Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Simon did half the job, you do the rest 

So I'm reading from Bryan Caplan a challenge:
Can you write an economically sound answer to the question "When Did Life For the Poor Get Better?" that a five-year-old could understand? 150 words or less!
Now alas, I'm late to the party and didn't get something in for Caplan to read to his son. And my work is still incomplete. But here's the basis of an answer, from the late Julian Simon in 1995.
This is the economic history of humanity in a nutshell:

From 2 million or 200,000 or 20,000 or 2,000 years ago until the 18th Century there was slow growth in population, almost no increase in health or decrease in mortality, slow growth in the availability of natural resources (but not increased scarcity), increase in wealth for a few, and mixed effects on the environment. Since then there has been rapid growth in population due to spectacular decreases in the death rate, rapid growth in resources, widespread increases in wealth, and an unprecedently clean and beautiful living environment in many parts of the world along with a degraded environment in the poor and socialist parts of the world.
My attempt at translating it to your child's level:
From the beginning of time to about when our country was formed, kids grew up to live as well off as mom and dad, and their kids lived as well off as they did. They lived about the same number of years old. A few were kings and queens, and they and their closest friends lived really well, but not too long. The earth was kind of clean, but not too much so when you don't have toilets for poop. And we did not grow in the number of people living on earth. Since then, there are more people on Earth, kids live longer than their moms and dads, most have much more money than back then and nice houses (with toilets!) The countryside is cleaner in most of the places where people got rid of kings and dictators, but not so much where they did not.
Been a few years since I've had a five-year-old, so I'm no judge of whether that works. But I made the word count, and I know stories with toilets and poop are remembered by kids. I suppose the kid will think our country is why this all happened; I'm not that patriotic, but I wouldn't rush to remove that impression as a short-cut to the longer answers.

(And yes, I'm mildly embarrassed by using that word twice, but I'm not above the occasional cheap trick in pursuit of a good lesson learned.)