Why Here, Why Now? Why Did The United States Enjoy Dramatic Improvements In The Standard Of Living During The Last Century?

Monday, August 26, 2019
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Recorded on April 18, 2019

Peter Robinson opens the session by discussing the major improvements that happened over the last one hundred years in the United States, between 1919 and 2019. For example, the GDP per person rose by 760 percent, life expectancy improved from 55 to 79 years, and various other automotive, technological, medical, and quality-of-life advances were achieved.

Robinson then starts the discussion with former secretary of state George Shultz, who encourages a broader vision as we look for the reasons for prosperity. Shultz discusses some of the major events that occurred during the 20th century, e.g., the Great Depression, currency manipulation, World War II, and the Holocaust, whose negative impacts framed the mindset of Americans to question the institutions underlying society. Robinson then asks John Cogan about these institutions—private property, the rule of law, free markets—and the importance of these for prosperity. Cogan explains those institutions are necessary for sustained prosperity, which demands conditions that are stable in order to fuel economic growth.

Robinson asks Terry Anderson about the importance of property rights. Terry says that property rights are the key to providing people with incentives to care for and maintain the property they own. Anderson notes that nobody washes rental cars, because they don’t own them.

Robinson asks Lee Ohanian about the role of immigration in prosperity. Ohanian says that the United States has been fortunate in attracting the best talents from all over the world, which has played a major role in sustaining prosperity. Ohanian notes that having an inflow of immigrants like Sergey Brin from Soviet Union, Elon Musk from South Africa, and others has helped the United States stay on the cutting edge of innovation with new and fresh ideas.

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