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Lest We Forget: The Power of Economic Progress

I recently joined fellow V&C blogger RJ Moeller in reading “Animal Farm” with social media friends and fellow travelers. About two-thirds of the way through the book, tyranny comes to the animals through their minds, as their Dear Leader and his agents begin reshaping their memories to exert greater control over them. When they forget what has happened, they lose evidence that the tyrant is lying to them, manipulating them for his own purposes that are directly opposite of what he earlier promised. But they can’t hold him accountable because they can’t remember he is wrong. The theme came again to me in watching this Cato interview with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, a libertarian. He says:
Two hundred years ago, 85 percent of people alive on this earth lived on less than $1 a day. Now it’s down to 16 percent. Two hundred years ago, illiteracy rates across the planet were over 90 percent. Today they’re down to 14 percent. Two hundred years ago, the average lifespan was 30. Today it’s 68. It’s 78 in the United States… So business and capitalism has lifted the world up. And I see that economic freedom as the key to it all.
Sometimes I stop what I am doing to roll my eyes at myself because I am a creature captured by my moment in time. That means I act as if air conditioning is a life necessity, or it’s ridiculous when my cell phone doesn’t get signal. Marketing guru Seth Godin says rich means you have enough money to make choices. And that’s almost everyone in America. Even poor folks in the United States can choose between McDonald’s or Wendy’s (or, let’s not assume here based on my neighbors’ breakfast preferences: Kroger or Whole Foods). We can pay $8 to have 2,000 calories delivered to us, hot. Even for minimum-wage people, that’s just over an hour of work, for your entire day’s worth of calories. AEI’s Mark Perry blogs on this all the time. You’ve probably seen that viral video about how “everything is amazing and no one is happy.” It’s because we have no memory. As a culture, we have forgotten what it feels like when 90 percent of the country must farm because that’s how people can eat. We’ve forgotten that any phone or television or even radio at all was once a luxury, or entire possibility. Today, two-thirds of people the Census Bureau calls poor pay every month for cable or satellite TV. Our government will pay to give them a cell phone. Losing our memory makes us believe lies about how miserable it is for some people to be an American in the year 2013. Losing our memory also makes people feel poor when they have ready access to such luxuries. As they say, watch the whole thing: