Since the dawn of the nineteenth century, a split second compared to the span of human existence, life expectancy has more than doubled, and per capita incomes have soared twenty-fold in the most developed regions of the world, and fourteen-fold on Planet Earth as a wholeOded Galor – The Journey of Humanity
That quote comes from a book I just finished titled The Journey of Humanity. Author Oded Galor explores the origins of wealth and inequality. He takes a fascinating journey from our migration out of Africa, through the Neolithic and Industrial Revolutions, to modern day. Along the way, he describes how technological advancements and higher land productivity led to larger but not richer populations. The fact that standard of living improvement only occurred during a tiny stretch of recent human history – and the reasons why – are explored in detail. A somewhat perplexing fact that hunter-gatherers evidently lived longer, consumed a richer diet, worked less intensively, and suffered fewer infectious diseases, is echoed in the book titled Work by James Suzman.
To underscore the point on living standards, Mr. Galor states that for nearly 300,000 years after the emergence of Homo sapiens, per capita incomes were scarcely higher than the minimum necessary for survival. For most of this period, plagues and famines were abundant, a quarter of babies did not reach their first birthday, women commonly perished during childbirth, and life expectancy rarely exceeded forty years. Understanding how regions of the world escaped this period before others – hence the disparity in wealth and inequality – is the core focus of the book. The seeds of the phase transition from stagnation to growth were planted thousands of years prior to realization. Those seeds are identified and described brilliantly by the author.
Factors like population size and its synergistic relationship to innovation, fertility rates, climate, geography, diversity, the role of education, and others, all played a role.
This reinforcing cycle – technological development sustaining larger populations, while larger populations reinforce technological development – which has operated throughout most of our existence, gradually but continuously intensified until ultimately the rate of innovations reached a critical threshold. This was one of the sparks for the phase transition that hoisted humanity out of the epoch of stagnationOded Galor – The Journey of Humanity
This was the age of education, as investment in human capital and the role of education advanced considerably. The author states that historical evidence clearly suggests that technological advancements during industrialization have been associated with human capital formation. In fact, he says that the more steam engines in each department, the greater the investment in human capital. But all regions were not created equally.
At the inner layer, deeper factors rooted in geography and the distant past often underpinned the emergence of growth-enhancing cultural characteristics and political institutions in some regions of the world and growth-hindering ones in others.Oded Galor – The Journey of Humanity
Mr. Galor concludes that as the great cogs that have governed the journey of humanity continue to turn, measures that enhance future orientation, education and innovation, along with gender equality, pluralism and respect for difference, hold the key for universal prosperity. This is a must read that once again uses history to help us understand the future. I have added it to my Book Library.