He proposes inequality in health. That's explained in case study of tobacco health effect. Tobacco's popularity spiked in the early 20th century only to fall down in the latter half. That knowledge spread quickly across countries. I can associate with that first hand. When coming to Canada the first time, the social stigma against cigarette smoking was much stronger. Friends tell you it's bad for you. It's illegal to smoke anywhere inside. Yet, Japan followed a similar social passage banning all street smoking 10-20 years after that incident. There's certainly a difference in health access not just in absolute technological term, but much more in the knowledge as well.

Tobacco health awareness spread much faster than the germ theory in 19th century. That speaks of the importance of the globally connected world we live in. In the later chapter, he makes a connection of knowledge spill over to the number of absolute scientists 1 country has. The hypothesis goes that the larger country has a big advantage in disseminating knowledge. Therefore it is the absolute number of scientists that matter and not the ratio. Though he was inconclusive, it was an interesting hypothesis nevertheless.

Other interesting ideas from the book:

  • Global population has been out of poverty at much drastic rate.
  • Excluding China and India, global poverty still declines but not as drastically.
  • Height growth is an important metric in measuring.
  • GDP likely overestimates more and more of the today's economy that focuses on quality improvement.
  • He thinks life expectancy will keep growing at constant pace (which has been plus 1 every 4 years since 1860) because we'd allocate more on health as we become wealthy.
  • From Thomas Piketty, today's rich consist of earners such as CEO, fund managers, etc. in contrast to dividend earners from a century ago. The proportion of self-made billionaires have stayed the same (which I think directly contradicts with Sillicon Valley claim like that of Peter Diamendis where he claims the world has more opportunity today than ever).

Overall, I found the book having too little punchline and too short. It pales in comparison to some of my other favorite books such as Pinker's Enlightenment Now, Robert Gorden's The Rise and Fall of American Growth, and Vaclav Smil's Energy and Civilization.

Life Extension More Potential

He's been responsible with his estimate as what economists should do. At the same time, I'm familiar with other folks who claim of longevity escape velocity. The central claim is the scientific progress becomes so rapid we will add additional year to the life expectancy faster than 1 year, therefore, extending life indefinitely. The famous advocates are Aubrey Du Grey and Ray Kurzweil.

That has no historical basis. At the same time, these revolutional breakthrough happens only once and it is hard to look back. The day before we could call through transtlantic, the only way to transmit messages are through the ships (which had its own linear progress, but nowhere near the revolutionary impact).

The argument that life expectancy extension will not be as easy for adult is undermining how difficult it was to save children. The technology looks relatively simple. But the context is we were just about discovering there's more to the world than what we can see with our own eyes. Piecing that knowledge together is fundamentally different from how we see science today.

The book also discounts the rate of scientific progress. Economists don't like to talk about immeasurable stuff. But the billions of people who grow out of poverty line entering the developed lifestyle will not simply sit around doing nothing. They'll equally contribute to the scientific community. So, it is also unrealistic to view this growth at the constant pace from the past 150 years. Aligning with his conclusion that we have an absolute motivation for health, we should equally estimate the increasing rate of scientific progress.