We're living in a golden age

Why are we living so much longer? Massive improvements in public health certainly played an important role. The World Health Organization’s global vaccination efforts essentially eradicated smallpox. But this would have been impossible without the innovative methods of vaccine preservation developed in the private sector by British scientist Leslie Collier. Oral rehydration therapies and antibiotics have also been instrumental in reducing child mortality. Simply put, technological progress is the key to these gains—and market economies have liberated, and rewarded, technological innovation.

People are not just living longer, but better—sometimes with government’s help, and sometimes despite it. Even people in the developing countries of Africa and Latin America are better educated and better fed than ever before. Hundreds of thousands of children who would have died during previous eras due to malnutrition are alive today. Here, we can thank massive advancements in agricultural production unleashed by the free market. In the 1960s, privately funded agricultural researchers bred new, high-yield strains of corn, wheat, and various other crops thanks to advances in molecular genetics. Globalization helped spread these technologies to developing countries, which used them not only to feed their people, but also to become export powerhouses. This so-called “green revolution” reinforced both the educational progress (properly nourished children tend to learn more) and the life-expectancy gains (better nutrition leads to better health) of the twentieth century. These children live in a world with fewer armed conflicts, netting what the authors call a “peace dividend.” Globalization and trade liberalization have surely contributed to this more peaceful world (on aggregate). An interdependent global economy makes war costly.