Thank the Industrial Revolution for Longer Life

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published October 28 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Growing older comes with its problems, but, as we’ve all heard, it surely beats the alternative. Earlier this month Ari turned 40. (We don’t need to go into details of Linn’s age.) An interesting fact about the age of 40 is that it’s older than the average lifespan of almost all of human history. So if you’re older than 40, or hope to be, thank the industrial revolution, which radically extended human life.

The industrial revolution, fueled by the philosophical Scottish Enlightenment, gained steam in England in the late 1700s. This was right around the time of the founding of the United States, which, as the freest country in the history of the earth, soon adopted the industrial revolution as its own and created unparalleled prosperity.

Modern humans have walked the earth for roughly a quarter of a million years. So you are extremely lucky to have been born during the tiny fraction of human history in which you have a good chance to live to see old age as we now understand it.

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, one nation still has a life expectancy less than 40: Angola. Several African nations still have life expectancies less than 50. Why the difference? Much of Africa remains ravaged by tribal warfare, political corruption, and an almost total lack of industrial progress, exacerbating such problems as famine and the AIDS epidemic.

Throughout almost all of human history, most people faced conditions roughly comparable to those of the poorest regions of modern Africa. Violence, starvation, and disease were the normal conditions of life.

The Wikipedia entry on “life expectancy” offers some good leads; for example, it cites a recent text on American history that discusses England in the early 1600s. That book summarizes, “Life expectancy was only about thirty-five years, and two-thirds of all children died before the age of four.” Today children rarely die. Throughout much of human history, many or most children died, and that was considered normal.

In the industrial world, life expectancy has risen into the upper 70s and 80s. The United States comes in only 50th on the CIA’s list with a life expectancy of 78.37. (Monaco tops the list at 89.73.) But the U.S. suffers relatively high rates of auto fatalities and homicides; adjusted for those factors, our country approaches or hits the top of the list.

But how could early industry, with its dirty coal and poor working conditions, so dramatically extend human life? Prior to industry, most people lived in abject poverty, and even the few wealthy of the time had relatively few of the amenities even America’s poor now take for granted. (Andrew Bernstein does a good job of reviewing early industrial advances in Capitalism Unbound.)

Prior to industry, people had to walk wherever they went; the lucky few had horses and carriages (which left stinking, pestilent messes in city streets). Steam-powered boats and trains, then petrol-powered automobiles, gave mobility to the masses. Today we can ride by helicopter to a far-away hospital if we need urgent medical care. We can jet around the world in the time it used to take to traverse a state. A relative recently flew to Europe for discretionary health care.

In the good old days, often you were luckier if you did not have access to a doctor with his leeches and concoctions. If you got an infection, often you would die. Today advanced machinery can scan your bones or peer into your heart. We have access to mass-produced drugs effective at alleviating a wide range of ailments. We have access to heart surgery and advanced cancer treatments.

At America’s founding, roughly 90 percent of all working people farmed. Eking a living from the dirt without the aid of tractors and trucks, irrigation pipes, and modern fertilizers imposed severe hardships. Today less than three percent of the workforce raises all our food—freeing up the labor of others to provide our other wants and needs.

Prior to industry, people made their few items of clothing by hand. With industrial production of cotton clothing, the masses could afford to buy clothes and subject them to the rigors of routine cleaning. Today, we can clothe ourselves modestly for perhaps a couple hour’s worth of labor.

True, industrial progress requires legal stability and relative freedom. Capital formation—the development of the tools and machines that expand our productivity—drives our improving standard of living. People don’t invest in capital when others loot or destroy the products of their effort. The prosperity of capitalism derives from the political protection of people’s rights. To the degree we stray from that standard, we undermine our prosperity and threaten our futures.

If you value your high standard of living and your potential to live into your 70s and beyond, live in gratitude for the industrial revolution—and help protect its future.

In Defense of Income Inequality (In Capitalism)

The Objective Standard has published my latest article, “The Justice of Income Inequality Under Capitalism.” I begin by asking, “Why do many [Wall Street] Occupiers oppose some forced wealth transfers and advocate others?” The typical “Occupier” advocates forced wealth transfers from “the rich” to the less rich — but that “occupation” position is wrong on moral (and economic) grounds.

I point out, “[T]he income inequality under tyranny is fundamentally different from that under capitalism. One arises from looting and forcing; the other from producing and thinking.” (I distinguish capitalists from those “who wield political power to seize subsidies and hamstring their competitors.”)

Check out the entire article!

The Nobility of Capitalism

Today the Denver Post published an attack on capitalism by Daniel W. Brickley of Littleton. Following is my reply:

Capitalism: The Only Moral System

I’ll untangle Brickley’s many confusions. Capitalism protects people’s right to live their own lives and interact voluntarily with others, by their own judgment, free from political controls. Capitalism means a system in which individuals rights to property and contract are consistently protected. In capitalism, the job of the government is to protect people from force and fraud.

To the degree that politicians interfere in the market, that is not capitalism, but its opposite. If “bribed governments” grant to some businesses political advantages to seize wealth by force or forcibly harm competitors, that is not “unregulated capitalism;” it is a market controlled to some degree by politicians.

Capitalism is regulated (made regular) first by a government that protects against force and fraud, and second by the independent judgment of individuals. If you don’t like a company’s products or services, don’t buy them! If you think you can do better, you are free to try. But this is not the sort of “regulation” that the enemies of capitalism have in mind. Instead, they call on politicians to control the economy and violate people’s rights.

Brickley is right about one thing: capitalism is incompatible with pure democracy. Capitalism protects individual rights. Pure democracy is mob rule, it is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner, it is 51 percent of the population enslaving the other 49 percent.

Brickley calls capitalism, the only system compatible with the reasoning mind of man, a “religion,” and equates it with Soviet communism. This is pure projection. For the full justification of capitalism, see Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Capitalism is marked by men of drive and genius developing the goods and services — the health care, the technology, the food, the housing, the cars — we need to thrive. Their motive is to produce life-enhancing products and exchange them voluntarily with others for their personal gain. No motive could be more noble.

As for nastiness, we need look no further than Brickley’s smear campaign against capitalism and capitalists.

Ari Armstrong

Majority Favors Capitalism

Rasmussen reports that “53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism,” while 20 percent favor socialism and 27 percent don’t know.

Here’s the worse news: “Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided.”

The problem with the report and the survey question is that people’s understanding of the terms varies radically. Many think that the massive-statist George W. Bush epitomized capitalism. Many conflate capitalism with modern corporatism, the meshing of corporations and government. Many think institutions such as the Federal Reserve comport with capitalism. The American economy today is not capitalistic, but mixed, with elements of freedom and controls.

So, while I’m heartened that most people at least have a favorable impression of capitalism and a disfavorable impression of socialism, the key is to educate people about what capitalism means, how it protects freedom and individual rights, and how it fosters prosperity.

Capitalism In Two Minutes

After my dad and I wrote a column criticizing candidates for their general inability to defend capitalism, one of the candidates asked us if we could defend capitalism in two minutes. Granted that it’s easier to write something down than to come up with it spontaneously, following is what I came up with (which obviously owes a great deal to Ayn Rand):

Capitalism is the only economic system that recognizes the right of each individual to his own life and pursuit of happiness. Under capitalism, the government’s sole responsibility is to protect individual rights, including the right to life, the right to control one’s own property consistent with the equal rights of others, and the right to interact voluntarily. No person may use force against any other except in lawful self-defense.

Capitalism does not mean today’s mixed economy, in which some property is held by individuals, some by the government, in which politicians control most aspects of the economy with reams of controls, in which nearly half of all produced wealth is forcibly redistributed by politicians. Do not blame capitalism for the current economic mess, which was caused by government-controlled lending institutions and political rules that forced other lenders to make risky loans.

Capitalism is the only system that recognizes the right of each individual to live by his own judgment. Each person is free to choose what to study, how long to study, what career to pursue, when to change careers, how long to work, where to live, where to shop, and where to recreate. However, no person may force anyone else to provide any good, service, job, or relationship. To get something from someone else, each individual must freely trade to get it or rely on gifts given voluntarily. Because each individual acts on his own judgment, capitalism is the system geared to the production of wealth. Individuals can make economic mistakes, but when they do they are less able to induce others to exchange goods and services. Capitalism thus forbids all political action beyond the protection of rights as instances of force, the effect of which is to disrupt the rational plans of individuals as they produce and interact. Capitalism rewards good judgment and productivity, leading to an increasingly wealthy society in which any honest, hard-working person can prosper and the most productive can keep what they richly deserve.

“An Extreme Free-Market View”

As I write, sunrise is a few short hours away. But, as I was checking the papers for the baseball updates, I came across Jason Salzman’s latest column for the Rocky Mountain News. He writes:

In response to my last column documenting how Denver journalists love and embed the conservative/libertarian Independence Institute, some people asked whom I’d quote instead of institute President Jon Caldara. …

For an extreme free-market view, there’s Ari Armstrong ( [hey, that’s me!] and Brian T. [Schwartz] (, among others.

So, before heading to bed, I wanted to welcome Salzman’s readers who may have wandered this way. Because extreme exhaustion in defense of liberty is no vice! (Or something like that.)

Unlike most politicians and commentators these days, I don’t get ruffled when somebody suggests that I’m “extreme.” If this strikes you as odd, allow me to ask you a few questions.

Do you want to be extremely happy, or just sort of happy? (I’m not talking about a superficial giddiness, but a deep enjoyment of life.)

Would you like to live in an extremely just society, or a society that’s just only some of the time?

Should we strive to be extremely good, extremely virtuous, extremely moral, or just pretty good?

The alternative to extreme happiness, justice, and goodness is some amount of unhappiness, injustice, and destructive vice. (Please don’t confuse “vice” with activities that can be healthy in the right context, such as moderate drinking.)

Imagine yourself in the mid-1800s. The abolitionists called for the abolition — the complete abandonment — of slavery. They took the extreme position that slavery is morally wrong and should be completely outlawed. The moderates, on the other hand, argued that slavery should merely be restricted. Would you have been on the side of the abolitionists or the moderates?

Just as I would have been proud to call myself an abolitionist in the mid-1800s, so I am proud to advocate an “extreme free-market view” today.

What is a free market? An individual market is any space or network in which people can exchange goods or services. E-bay is a market. The market in the broader sense is the sum of such networks and transactions. A free market is one in which people interact voluntarily, free from the initiation of force. For example, if you and I agree to swap an apple for an egg, that’s a free-market transaction. If one party takes something by force, threat of force, or fraud, then the market is no longer free. Force has replaced voluntary association. Buying groceries is an example of a free-market trade. Robbing a grocery store is an example of force.

The proper and necessary function of government is to protect each individual’s right to control his or her own life, resources, and property, as consistent with the equal protection of the rights of others. You have the right to control your property and trade the fruits of your labor with others, so long as you don’t violate the property rights of others in the process.

An extremely free market is one in which people’s rights are consistently protected. The alternative is a society in which some people exert force against others.

Obviously I’ve given only the briefest overview of the basic theory. But that should give you a basic sense of where I’m coming from.

Here are some examples, again in brief, of how my “extreme free-market view” plays out with respect to particular issues. People have the right to control their own resources, so politicians should not force them to fund the health care of others. Voluntary charity is fine, but forced wealth transfers are not. People have the right to control their own property, so they should be left free to set smoking policy there. Company owners have the right to run their businesses and offer goods and services to willing customers, so businesses should not have to seek permission from the FTC or other bureaucracy to merge or otherwise operate. People own their homes, so local governments should not be able to take those homes away by force.

I realize that many of you have been trained since you could walk to compromise for the sake of compromise, reject any position that dares invoke a principle (except the “principle” that “there are not principles”), and always seek the centrist position, regardless of who defines the boundaries.

“Compromise.” Even if you’re compromising the good for the sake of the bad, the just for the sake of injustice?

“Be reasonable.” But how can you reason apart from principles?

“Why go to extremes?” Do you wish to be moderate in pursuit of justice? Sanction the violation of only some rights?

A consistently or “extremely” free market means that individuals’ rights are consistently protected, that people are free to control their own resources and associate voluntarily. The alternative is that some people control others by force.

I’ve written quite a lot more about political issues for the Colorado Freedom Report. For more about compromise, please see Ayn Rand’s essay, “Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?” in The Virtue of Selfishness. See also Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which sees its fiftieth anniversary this month.