There were two world shaping revolutions in 1776. Next Wednesday, July 4, we celebrate the signing of the document that resulted in our American Revolution.
There were two world shaping revolutions in 1776. Next Wednesday, July 4, we celebrate the signing of the document that resulted in our American Revolution. The other revolution was one of ideas, resulting from the publishing of Adam Smith’s second book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, usually known simply as The Wealth of Nations. Smith explained the principles of economic freedom and self-determination that we call capitalism. Both of these revolutions are critically important to the good health that we enjoy today in America and around the world.
The embrace of capitalism and the defeat of serfdom in Europe resulted in the greatest increase in life expectancy and general health that the world has yet seen. Increases in freedom, self-determination and economic freedom are highly correlated with increased health and reduced mortality. That is true historically and today. A male child born in France in the 18th century had a life expectancy of less than 30 years. A male child born in 18th century England had a life expectancy of 34 years. There were serfs in France, but not England, at that time. Life expectancy in England had risen to 41 years by 1820, 50 years by the early 20th century, and today the life expectancy at birth is 81 years in the United Kingdom (UK). It is 82 years in France, and 80 years in the USA. (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2102rank.html).
While the changes in health during the 18th and 19th centuries were due mostly to capitalism, the 20th century showed the importance of the other revolution for the world. That century birthed the most brutal totalitarian regimes the world has ever known, at least in terms of numbers of deaths they caused. The first was the USSR, which was the initial communist government that spawned other communist regimes, and then the Nazi regime arose in Germany about 20 years later. The deaths resulting from communist governments and the World War started by the Nazis amounted to at least 140 million, and perhaps 180 million people. These regimes and their associated killing would not have been ended, but for the United States of America and the dedication of the men and women of this great country who did and do pledge their lives, fortunes and sacred honor in order that the cause of freedom not perish from the earth. The Declaration of Independence and The Gettysburg Address are two short documents that are well worth re-reading as we remember this country’s striving to fulfil the founders’ dream of a sovereign and independent nation where people are free and equal.
It is often alleged that capitalism is amoral and is not as compassionate as socialism. In answer to the morality question I cite Adam Smith’s arguments in his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which is still one of the world’s most influential books on the philosophy of morals. I would also point out that the people of the United States give much more money to charity – almost twice as much, as a percentage of their income – than do the citizens of any other country. As to compassion, there is a strong correlation between freedom and health, as can be seen by comparing the chart for life expectancy (above) with the Heritage Foundation’s Freedom Index (https://www.heritage.org/index/ranking). Indeed, of the 50 countries with the highest life expectancies, only Greece has recently been less than moderately free. Finally, it should be noted that the fall of the USSR marked the time at which capitalism began to advance rapidly in the third world. On the brink of that fall (in 1990), 1.9 billion people – 43% of the developing world – lived on less than $1.25 a day. In 2008, about 1.3 billion, or 22% did. The average life expectancy in the world increased from 65.4 years to 70.1 years in that time.
In the upcoming week let us give thanks for the miraculous gift of our freedom. It has made us a healthy and wealthy nation, but freedom is always only one generation away from oblivion. May we ever remember that, and act accordingly. And may God Bless America.
This column is a service of The Health and Wellness Coalition of Runnels County which now meets every second Thursday at 7 pm. The next meeting will be in the conference room at North Runnels Clinic on July 12. In addition, everyone is invited to join us each Thursday for a healthcare provider led walk, from 6 to 6:30 in the Ballinger City Park. We meet at the Pavilion. (Bring water. Stay hydrated.)