Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Reasons for Optimism X

1. Americans today are 20% less likely to die from cancer than we were in 1991. The death rate from cancer has fallen from 215.1 to 173.1 per 100,000. The decrease has been seen in men, women and children. Although death rates for some cancers are up, death rates for the four most common types of cancer (lung, colon, breast and prostate) have all fallen by more than 30%.

2. A second person has been cured of HIV, this time a newborn treated with triple the typical dose of antiretroviral drugs. The only person to have previously been cured of HIV was Timothy Brown, cured after a bone marrow transplant from a donor who was naturally immune. This second case holds far more promise as it is cheaper and may be easier to replicate.

3. The FDA has finally approved an early version of Geordi's visor, although the manufacturer's have opted for the name "artificial retina" instead. The device wirelessly sends images from a camera to an eye implant. The downside is that the implant requires the user to have some functioning retinal cells, so this is not a full cure for blindness. The upside is that the bulk of the device can be removed just like normal glasses, making upgrades easy.

4. Don Boudreaux continues his Cleaned by Capitalism series with an entry on "health-care products supplied quite successfully by free markets on a fee-for-service basis."

5. Once again via Mark Perry, U.S. oil production continues to grow. Texas has doubled oil production in the last three years, and is now producing more domestic oil than the entire country imports from the Persian Gulf. Christof Rühl, chief economist for BP, wrote recently, "The United States is likely to surpass Saudi Arabia in daily output very soon, and non-OPEC production will dominate global supply growth over the coming decade."

Furthermore, as of October 2012, the United States is producing more oil per day than every country in Central and South America combined. As recently as 2009, those countries were consistently producing 25-30% more oil than the US.

But the shale revolution isn't just here in the United States. Global oil production for the first three quarters of 2012 was 1% higher than all of 2011. Once the numbers are in for the fourth quarter, 2012 is expected to set an all-time record. For those worried that increased oil production means we'll just run out sooner, consider that ExxonMobil discovered more new recoverable oil last year than they took out of the ground--for the 19th year in a row.

6. Mark Perry and Don Boudreaux together penned a Wall Street Journal opinion piece arguing against middle class stagnation. (AEI also has a copy, in case the WSJ version is eventually paywalled.) They address the CPI's overstatement of inflation, the expansion in non-wage compensation, the large-scale entry of women into the labor force, rising life expectancy, the falling cost of "basics" like housing and food at home, and falling inequality in services like air travel and goods like consumer electronics. The piece is a wide-ranging but somewhat shallow introduction to the many lines of evidence that life is actually improving for most Americans.

Boudreaux has follow-ups to the piece here, herehere and here, including responses to some critics. Perry has follow-ups here and here. There's also more on the topic from James Pethokoukis and David Henderson.

7. Via MR, a village in India has dramatically improved agriculture yields using a method called System of Root Intensification (SRI) that focuses on soil conditions and plant density. Poor farmers in Darveshpura have set new world records for rice and potatoes, and SRI seems to improve yields for other crops as well. Some doubt the claims are legitimate, but the ease of adopting the method would allow small farmers the world over to increase their yields if the claims prove true.

8. Oliver August of The Economist recently completed a wide-ranging journey across 23 African countries. In the interview, he speaks of how easy it was to complete the journey, and says, "The main experience of travelling across Africa is one of hopefulness, one of industry, one of striving amongst the many still-quite-poor people, and one of a sense of a future that is coming closer quite quickly."

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