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The Atlas Society Asks Marian Tupy Transcript

The Atlas Society Asks Marian Tupy Transcript

July 10, 2023

Senior Scholar Stephen Hicks, Ph.D. interviewed Marian Tupy in one of the first episodes of our webinar series two and a half years ago to discuss his book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know—and we’re excited to have him back to discuss his latest publication: Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing. Tupy, editor of HumanProgress.org and Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, demolishes the false premises of Malthusian-inspired scarcity politics, and provides an optimistic perspective on a bountiful future in which freedom fuels innovation and progress. Watch the interview HERE or check the transcript below.

JAG (Jennifer A. Grossman):    Hello everyone, and welcome to the 127th episode of The Atlas Society Asks. My name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. I go by JAG. I'm the CEO of The Atlas Society. We are the leading nonprofit organization introducing young people to the ideas of Ayn Rand in fun, creative ways like our graphic novels and animated videos. Today we are joined by a dear friend of The Atlas Society, Marian Tupy. Before I  introduce him, I want to remind all of you who are watching us, you can start typing in your questions for our guest, whether on Zoom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube. Just use the comments section, and we will get to as many of them as we can. 

All right. So our guest today, Marian Tupy. He is editor of humanprogress.org, a senior fellow at Cato’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.  Now, Marian joined our senior scholar Stephen Hicks, back in the summer of 2020 for the 10th episode of our webinar series to discuss his book, Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know. So it's really great to have him back more than two years later to discuss his latest—Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and human Flourishing in which he and his co-author, Gale Pooley, demolished the false premises of Malthusian-inspired scarcity and provide bold predictions of a bountiful future fueled by freedom, innovation, and trade. Marian, thank you for joining us.

MT (Marian Tupy):    Thanks for having me. It's always delightful to see you.

JAG:    So, now for those of you who missed Marian's premiere in this space, you may not know that he was born in communist Czechoslovakia. He moved with his parents to South Africa. He completed his studies in Great Britain, and then he moved to the United States. So I'm wondering, Marian, did living in those different countries, particularly in retrospect, give you a unique perspective on the kinds of systems and the kinds of cultures that encourage progress and human flourishing?

MT:    Sure. I think that I was an anti-socialist since about the age of 10, when I first was old enough to start perceiving what was happening around me in communist Czechoslovakia with a heavy dose of advice and tutelage by my grandparents who were deeply anti-communist, I sort of always understood that I lived in a very strange place with no rights and where everything sucked—to use the technical term <laugh>. Everything was just very—well, everybody was poor, everything was gray. Ayn Rand, I'm sure, had something to say about those sorts of things when she left Soviet Russia. Food was bad, clothes were bad, living conditions were bad. Streets were dirty. It was just a depressing place to grow up. Now, I don't want to exaggerate things. By the late 1980s when I became politically conscious, nobody was getting shot for having slightly dissenting views or things like that.

MT:    It wasn't the 1940s or 1950s, but it was still an oppressive society. But I became pro-capitalist by reading Ayn Rand, actually by reading Atlas Shrugged. That was my sort of opening to Rand and that made me a pro-capitalist. So I was always anti-socialist, but I was against something, not in favor of something. It was after I read Rand that I really became much more concerned about what is it that I do believe in, as opposed to, what is it I just oppose? And then, of course, things sort of  snowballed. I think that I was always interested in history and especially economic history in college. And so I started to think more about the origins of prosperity. I mean, nobody has to explain poverty. We all get that because everybody was once poor. But there is this sliver of population that managed to escape from absolute poverty somewhere in the 18th century, 19th centuries: the advanced western countries. And so trying to understand the process by which prosperity happens became a bit of an obsession to me. So that's really my background. And, of course, I also lived in Africa where I saw a lot of poverty and a lot of oppression. So all of those things just made me much more interested in the causes for the wealth of nations.

JAG:    It's interesting that you mentioned that Ayn Rand was your introduction. Particularly as someone who's been interested in history and interested in economics, it reminds me of my friend, Jeffrey Tucker, who has said that before Ayn Rand, the battle for liberty was merely intellectual, and that after Ayn Rand, it was deeply spiritual. So, the fact that she continues to be such an important gateway drug, if you will, to liberty, is why I think it's important to continue to maintain and update and refresh that arsenal for liberty, which is what we do at The Atlas Society.

MT:    Yes. Having my eyes open to the notion that capitalism had a moral component to it was actually very important. So, Yes.

Objectivism & Technological Trends Panel

JAG:    So let's talk about these two books I was mentioning before we went live that, folks, there's actually a pretty cool, is it an orange and blue, cover to this?

MT:    I have the cover here in case anybody's. . .

JAG:    So, it looks kind of Bitcoin-y there. But, this book has gotten so much use around my house that it's now naked. It's like this book. So, this is the book, Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know. Then here's the new book. So very different. I'd love if you could tell us a little bit about the differences between the two books. Where is their overlap and in what ways, if any, is Superabundance, a departure?

MT:    Well, Ten Global Trends, they're the most important trends, obviously, but there are actually 78 different trends pertaining to all sorts of aspects of human wellbeing. We try to measure, in the first book, human wellbeing along many different dimensions. So life expectancy, child mortality, incomes-per-capita, and so on and so forth. And, we try to deliberately keep it theory-free, just facts with a little bit of explanation as to what people are looking at when they're checking out the different charts. The second book is much more of a heavy lift, to be quite honest. It is full of history. It is full of economics. It is full of data. So it is meant, I think, for a different type of audience, people who are much more interested in delving in depth into one of the subjects.

MT:    I mean, trend number three in the first book deals with natural resources. And here we have a 550-page book devoted to just that one trend and trying to understand how is it possible that the global population keeps on expanding, but raw materials are becoming cheaper. Basically, that's the idea behind the new book. So, it's a much more academic book. It is written in a style that anybody can read. Anybody who reads, God forbid, the New York Times, but maybe I should say Wall Street Journal, <laugh>, which I do, then can read this very easily.

JAG:    So the inspiration, if I understand correctly, your research into this book began with looking at updating Julian Simon's famous wager with biologists and environmentalists about whether the price of five commodities, metals, would rise or fall. So for those unfamiliar, I think most of our audience is familiar, but we cast a wide net here. So perhaps you could start with a level set, in terms of the terms and the outcomes of the wager, and then share in what ways you sought to update it.

MT:    Sure. So, people have been wondering about the relationship between population growth and resources for a very long time. But, in recent history, the big break was in 1968, a Stanford University biologist by the name of Paul Ehrlich, he's still alive, by the way, wrote a very important, very influential and very popular book called The Population Bomb. It sold like 3 million copies, was translated into goodness knows how many languages. And in the book, Paul Ehrlich basically said, no matter what we do, no matter how we change our behavior, by the 1970s and the 1980s, hundreds of millions of people are going to die due to starvation, because we are simply going to run out of stuff. Now that obviously didn't happen, but most people believed that it would happen. One person who didn't believe that it would happen was Julian Simon, who was an economist at University of Maryland and also a senior fellow at Cato.

MT:    And he, in 1980, challenged Paul Ehrlich to a wager. Ehrlich chose five metals. They are tin, nickel, tungsten, copper, and chromium. Ehrlich chose them, not Simon, Ehrlich chose them. And basically, they did a futures contract for $1,000 and a 10-year period: if, in 1990, prices of resources went up, even as population went up. So, the prediction by Ehrlich was that population was going to grow, and therefore, commodities were going to become more expensive, and therefore the price would grow. Then Simon would have to pay Ehrlich. If, on the other hand, Simon's prediction was correct, which is that with increase of population, commodities were actually going to decline in price, then Ehrlich would pay Simon. Well, in 10 years time, the wager came to an end on 29th of September, 1990, and the average of those five commodities fell by 36% in inflation-adjusted terms.

MT:    So Ehrlich sent Simon a check for $576. Now, that should have been the end of the debate, but it wasn't. Even though the intelligentsia has moved a little bit away from, “we are going to run out of our natural resources,” the fact is that the public is still very much wedded to a Malthusian principles thinking that if you have a bigger population, you are going to run out of resources. People are making—we know from public opinion polls which are included in the book—decisions about having children or not having children, depending on ‘are we going to run out of resources?’. It permeates public opinion. And we know that because some disproportionate number of the recent mass shootings around the world happened based on Malthusian Principles.

MT:    So Anders Breivik, who shot up those school children in Norway, for example, left behind him a Malthusian manifesto. From him, there was a guy called Tarrant in New Zealand who learned from him, and he left behind him a Malthusian manifesto. He also shot a bunch of people. And then most recently, we had a mass shooting of 22 people in El Paso, Texas. And that guy left behind him a Malthusian manifesto basically saying there are far too many people in the world; we have a limited number of resources; you will not change your consumption habits, therefore, I have to start by culling the number of people in the world. And so, even though Malthusianism no longer enjoys the kind of unquestioning acceptance amongst intellectuals that it once did, that sort of notion has not penetrated down to the level of ordinary people.

MT:    And, to make things worse, many people who are very much on people's minds when they watch TV and so on, are still well into Malthusian principles. Only two years ago, Bill Maher, for example, on a very popular show, “Real Time with Bill Maher” talked about how human beings use too much stuff, and we have too many people in the world. So, there is that sort of anti-human, anti-natalist element that still permeates society. So I did a paper updating  Simon’s early wager to 2017, and then I got a call from a man who would later become my co-author, Gale Pooley, and he said, “What would happen if you looked at the terms of the wager from the perspective of wages? In other words, don't just adjust for inflation, see what's happening to people's wages. And when we looked at that, we found that Simon would have won by 40%, not by 36%, and that has given rise to this concept of time prices that we can talk about later.

JAG:    Yes. Well, let's talk about it now because I think that is perhaps one of the biggest innovations of your book in terms of trying to measure what, not just how much, it costs in inflation adjusted dollars, but how much time it costs to be able to afford, let's say an hour of light or a pound of sugar. And, I'm still a little bit curious on how you chose—from what perspective—right? Because if you're an extremely productive person, wouldn't it take you less time to earn those same things? And so tell us a little bit about how the framework functions.

MT:    Sure. So let's start with time prices. What are time prices? Time prices are basically how many minutes or hours of work you have to work in order to earn enough money to buy something. And if in 10 years time the number of minutes falls from five to four or to three, then you are getting better off in life. Now, why would this be an innovation? Why would anybody be interested in this? Everybody who listens to your program will know everything about nominal prices. That's the price you see in a store. And they will also understand that in order to comprehend whether something is getting more expensive or less expensive, you have to adjust it for inflation. And that's when you get from nominal prices to real prices. The problem with both nominal prices and real prices is that they do not account for what is happening in your wallet.

MT:    They do not take into account the productivity gains in human labor. So if you are looking at an item, let's say, a can of water or can of Coke over a period of 20 years, well, it can tell you that in terms of real price, it hasn't changed or it has slightly increased or slightly fell. But if your wages in those 20 years have increased twofold or threefold, then of course you are getting ahead in life at a much faster pace than the real price would suggest. So, let me give you an example of a time price. Let's say that you're buying a Hershey bar, it costs you a dollar, and you are making $10 an hour. Well, that means that you can get 10 Hershey bars for an hour of labor, or you have to work, to put it differently, you have to work six minutes.

MT:    Now, let's say that in 10 years time, the Hershey bar has increased to $2 a Hershey bar, but in the meantime, your wages have increased from $10 to $30. So now you're getting 15 Hershey bars, and you are working only four minutes. So, from six minutes to four minutes, you are saving two minutes. And that time you can spend doing something else, earning money to buy a chewing gum, <laugh>. And this is ultimately how the economy functions. This is ultimately what we mean when we say productivity gain, right? The reason why we are so rich today in the United States is because we are not spending all of our time working the fields to be able to buy a pound of barley or wheat. We can now spend those eight hours in a day spending maybe a fraction of a second buying a pound of barley, But the rest of the time that we work, we buy books and trips and cars and houses and things like that.

MT:    That's basically productivity. And the thing is that productivity gains become real, both in terms of what is happening to commodity prices and, also, to wages. So, if you have a highly functioning farm, say an American farm today, it's not only that you are getting much more wheat or barley per acre, thereby driving the price down, but, also, the farmer who is driving a modern combine-harvester is earning much more per hour of work than his ancestors with a sickle or a scythe would have. Right? So, the beauty of time price is that it puts both of these productivity gains into one number. It accounts for production, but it also accounts for productivity in terms of how much you're earning. You just divide the nominal price of a good by nominal wage, hourly wage in year one. You repeat the process 20 years from now, and so long as you are working fewer minutes or fewer hours in order to earn something, you are getting ahead in life. Oh, then you asked a question about how do we account for inequality?

JAG:    Yes. Right? So it might take one person six minutes of work to buy a Hershey bar, but it would take somebody else 0.006 seconds, if they're highly productive, and what they're contributing to the economy is highly valued in terms of their consideration.

MT:    That's right. So, in this book we only look at blue-collar-worker hourly wages. That's our denominator and also unskilled workers in the United States. We use two denominators: manufacturing labor—somebody making cars in the US—and unskilled labor—somebody like a janitor. Now, why would we do that? Because every time that I used average wages in the United States, I’d get attacked constantly by those saying, Oh my God, inequality in America is so huge that you are skewing your impression of standards of living by the sorts of money earned by somebody like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, right? In other words, when you try to do this with just an average income, an average hourly wage, the opponents of progress, the opponents of capitalism will immediately dismiss that by saying that doesn't tell you anything about the lives of real people at the bottom of the income ladder, right? And so from the get go, we were determined to use only wages of people at the very bottom of the income ladder, because that sort of insulates us against the criticism. It really provides you with a window into the lives of the least fortunate working people in America.

JAG:    Well, Yes. So I guess, folks, when you're reading this book, keep in mind that if you are anywhere further along the economic ladder than somebody working in an unskilled job, then your prospectus is even more positive, your gains. Let's get to the title of the book, Superabundance. You're not just using it as a superlative, but as a specific term to describe, if I understand, when the growth in resources outpaces increasing population growth; is that correct? And how do you measure that relationship?

MT:    Yes, you got it exactly right. Remember the Simon Ehrlich wager? Ehrlich was saying that when population increases, everything becomes more expensive. Okay? We know that Ehrlich was wrong. We have been able to show in the book that everything is getting cheaper relative to labor cost, relative to time price, but now abundance of wheat, barley, oranges, beef, bananas, zinc, uranium, anything that we looked at—we looked at hundreds of things—can increase at three different speeds. It can increase at a slower rate than population growth. So let's say population grows at 2%, but your abundance is only increasing at 1%. We just call that increasing abundance. Also, population and abundance can increase at the same rate, so 3%, 3%. But, what we do find is that in every case we looked at, abundance is increasing at a higher rate than population. And that tells us that on average, every human being brings into the world more productivity, more knowledge, more new technological advances. Basically, we create more than we consume. Otherwise, you wouldn't see this relationship. But when you see population growing at, say, 2%, and abundance at a higher rate, then you can say that, as a matter of fact, human beings create more than they destroy or consume.

JAG:    Wow. That is a massive paradigm shift in terms of how to understand, not just our place in the world, but also how to even think about resources and understanding that humans are the ultimate resource in terms of turning natural materials into things that we need.

MT:    Yes.

JAG:    And what we can use.

MT:    Yes. And, Simon was the original genius here. I cannot take credit for that. Simon was the one who coined the phrase that humans are the ultimate resource. We are building on his work. I think that we are contributing new things to it. But he was the one who had the cojones and the foresight to be able to go against the zeitgeist of his time by declaring that human beings are creators rather than just destroyers. And, that's important because the world is filled with anti-humanist and the anti-natalistt sort of feeling. I mean, you can't open a newspaper without some crazy academic writing an article about how the world would be better off without any humans in it, which is ridiculous because without humans who is going to appreciate the planet in the first place, the animals don't care. They're there to you know, eat, have sex, and not be eaten by other animals, but they don't have an aesthetic appreciation of the world. Only we do. And in the book we point to example after example after example of people who just believe that we are cancer on the planet, and we just completely reject that, and we have math on our side, Thank God.

JAG:    Yes, yes. Well, you gave some examples, very disturbing examples earlier on about so many of the mass shootings having been inspired by this premise that humans are a cancer on the earth, and that we are going to overwhelm the planet's ability to sustain us. And of course, there are also really horrific and lethal consequences, in terms of how that thinking translates into public policy. It seemed that one of the examples of that would be China's one child policy, uh, which prevented the births of at least 400 million Chinese. So what are some of the negative consequences of that kind of policy, of that kind of birth-limiting, population-control policy with regards to progress?

MT:    Right? So if you believe, as we do, and we can talk about it a little bit later, that humans are the only entity capable of producing new ideas, maybe at some point in the future, Elon will succeed in creating AI, or somebody else, but right now, ideas are a product of the human mind, and there's only a small fraction of humans who actually invent or innovate anything. So, if you have a small population of, say, a billion people like we did in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson was president, then that number of innovators and inventors is going to be much smaller than when you have a population of 8 billion people like we have today. And, gosh, where was I going with this? Oh, so the thing is that between 1978-9 and 2015, China ran this one child policy, and they are very boastful that they have prevented the birth of—they either killed or aborted or prevented from conception—about 400 million people. Now, that turns out to be a spectacular shot in the foot, which is exactly what you would expect from the communist regime for a variety of reasons. One is that, of course, if they hadn't done that, China wouldn't have run out of resources, but they would have had 400 million additional people with which to power their economy and create more economic growth.

JAG:    Can I jump in there? Because you know that it's not just population, it's not just a bunch of people, as you have described in the book, it's population plus freedom. And they had this policy at a time when there was even less freedom in China than there is today. So I wonder if under communism, because you're not going to have increasing abundance necessarily, if that kind of policy actually makes sense. Because you might have your Edisons, you might have your Elon Musks, you might have your John Galts and Hank Reardens and Dagny Taggarts, but they all turn into Kira Argonovas when they live under communism and their only choice is to die or to flee.

MT:    Yes. Of course, you're right. And, I would have come back to the subject later on, that superabundance equals population times freedom. Freedom is absolutely crucial. If population was the only thing that mattered, China would have been always the richest country in the world because they've been the most populous country in the world for about 2000 years. That obviously hasn't been the case. However, to your point, China begins to liberalize in 1978. What you see in China today is the outcome of the last of the period between 1978 and about 2012 when she takes over and starts clamping down on freedom. But, China is still growing. My point is that they have imposed this particular policy precisely at the time when they were starting to liberalize. So, they adopt the policy in 75, and they start liberalizing in 78.

MT:    So all those people would've been born into an economy which was liberalizing and therefore creating more value. The other negative consequence, aside from economic growth that the Chinese haven't enjoyed, was the fact that Chinese parents have a preference for males over females. And so, in the first decade of this century, you ended up with a very skewed gender ratio of about 120 men to every 100 women in China, which meant that 20% of Chinese men never had the hope of marrying a Chinese woman. And, there are good sociological studies showing that men who are not married, and who have no prospect of getting married, then turn to crime. So that was another thing. And the last thing that the Chinese did, was they've created a very unhealthy population pyramid.

MT:    So, a healthy pyramid looks something like this. You've got a lot of people at the bottom, a lot of young people supporting the people at the top, the very old, and their population pyramid looks something like this, right? Whereby, they have this huge gap of people who are not born, and therefore there are going to be millions of jobs in China that cannot be filled by Chinese workers because there's nobody. And, whatever the commitments that the Chinese government has made to the future generations of retirees and whatever, that too will have to be revisited because you're going to have fewer taxpayers.

MT:    But China wasn't the only country, India tried to do something like that, but within the Indian context, it was by no means as brutal. But, tens of thousands of men and women got forcibly sterilized against having children. So, there was a thing happening  in India at the same time.

The Inspiring Arc of Human Achievment

JAG:    Well, along those lines, Elon Musk, who you mentioned before, has said, quote, population collapse due to low birth rates is a much bigger risk to civilization than global warming. Is he right? And if so, what are the forces that might lead to such a scenario and what, if anything, can be done about it?

MT:    We don't talk about climate change in our book, just so that people who will watch this video out there can rest easy. I accept that the world is warming. I do reject, however, the notion of an existential threat to humans. Because I think that if you're going to measure whether something is an existential threat to humans or not, you have to use some hard data on it. Such as, for example, how many people are dying every year due to extreme weather events. And in fact, over the last 100 years, the number of people who have died due to extreme weather has decreased by 98%. So even though CO2 in the atmosphere has increased, even though the world is in fact becoming slightly warmer, the number of people who are dying due to climate and climate changes is actually collapsing, right?

MT:    So that is why I take this sort of middle-of-the-road approach. What I think could happen is that, okay, so, already in 107 countries out of 190, you have birth rates below population replacement rate. Replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman per lifetime. And already in 107 countries, something like 55% of the world's countries, it's below the replacement level, and it's most pronounced in advanced countries, including our own, our core population still continues to increase, but that's primarily because of immigration. Native-born American women have only 1.7 children. At any rate, the world's population will peak around 2060. We can predict that with a certain degree of certainty. And then it is going to start declining. So if we are going to have a decline in population, and we cannot compensate for that decline by having more people live in free societies, and, God forbid, we will, we will have a decline in population and a decline in political freedom, then you could see profound consequences for economic growth, right?

MT:    Once again, other things could intervene such as AI or super-computing, et cetera, which will enable the lower population to cope and produce more value. But, just looking at the interaction of freedom and population for now, it would seem that there could be danger ahead. If the world is already dissatisfied with 1 ½% to 2% economic growth rate, which we have in the West today, and that was to shrink to 1% a year, well, you know, there's going to be a lot of unhappiness and a lot of unfulfilled dreams because the economy is just not growing at the rate that it should.

JAG:    All right. I, as you know, have a lot more questions for you, and I particularly want to get into what you identify in the final part of the book as some of the threats to superabundance. But your fan base is going nuts here, and we've got a lot of great questions. So, I'd love to try to dip into the pantry here and get to some of them. From Twitter, Timor0six asks, With all that has been gained in expansion of technology and productivity, how far have we been set back by lockdowns?

MT:    Probably a couple of years? Both in terms of economic productivity, but also in terms of life expectancy, for example. Also in terms of poverty or reduction around the world. It's tough to estimate still, but I would say between two and five years.

JAG:    What's that comparable to? I mean, you look at some of these graphs that you have in the books specifically with different countries, and then you see that every once in a while there's kind of this you've got this progress, and then there's a dip. What kinds of things cause those shocks? Obviously lockdowns.

MT:    Lockdowns and wars and pathogens, things like that. It is very important within the context of this question to reemphasize that the line of human progress is not smooth. It is jagged. If everything was working out for everyone everywhere at all times, that would not be progress. That would be just miracle, right? We have to account for contingencies. And the reality is that very often human beings make two steps forward, one step back, three steps forward, two steps back, et cetera. Obviously, over the long run, when you stop, when you step back and you look at the line of progress, it seems smooth. But there are a lot of things that are going on. Let me give you just one example. The 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history. Certainly more people have died due to communism and Nazism, The Holocaust, a whole lot more than at any other period in history.

MT:    And yet at the end of that history, as a species, we were richer than in 1900. We were better educated. We lived longer, we were healthier, we had more political rights—certainly women who were much better treated in 2000 than they were 1900. So the point is that even during that century of tremendous bloodshed, we still somehow managed to end that century in a better place than when we started. So that gives you a sense of both “the two steps forward, one step back,” but also the resilience of the species to cope, and to move forward so long as a certain fraction of humanity is able to live in freedom and come up with all of these technological changes which drive human progress forward.

JAG:    All right. On Instagram, Mymoderngalt asks, Do you think Americans in the West have had it too good to recognize and appreciate their prosperity? I would append to that something that you talk about in the book, and that I've heard you talk about in some of your interviews. You know, envy and gratitude are both two pretty significant themes for us here at The Atlas Society. And you have a kind of formulation to talk about how your different perspective, if you compare yourself to others, or you compare yourself to an ideal utopian fantasy that engenders envy and resentment. But comparing yourself to the past and how far you've come engenders gratitude. So how did you come up with that? I thought that was pretty neat.

MT:    I don't remember how. Well, maybe I came up with it subconsciously because, you know, I moved from a place where I didn't have any freedoms, and we were relatively poor, to a place where I have all the freedoms I want or need. Well, maybe not all. <laugh> The government is growing a little too, uh suffocating. But, I'm much freer and I'm also much more prosperous. So, because of this weird traumatic experience of growing up under communism, my life has just been on an upwards trajectory because I left it behind. So, when I look at my 10-year-old self, and I know that at that point in time, I had no reason to believe that I would ever be able to leave the borders of Czechoslovakia to go and live anywhere or to go on a trip.  Because the Communists knew that once you left, you would never come back. So, you were not allowed to go anywhere.

MT:   So, I can sort of compare myself to the past and know that my life is just so much better. And, I think there are these two different emotions in place. Let me backtrack a little bit. I genuinely believe that happiness and satisfaction is a choice, depending on what you compare yourself to. If you compare yourself to people in the past, let's say the last 99.01% of our species’ time on earth, everybody's lives were much worse than they are today in the West, even the King of France had his wine freeze in his glasses in Versailles because it was so cold.

MT:    Even President Coolidge's son died of an infection from an infected blister on his foot when he played tennis, because antibiotics were not developed back then. So just about everybody who's lived, 99 people out of a hundred who ever lived, have had a much worse time than you are having right now. So you can compare yourself to them and say, Oh, thank God I'm living in the United States in 2022. Or you could compare yourself to that 7.7 billion people who don't live in the United States today, who live in other countries. And, thank your lucky stars that you live, that you were born in the United States rather than in Zimbabwe where I traveled when I was a young man. There you see real poverty. And, when you start thinking about life like that, then the obvious emotion that must come to your mind is gratitude. Now, on the other hand, if you compare yourself to the Kardashians, I don't even know who they are really, to be honest, but let's say somebody very famous, somebody very rich who travels around the world on private jets, and they have their own yacht, and they have two Lamborghinis. 

JAG:    And they just got a divorce from a manic depressive. Yes.

MT:    <laugh> So suits them, right? Anyway, that's the envy coming out. So the point is that if you compare yourself to people like that who have everything for whatever reason—but they don't even have to be necessarily wealthy. I mean, if you compare yourself to somebody within your own sphere, if you compare yourself to somebody who's very beautiful, and think that your life is ruined because you are an eight and not a nine. If I compare myself to Roger Federer, I'm a tennis player, I love tennis, but I'm horrible compared to Roger Federer, if he is my comparison so that I cannot be but resentful, Oh God, how did you make it possible that I cannot hit a proper backhand? Then you are just sort of wallowing in this constant cycle of depression and resentment. I genuinely think that it is up to you to decide how you want to look at your life.

JAG:    Yes, I love that—what you said—that happiness is a choice. And, I think from an objective perspective, that it's not just that feeling envy and resentment is icky and certainly not as much fun, it's not as agreeable as feeling grateful. But I think having a realistic perspective of all of the things that you have going for you just is much more empowering, because it gives you more balast for when those shocks and when those obstacles and reversals come.

MT:    But I think that Ayn Rand would also agree that another way in which you can be grateful is to look at your past, and see if you have progressed. If you have built yourself up, if you have succeeded. You don't have to constantly compare yourself to other people, be they yesterday, or be they richer people. You can also compare yourself to yourself in the past. And if in the last 10 years you got a big raise or finished a degree or got a better job or married or reached some other important goal, that's also a very good way of doing it.

JAG:    Yes. As long as you are progressing. Otherwise, I think that could be a bit discouraging. Alright, so I wanted to get to this section of the book. We have about 15 minutes left. You make the point that this is not an automatic process, our progress towards superabundance. This is not something that we should take for granted. And you described some of the chief threats, which are not intuitive at all, and one of them was restrictions on free speech. So how does that play into hampering progress? We can think of a recent example being with the restrictions on free speech with regards to, Hey, are these lockdowns a good idea?

MT:    Sure. Oh, absolutely. I think that our society had shown itself in a very intolerant and very sort of psychotic phase that didn't speak well for most of the advanced countries, perhaps with the exception of Sweden. So free speech is important on a sort of a macro level and also on a micro level. On a macro level, if you don't have free speech in a society, then of course the society could literally fall off the cliff. Like lemmings following a bad idea off the cliff. Think about Soviet Russia or China under Mao. If nobody's permitted to say, hell, fellow lemmings, I think we are heading for the cliff <laugh>, maybe we shouldn't, then you can have horrific things happening, like Mao or Stalin or Hitler or whatever.

MT:    So, on a macro level, it's important to have free speech so that people can raise objections to wherever the society is heading, including during Covid in the United States. On a micro level, of course, freedom of speech is important to any kind of scientific endeavor, any kind of technological progress and whatever. Even during the Soviet Union times, it is worth noting Soviet scientists had much more freedom to speak and to interact with people abroad, read foreign newspapers and foreign magazines, go to conferences, interact with Western people, because it was always understood even by Stalin that only by exchanging information with other people in your group, let's say that you're a nuclear physicist, can you actually come up with that innovation that may make humanity better off or your country stronger, which would've been Stalin's primary goal, obviously.

MT:    And, there are a lot of reasons to be worried. So, for example, there are certain areas in research, which are now no-go areas. For example, psychological genetic differences between people. We need to know that partly because we want to know how to craft our medicine, our drugs to suit people. I mean, one of the great things on the horizon is personalized medicine that will be able to give you exactly the kinds of drugs that are just for you. Peter Diamandis talks about this very passionately, you know. When you have an illness, the drug will be made just for you to basically suit whatever the DNA structure that you have, whatever the gene structure. Now, if we are prohibited from looking into genetic differences between people, for example, that is a massive limitation on the potential for improving our health in the future, globally.

My Name is Peter Diamandis

MT:    If there are other things where the woke police say that you can research, for example, differences between men and women politically. I believe that men and women need to be absolutely equal. But that doesn't mean that everything that women encounter in life is the same as what men encounter in life. And you need to be aware of that. Again, one of those areas that can no longer be spoken about. And I think that since the woke progressives are becoming basically worried about everything, we could just end up with these entire areas of scientific research, which are off limits to research and, consequently, slowing the scope of progress.

MT:    Another reason why freedom of speech is important, and I know I'm babbling on for a while, but another reason why it's important is because many people on whom we disproportionately rely for technological progress and scientific progress tend to be a little bit off. I'm sure you've met many of them in Silicon Valley in your time, but, you know, there are a lot of people on the spectrum, and they're peculiar, often neurotic, very quirky. Let's take somebody like Jim Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA. Here's a guy who just says the most offensive things imaginable, or Steve Jobs, who was a very difficult and, apparently, quite a nasty boss. Now imagine if a millennial came to him or came to the board and said, “We need to shut down Steve Jobs because he's been nasty to me.”

MT:    You know, we shouldn't sacrifice technological progress on the altar of niceness. That is what I'm arguing in the book. We have to be aware that we have all of these people who have something to contribute to the world. Some of them will be a little bit off, but we just have to put up with it because we really need them to function, and to create more wealth. I just worry that we are becoming so averse to any kind of unorthodox behavior and opinions that we may shut down a lot of people whom we need.

JAG:    All right. Well, we're coming up here towards the end, but I don't want to miss talking about some of the other threats to continued progress in Superabundance in terms of recognizing that this is not an automatic process. We've just talked about free speech. What are some of the others?

MT:    Well, obviously, population growth is, I think, important. Now, obviously, I believe in freedom. So people must have as many children as they want. But, the goal of the book is a very, very narrow one. To the extent that you are worried about running out of resources, you don't have to be worried about that. If that is something that is at the back of your mind and why you don't want to have children, then you don't have to worry about that. There may be other reasons why you decide not to have children, but resources shouldn't be one of them because we can always produce more value from the resources that we already have. And the last bit, which will not surprise you at all, has to do with the freedom of the market. The only way we can distinguish between good innovation and a bad innovation, valuable innovation from a valueless innovation is to subject it to the test of the market. The market and the price mechanism must tell us which solar panels are good, which solar panels are bad, whether you should be using VHS or Betamax, whether you should be using Samsung or Apple. In other words, the market must be allowed to select for the best innovations, so the world can then adopt them. And, if we are moving into a world where there's less economic freedom, and whether government can choose winners and losers, then of course the whole point of innovation is undermined.

JAG:    All right. Well, one threat, of course, is bad philosophy and bad values that can lead,  through a kind of hubris of central planners or through populist democracy, to bad outcomes. So, maybe we could close with one of the observations that I've heard you make, which again, is quite singular and insightful. You've said that inequality is the midwife of progress. Maybe we could end with your elaborating on that.

MT:    Yes, I do believe that very firmly, and when I speak about it to some friends on the Left, their mouths just open and they just cannot understand what I mean by that. But, inequality is the midwife of progress. Any kind of innovation in society, be it in personal behavior, in consumption, in production first manifests itself as inequality. Equality is stasis. Equality is Eastern Europe, circa 1985. Nothing changed. Everything was, in fact, equal, Sorry. In fact, stasis or equality was the lot of the human species for most of our existence on earth. If you look at life expectancy or GDP per capita, it was constant for tens of thousands of years. Inequality means that you are introducing into a system a disruption, a way of doing things which will manifest itself first in you, you getting rich or more popular or higher in the status hierarchy, but other people can adopt it and therefore benefit themselves.

MT:    Ford Motor Companies, a perfect example. People used to make cars all over the world by hand, and Henry Ford developed the factory way of making cars so that he could produce a new Model T every 20 minutes or so; I don't remember what it was. And he could sell a Model T for $200. But by doing that, he has basically created a horrible scene of inequality. He became a better producer of cars than anybody else. He put a lot of car manufacturers out of business, and he also became filthy rich, right? But it was at that point when he stopped doing things equally or the same way—equality is just sameness, in the way that I use it—that he was able to disrupt the process and move the world forward.

MT:    It's the same thing that you could say about personal behavior. If you're surrounded by people who are drunks, but you are the one who is semi-drunk or maybe sober and puts away the money and invests in the stock market and can retire at the age of 65 on two or three, or four million. That also is an inequality of behavior, but it signals to the rest of the population that if they embrace that kind of behavior, they themselves can benefit. So whether you look at personal behavior or production or consumption or anything else, it's by leaving the herd and doing something new, which both creates inequality, but also moves people forward.

JAG:    I love that. All right, Well, apologies to the crowd of people that asked so many wonderful questions over the past hour. Marian, if they are to shoot them to you, would Twitter or social media be the best place for them to try?

MT:    It <laugh> depends on how many there are. I may be able to answer, but I'm very easy to find mtupy@cato.org. Um, the book can be found at superabundance.com. And of course, if you like, please visit humanprogress.org.

JAG:    Wonderful. Thank you, Marian. Again, thank all of you for joining us today. If you enjoyed this video and you are a believer in value-for-value and know that the work that we do isn't free, please consider making a tax deductible donation at atlassociety org. And join us next week when author and comedian Konstantin Kisin will be our guest on The Atlas Society Asks next Wednesday, we'll see you there. 

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