Articles, Blog

The Hockey Stick of Human Prosperity

August 26, 2019

♪ [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] ♪


  • Reply Ryn Shane-Armstrong June 26, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    I hope Professor Boudreaux and the team at MRUniversity will eventually include 1.) something about the relatively new field of Behavioral Economics and 2.) an analysis of "everyday economics" through the lens of resource exploitation and environmental destruction.

  • Reply David Secondname June 27, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    But I cant afford a new phone every year, my life fucking sucks!!!

  • Reply ImaR A.B June 27, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Love the video, extremely fascinating. It really got me thinking, and being grateful, but on the other hand it got me really thinking about something.  Do I blink too much, or perhaps you blink too little?

  • Reply Ryuuken24 June 27, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    One guy for too many fallacies.

  • Reply Aaron Paxton June 27, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    Doesn't mention how we threw natural selection out the window.

  • Reply Merry Murphy June 27, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    Brilliant. I loved it when he said economists once asked "what causes prosperity?" but now ask "what causes poverty?" Really puts our world into perspective. Thanks Dr. Boudreaux. 

  • Reply Chuck Deuces June 27, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    Before you defend and believe this, he's attacking one point of view. Yes, we have wonderful things now. HOWEVER, we could have so much more if things weren't so bad right now. People need to learn not to settle for things. We used to be the greatest country on the planet, but we're falling out of this role due to people "settling" rather demanding what's right. Just because people in the East are ruled by dictators and get killed when resisting their government, does not mean our government should be allowed to do whatever they want towards us.

  • Reply GeneralZain June 27, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    all I see is "I'M READING SOMETHING O__O"

  • Reply Paul Price June 28, 2014 at 12:09 am

    What makes prosperity?  Access to products of cheap energy.  From slavery in Adam Smith's time to coal in the 19th century, oil in the 20th and now coal and fracked gas and any other fossil fuel.  Energy and wealth form a mutually reinforcing feedback.

    Sadly, we now also know that burning "cheap" fossil fuels is producing emissions that will exhaust the atmospheric capacity for a "safe", less than 2ºC climate before 2030.

    We can only hope that economists can wake up very soon to the fact that the prosperity of now for the few can only be extended to the many if they begin to create an economics that cuts wealthy energy use and emissions radically and quickly to give space for some prosperity for our children and others around the world.  

    Can your economics course work on that?

  • Reply el scientifico June 28, 2014 at 12:33 am

    What a crock 

  • Reply souvikdas June 28, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Question: What exactly is wealth? I understand money is a representation of wealth, but what exactly is wealth itself?

    Is it, fundamentally, a manifestation of desire for the world? If so, can the generation of wealth in an economy be understood as a greater desire for stuff that has been instilled in the population (through marketing or otherwise)?

  • Reply Kathul Emerald June 28, 2014 at 1:52 am

    Doesn't sit right with me at all. I guess I'm an old soul. Sure I live well and I am grateful for what I have now, but I wouldn't say this is the best time to be alive. GUESS I SHOULD KILL MYSELF; AMIRITE?!  HUEHUEHUE INTERNET TROLLS COME AT ME #EDGY fuck you.

  • Reply bluper8 June 28, 2014 at 2:47 am

    I think that the reason for the life expectancy to be so different was that the child mortality skewed the average.

  • Reply Sorax999 June 28, 2014 at 2:55 am

    I agree. Atheism has granted this moment of great intellectual progress in human history. In this moment I am euphoric. Please up vote me fellow redditors.

  • Reply Green Goose June 28, 2014 at 3:16 am

    We're at or close to the peak of human prosperity which is not sustainable since we live in a resource finite world.

  • Reply The88Cheat June 28, 2014 at 3:41 am

    William Dafoe?

  • Reply joshuaoha June 28, 2014 at 5:07 am

    Good stuff. But I'd like to see more differentiation between free market economics and modern corporate capitalism as we know it.

  • Reply Chris Winning June 28, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Made in China, Made in China, Made in China, Made in China….

  • Reply monkageman33 June 28, 2014 at 10:16 am

    this dudes eyeballs scare the shit out of me..

  • Reply Ezechielpitau June 28, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Does anyone else feel that he's really really missing the big point that we have exported poverty? 300 years ago, if I was a rich man, then I would consume stuff that my poor fellow Germans made. Now, I consume stuff that poor chinese kids make. (And sadly, this is almost unavoidable. Try boycotting every business that abuses their (often asian) workers and there's almost nothing left to buy…

  • Reply Stannis June 28, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I love how he uses an illustration of a man from the 16th century to make a point about people the 19th century. Its like he underestimates the knowledge of the viewer, or is just sloppy. Either way, I dont like it.   

  • Reply Julius Fawcett June 28, 2014 at 11:15 am

    This is wonderfully well presented. Real wealth is the absence of thought patterns to do with fear and the feeling of love that comes from caring and being cared about.

  • Reply mma220 June 28, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    we live in the time were oil rule the earth  and will destroy it sorry but its the truth

  • Reply Ken Sushi June 28, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    you are the future keep up the good work

  • Reply Zoltán Tóth-Czifra June 28, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    My guess of what causes prosperity: fossil fuels (also first used in the industrial revolution). By delegating work to machines humanity can focus on higher level work and take advantage of machines and fuels even more. Now it's a critical time to shift from fossil fuels to something else (solar, nuclear), otherwise we ought to slide back to where we were.

  • Reply Jeff B June 28, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Le reddit armie is hear! As a well respected mod for /r/history(also I have two months of reddit gold from a inciteful comment I made, also /u/unidan has sent me several PMs)., I should point out that the life expectancy rate at 30 years old was only due t the infant mortality rate. Plenty of people lived well into their 50s and 60s back in olden times. Le fedora narwhal bacon(only redditors will know what this means)

  • Reply kev3d June 28, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    The lure of Nostalgia is a difficult spell to break.   Of course, as a matter of taste, some things really were better "back in the day", but only according to those who value those older things.  After all, value is subjective.   But when I hear some modern complaints about jobs, I often hear something similar to this;  "We don't have manufacturing jobs any more!  Things were so much better when we had those jobs!"   and, often in the same paragraph, "Retail/Food service sucks.  It's boring and the pay is terrible."   

    Naturally, it is usually ignored that factories of the past were often dangerous, the jobs extremely repetitive, low paying, and not air conditioned.    True, entry into retail and food service also doesn't pay very well, but the jobs are cleaner, safer, in a more comfortable working environment, with fewer ethnic, racial, sexual or class barriers than ever before.  

    But of course, the grass is always greener "back then", and people are extremely spoiled today.   As the line from "The Jerk" goes;  “Kids today. They don’t want to start at the bottom and work their way up. They want to start at the top and work their way sideways.” 

  • Reply Joey Sullivan June 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Adam Smith hated capitalism – he just knew that since everyone else was trying to screw everyone over, we should be too.

  • Reply Chaz Novit June 30, 2014 at 1:11 am

    Bravo… Don is putting some simple common sense explaining into economics, and how that gives us EVERYTHING we currently enjoy. Without the advent of the miraculous but initially dirty industrial age–we'd all be dirty-hungry-unhealthy bastards.

    Sadly, there are some of us who romanticize the benefit of communism, which seeks to take the productivity of industry, and individual creativity, to feed the state and its minions of politicians.

  • Reply Nick Pijlman June 30, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    So he's basically telling us to just stfu and go back to work…

  • Reply steven bibian July 2, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Best Ad I've seen on youtube. I didn't even hit skip.

  • Reply jamtheman3017 July 4, 2014 at 4:52 am

    2/3 of humans alive today still live in absolute poverty?

  • Reply Alexander Kittelson July 19, 2014 at 7:04 am

    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.

  • Reply Jeff Rankin October 10, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    Great talk, Don. I think we could use a debunk of Distributism. Keep up the good work!

  • Reply Denis Lama October 20, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    That's not really how life expectancy works…

  • Reply WolfieEm November 15, 2014 at 1:08 am

    Thats my professor 🙂

  • Reply truemisto November 20, 2014 at 12:57 pm

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

  • Reply dave June 6, 2015 at 4:55 am

    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?!

  • Reply thedwork June 9, 2015 at 11:41 am

    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.

  • Reply Geezart July 17, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    Great video! Loved the editing and info. Liked 👍

  • Reply Jeffrey Karl September 11, 2015 at 9:35 am

    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.

  • Reply Ryan Stokes September 24, 2015 at 10:26 am

    What you're describing is what's called TECHNOLOGY not Capitalism. lmao. this is so stupid.

  • Reply PANNA LAL April 26, 2016 at 2:05 pm


  • Reply courtney Parker August 31, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    Great video, didn't expect to see my professor though. 😊

  • Reply Paul Miller November 2, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    wow. well done. Thanks for the short succinct summary. An invaluable resource.

  • Reply catothewiser November 6, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    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.

  • Reply Siddharth Singh December 7, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    amazing Channel!

  • Reply Marcio Lino de Almeida December 15, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    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.

  • Reply Ullas Ahuja January 27, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    so awesome

  • Reply Jonathan September 4, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    What would our ancestors life expectancy look like if we ignored the outlier of infant mortality?

  • Reply Siddharth Kumar September 24, 2017 at 2:45 am

    power of focus

  • Reply Mikeg1 .1 November 15, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    Every kid should be taught this.
    It's not really that bad in 2017.

  • Reply Craig TheSchmeg January 6, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    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?

  • Reply qurplex March 13, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    Why is it called hockey stick of prosperity

  • Reply Crypto Jensen March 30, 2018 at 12:52 am

    Thank you

  • Reply Absolutely Elite llc January 7, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    Great video and the hockey stick of human prosperity is very interesting from 30 years to 80 years thats awesome!!

  • Reply Washington Strong arm April 20, 2019 at 11:01 pm

    Great video, thanks 😀

  • Reply I'm Only A Man And I Will Die Some Day June 10, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    <3 Boudreaux

  • Leave a Reply