Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The good, the bad and the ugly

Following the path blazed by Julian Simon, Indur M. Goklany has just published The Improving State of the World: Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet. The subtitle is important.

In a better world, the doomsday people would read this stuff. In the interim, it's great fun for the rest of us.

The book is full of data, wonderfully presented and explained. The "theory" to explain all of the good fortune is Goklany's "Cycle of Progress" (shown as a schematic on page 91). The box between "Economic Growth and Wealth" and "Technology" is labeled "Human Capital: Education, Research and Development." Although Goklany mentions it often, he has nothing in this cycle about institutions -- which coevolve with all of these.

But institutions must also include cities, the engines of growth that are such because they (can) facilitate successful entrepreneurial activity. The qualifier is there because cities can also decline and stagnate.

Big city politics and politicians are usually the problem. Unfortunately, we have many examples of this. Today's saddest U.S. example must be New Orleans.