The Hockey Stick of Human Prosperity

The Hockey Stick of Human Prosperity


♪ [music] ♪ – [Don] The astonishing
growth in prosperity in the last two
or three hundred years is one of the greatest events
of humankind. Take the average human
in, say, the year 1000 BC. He’s poor, fighting to find food
and to fend off diseases. Fast forward 500 years
to the time of classical Greece. Still poor, still hungry. How about another
thousand years after that? It’s the dark ages. Wow. Still poor. Then jump to the 18th century
and forward. Things change rapidly. This phenomenon is known
as the hockey stick of human prosperity. Take what is surely one
of the most important measures of human well-being:
life expectancy. Before the Industrial Revolution,
life expectancy was around thirty years. Today in the United States,
we expect to live to be about eighty. Prior to the industrial revolution,
one in four kids would die before the age of 5. Today in developed countries,
it is more like 1 in 200. Due to better nutrition,
we grow to be four inches taller than we were just 250 ago. Remember this disease? No you don’t,
because it was eradicated in 1977. Look around — you’ll find a roof
over your head and a hard floor under your feet. Most of our ancestors
lived in huts with dirt floors and thatched roofs. Everything was infested
with insects and rodents. Streets and alleys
were open sewers. There were none of these. The filth was horrible
and often toxic. Our ancestors ate gruel and wore the same
home-made underwear over and over. Now, even the least fortunate
Americans typically have electricity,
running water, toilets, refrigerators, televisions,
and, yes, cheap washable underwear. Those of us who live
in modern industrial society are incredibly, amazingly,
off the charts rich compared to our ancestors, and here’s yet another
huge difference between us and our ancestors. Before the Industrial Revolution,
people knew how to make from scratch many of the things
they consumed. They made a lot
of their own clothing, grew most of their own food,
and built their own dwellings. Fast forward to today
and believe it or not, none of us has a hint
of how to make the majority of the things that we consume. Just getting ready in the morning
involves taking many trips around the globe. Take this coffee for example. The beans come from Guatemala,
and they were brewed in this coffeemaker
from Switzerland. The container ship that carried
the beans was built in Korea. It’s insured by a company
from London and it’s captained by a Frenchman
who loves Turkish cigarettes. We’ve transitioned from each of us
doing many things to each of us doing one thing. Having a job only makes sense
in a modern world where each individual typically
does only one type of work. So while we mostly only produce
one thing, doing one job, each of us now consumes
a whole bunch of products that require a whole bunch
of jobs to produce. The question
of where prosperity comes from launched the field of economics. It’s why Adam Smith
wrote the first book in modern economics. An Inquiry into the Nature
and Causes of The Wealth of Nations. Back in 1776 when he published it,
Smith was trying to understand the causes of modern prosperity
that were just starting to appear. Poverty and starvation
were still normal as they had been from the beginning,
but in the late 18th century, for the first time ever,
the masses began to enjoy riches once reserved only
for the nobility. It is this mass prosperity
that Adam Smith sought to explain. Why was it happening? What was causing wealth
to move from being the exception to being the norm. Now we look around,
and try to figure out what causes poverty
instead of what causes prosperity. You are watching
Everyday Economics, a course where we use
the lens of Economics to explore everyday questions. This section is about trade. In the upcoming videos,
we will attempt to explain how trade plays a role
in our prosperity. You also get to decide
where the course goes. Maybe you have some questions
related to trade that you’ve wondered about. We’ll cover the basics
and then you tell us what topics come next. ♪ [music] ♪

26 thoughts on “The Hockey Stick of Human Prosperity

  1. My ancestors had the same philosophy.  We focused on killing.  We were very successful!  The Vikings killed and took over land because if we didn't, we would starve to death.  It's amazing what hunger will do to a person.

  2. i was told that life expectancy lowness in olden days is because its an averaged life expectancy, brought down a lot by infant mortality

  3. right off the bat ive had enough of this guy, "before the industrial revolution life expectancy was about 30 years" …yea sorry "before" was a pretty long time. also, whats up with his eyes, is he trying to be marshall applegate? am i in a cult now?!

  4. So first of all, the assumption that we are all better off because we have material or monetary wealth is simply not true. Second, the life expectancy of 30 years is a myth of a sort. Yes, if you average it out life expectancy was about 30 years, although some say it was closer to 40. But the only real difference today is that we have a lot fewer infant deaths, meaning that life expectancy if you survived into childhood was actually about the same as today.

  5. My understanding was that the life expectancy figure and child mortality figure went hand-in-hand. Child mortality brought down the average life expectancy. "Life span" was the appropriate number to look at — so I was told. The big issue used to be if you managed to live beyond early childhood. For example, when Socrates drank the hemlock he was well into his 70s.

  6. More outdated thinking. Purposely confusing manufacturing with "trade." There is no good reason to import these items – the US could be self-sufficient. You are hemorrhaging your wealth with everything imported. This was predicted and we are seeing the effects. Living in some smug bubble of academia allows you to pretend not to see it but others are.

  7. I think it is important to highlight that the "high living standarts" he describes is true only to a minority of the world today, and mostly due to the effects of colonialism and primitive accumulation of capital. Capitalism does increase the amount of stuff available to purchase (you can call it prosperity if you want), but one can't ignore the explorations of nature and labor that comes along with it.

  8. But…but…According to what we hear in the media, kids today have it so much harder than anyone in the history of history. If they loose their connection to Face Book or their $500 iPhone breaks or there's no safe space, what will they do?

  9. Great video and the hockey stick of human prosperity is very interesting from 30 years to 80 years thats awesome!! http://conroesprinkler.com/

  10. 0:40 Napoleon f-ed the aristocrats and monarchs, later America spreads freedom while Bolshevik pretty much ended imperialism by taking out Europe and America later strong-armed europeans to release colonial provinces.

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