intellectual culture may find itself because of its amnesia for the conquerors of disease. It wasn’t always that way. When I was a boy, a popular literary genre for children was the heroic biography of a medical pioneer such as Edward Jenner, Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, Frederick Banting, Charles Best, William Osler, or Alexander Fleming.