We’re naturally wired to look for what’s wrong — or could go wrong — and overlook what’s right — or ignore the high likelihood that things will work out. We also live in a world where the dealers in disaster who can stoke our fears get the most attention. Videos of horrendous crimes or fake news go viral on social media, journalists report heart-wrenching stories of violence, and TV news brings High Definition images of war, suicide bombings, and terrorists driving trucks through crowds into our living rooms. And manipulative politicians harness our fears to promise they’ll fix it all if we elect them.
Polls in North America and Europe show the vast majority of people think the world is getting worse. Just 5% of Britons and 6% of Americans feel things are getting better. This extreme pessimism is completely wrong. Almost every major measure of our quality of life has dramatically improved.
Two years ago I began what’s now becoming a New Year tradition: researching how things are getting better. My first blog post, “A Dose of Reality: Our World is Dramatically Better”, listed 19 facts of highly positive changes. Last year I posted “Despite the Dire Headlines the World is Getting Much Better” and listed another 24 “factoids” as further proof.
Here are yet more facts showing how much better off we are today:
- In the last 50 years we’ve reduced the amount of our disposable income spent on food by 50%.
- Teen births in the U.S. have dropped by more than 60%.
- American violent crime has fallen over three-fold since the 80s and 90s.
- In 1820 in the U.S. most people had less than 2 years of education. That’s since gone up more than 10 times.
- Global literacy rates have risen from around 10% to 86% in the past 500 years.
- From 1915 to 1997 U.S. infant mortality rates are down 90% and mothers dying in birth is down 99%.
- The brutal behavior of ISIS would appear normal as recently as just a century ago — and even more so over the centuries before that.
- Scientists can now respond much quicker to epidemics. In 2009, they sequenced the swine flu genome in one day and produced a vaccine within 6 months.
- 68% of the world now has modern sanitation compared to just 24% in 1980.
- In 2012 86% of Americans approved of interracial dating (it’s 95% among18- to 29-year olds) compared to only 48% in 1987.
- There’s a 10 times higher chance of a European dying by falling down stairs than being killed by a terrorist.
- Over 2 billion people in the past 25 years are no longer suffering from hunger.
- Since 1980 the percentage of humanity around the globe with access to clean water has risen from 52% to 92%.
- Average global life expectancy has jumped to age 71 from 31 in 1900.
- People killed in wars between countries has dropped to an average of 3,000 today from 86,000 in the 1950s.
- Total emissions of six leading air pollutants tracked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been reduced by 2/3 since 1980.
- The amount of oil spilled in our oceans has been decreased by 99% since 1970.
- 178 countries have registered improvements in their Environmental Performance Index between 2004 and 2014. Only six countries worsened their performance.
- The risk of dying from a natural disaster has declined by 94% since 1900.
- Despite biblical guidelines (in both old and new testaments) on how to manage one’s slaves, the number of countries with legal slavery has gone from 60 in 1800 to none.
- In 1900 nobody lived in a country with a real democracy where each man and woman had one vote. Today it’s nearly 60% of the world.
- Child labor rates have been cut in half since the 1950s and continue falling sharply.
In 1783, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “[T] he Progress of human Knowledge will be rapid, and Discoveries made of which we have at present no Conception. I begin to be almost sorry I was born so soon, since I cannot have the Happiness of knowing what will be known 100 Years hence.”
Today we live in a utopian world that our ancestors could only dream about.
Enjoy the New Year!
Sources and Further Perspectives:
- Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, new book by Johan Norberg
- “Why the World Is Better Than You Think in 10 Powerful Charts”, Peter Diamandis (author of Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think)
- “Only 6% of Americans Think the World is Getting Better“, Alex Berezow, American Council on Science and Health
- “Your Life is Getting Better. These 5 Charts Can Prove It”, Keith Breene, World Economic Forum
- “If the World is Getting Better, Why Do We All Feel So Much Worse?”, Kevin Drum, Mother Jones
- “The World is Getting Better and Nobody Knows It”, Johan Norberg, Foundation for Economic Education
- “The State of the World: Better and Better”, The Economist
- “You Think the World is Going to Hell in 2016? It’s Actually Getting Better”, Jay Michaelson, Forward
- “Business as An Agent of World Benefit”, Sustainability site curated by David Cooperrider and Christopher Johnston, Scoop.it!