“Fruitful Decade for Many in the World”

My NYT column today is about how good the last ten years have been for China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, and much of Africa.  It is not, as Time magazine has suggested, the worst decade in human history.  Here is a brief excerpt:

One lesson from all of this is that steady economic growth is an underreported news story – and to our own detriment. As human beings, we are prone to focus on very dramatic, visible events, such as confrontations with political enemies or the personal qualities of leaders, whether good or bad. We turn information about politics and economics into stories of good guys versus bad guys and identify progress with the triumph of the good guys. In the process, it’s easy to neglect the underlying forces that improve life in small, hard-to-observe ways, culminating in important changes.

Here is Alex's earlier post on African success in the decade.  In addition to growth statistics, I see much of the developing world as having demonstrated a much higher than expected level of social and political cohesion.  Excerpt:

Since 2007, according to Goldman Sachs, the biggest emerging markets–Brazil, Russia, India and China–have accounted for 45% of global growth, almost twice as much as in 2000-06 and three times as much as in the 1990s.

Arnold Kling notes: "Even in the United States, the fact that people are living healthier longer represents an improvement above and beyond the GDP statistics."

I did not have enough space to discuss the question of growth rates versus per capita growth rates, but here are a few relevant points:

1. Babies are pretty cheap to feed.  In the short run, if your economy grows, and at the same time produces more infants, the adults are still better off.

2. In the longer run, developing countries are making the "demographic transition" quicker and more dramatically than had been expected.  Mexico is an extreme example of this more general point.  So if you are very worried about overpopulation (not my view), there still has been plenty of good demographic news in the last decade.  Economic growth in the developing world will not be "swallowed up" by rising population.

3. "More children" can be a legitimate way for a country to enjoy higher living standards.

4. Social indicators such as water and sanitation in households are generally higher in the afore-cited countries, over the last decade.  That's further evidence for #1.

Again, I'd like to stress the general point that most American-born economists are not sufficiently cosmopolitan in their thinking and writing.

Comments

Is Russia producing more babies?

"Again, I'd like to stress the general point that most American-born economists are not sufficiently cosmopolitan in their thinking and writing."

I would disagree, but then I think people who take pride in what they feel is their own cosmopolitan viewpoint often place too much value in it, embracing and employing it only superficially, at least when it comes to something like economics. Besides, doesn't Goldman Sachs marvel and gleam so endlessly about the BRICs as to fill in the blind spots of the hapless Americans?

Gawd I'm such a bimbo. I saw the header of your NYTimes article and thought the NYTimes was pulling some spin. Very cool. Thanks for setting the record straight.

Tyler: Do you have a Nobel Prize? Then you can not be right, because a Nobel Prize winner has already stated, "For all X, X happened last decade (2000-2009) X was not good."

I hear they give away Pulitzers for politically correct hyperbole.

US, there are a lot of people that I am glad celebrate birthdays.

You may be fortunate enough to be able to breast feed.If not, and you're satisfied with feeding a baby to a minimal level, you can feed him/her cheaply.

Tyler uses the phrase "in the short run". Babies aren't babies for long. In the mid-term and long run, large numbers of babies lead to large numbers of pre-teens, adolescents and adults who are, to say the least, somewhat more voracious than babies. How does that impact an economy "if" it doesn't grow?

Looked at daily, it is easy to become discouraged. But the long run trends are very, very clear.

Human freedom, liberty, standards of living, and quality of life have risen for increasing numbers of people (in real and percentile terms) over the last ten thousand years, indeed over the last 100 years. All across the planet.

I am very optimistic that these trends will continue, and that the sharing of knowledge made possible by the Internet and telephony herald a coming era of innovation that will astound us.

In the short term, we may see decreases in human freedom, liberty, standards of living, and quality of life. But the long term trends are unmistakable.

And for you pessimists who will insist on reversion to the mean, tell me: what is the long term mean?

I'm sick of multiculturalism

Hmm, where did you see "multiculturalism" in Tyler's post or his article?

globalism is not multiculturalism

diversity is not multiculturalism

WTF are you talking about?

I know, I know: don't feed the trolls.

"1. Babies are pretty cheap to feed. In the short run, if your economy grows, and at the same time produces more infants, the adults are still better off."

Hmm... any unstated assumptions in that assertion? My own experience of babies was that my partner's economic productivity was radically curtailed for approximately six months each time -- three months before birth and three months after.

So yeah, assuming you're a working Ozzie Nelson with Harriet and Ethel the Maid staying at home then the marginal cost of one more baby is low. In much of the world -- outside, say, suburban northern Virginia -- babies don't come out of economic black-box vending machines, they come out of economic contributors, a.k.a. working human beings.

Seriously. "Babies are pretty cheap." Yeah, they're cheap if and only if one artificially limits or (as in your case) completely ignore women as economic contributors instead of baby factories.

Question: if "babies are pretty cheap" why is it so many women in Africa, China, India, and elsewhere prefer to take contraceptives when they're available and affordable rather than not take them? By your thesis they should be "better off" limiting pregnancy only when the cost of feeding babies exceeds the cost of the contraceptives themselves. By your thesis the cost of feeding babies should, in fact, be the *only* consideration when women assess whether they wish to use birth control. Right? And yet we find... nothing could be further from the truth.

Seriously, Tyler! I mean, seriously!

figleaf

Figleaf, most of your post is attacking a straw-man. Tyler didn't say "babies are cheap." He said "babies are cheap to feed."

Also, Figleaf, the opportunity cost of having children is much lower in the Developing World than in Northern Virginia. So is the cost of preparing the child to add to the GDP.

S.

Tyler,

I really like the optimistic tone of your article. It’s important to continually re-present this positive view.

But I think you could have written the same article at the end of every decade since 1950. Life in the world continues to improve, poverty continues to decline, institutions continue to improve, commerce continues to expand. Good old modernization does its work. Take for example Indonesia since the 1960s.

Most localized crises (Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia) do not interrupt this flow, and have a regenerative effect.

All developing countries continue to benefit from (some would say free-ride upon) the latecomer accelerated growth effects of the prior existence of markets, technologies, and ideas generated by the first advanced societies (60%-75% of the OECD). (That could be mentioned when old polluters are asked to pay new polluters to pollute less.)

It’s easy to forget that anti-capitalist rhetoric has been fairly constant for a century.

What niggles away at the back of my mind is that it’s too soon to tell what the consequences of the post-2007 global crisis will be on political economy and psychic dynamics at the core. The previous observation that “institutions continue to improve† is not necessarily going to remain true in OECD countries. It could be a turning point.

The same basic questions that bedeviled policy in the twentieth century remain relevant today. What is right balance and substantive nature of market and state. Nothing has changed. The same battles need to be fought on new fields.

Schumpeter might have been wrong about the reasons why capitalism continually treads the slippery path along the cliff-edge of self-destruction. But the danger he identified remains paramount.

Good old anon said: Tyler didn't say "babies are cheap." He said "babies are cheap to feed."

And luxury cars are pretty cheap to wax. Tyler's statement, in your interpretation, is an irrelevancy disguised as a profundity. In more sensible interpretations it is merely false.

Babies are an investment. They are extremely expensive by measures economists might ignore.

I (my wife) had a kid while in a PhD program. Two other people did this. They dropped out. It is nearly impossible. I'm just a stubborn SOB, so I'm going to finish. But, the baby didn't help matters.

Also, not everyone lives where women are fully "utilized" by the economy, and I'm not going to get into it, but I'm not convinced it is all it is cracked up to be anyway.

babies are cheap to feed

Have any of you denying this assertion read A Farewell to Alms? Specifically, the chapter in which Clark discusses England's 18th century population boom?

"Diversity IS NOT our strength in the USA."

Guess I'll have to go back to Bohemia, Wales, Scotland, Norway, and Italy then...

I wonder if the rest of the world has done so well because America hasn't been meddling as much as it did in previous decades--it's been distracted elsewhere. Maybe the countries that have done well were previously too focused on the pressure to go capitalist by the US and that was distracting them from actually going capitalist in their own ways.

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I wonder if the world has done well because the U.S. has not been reached as much as he did in previous decades - it was distracted elsewhere.

Yeah, now in China they're not allowed to have more than one baby. I have the impression that in the next 20 years the global population will triple in numbers

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