The world today is in the midst of an unprecedented transformation in the human condition – in material living levels, health and life expectancy, literacy and education, the roles of women and men, and political governance. Viewing human development in this broad sense, I believe there is little support for the simplistic view so popular today in policy-making circles that free markets are the key to solving the world's problems. Free markets in the right institutional context may be conducive to economic growth. But the great advances in life expectancy and universal schooling have principally required governmental initiatives (see Chapters 4, 6, 7).
This is not to say that government can do no wrong. After World War III, demographers pushed to the fore the specter of a catastrophic “population explosion” in less developed countries, using this to promote governmental family planning programs. How much harm was done to how many people to “stop the population explosion at any cost” we will probably never know. But the record of governmental coercion in populous nations like India, Indonesia, and China is well established, if not well publicized (Easterlin 1985, 117–19; Gwatkin 1979; Hull and Hull 1997; Warwick 1982; Wolf 1986). If there had been more awareness of the importance of mortality reduction in creating pressures for limiting family size and the voluntary response of parents everywhere to such pressures (see Chapters 8, 9), a fair amount of human suffering might have been avoided.