It’s time for our annual dose of reality. Let’s start the New Year with a perspective check. We’ve heard way too much from the “nattering nabobs of negativity,” purveyors of pessimism, and deliverers of doom. Let’s ditch the “crap glasses” and get real. Let’s look at what’s truly going on in the world.
This annual New Year’s blog on how the world continues its relentless march of continuous improvement has become our most inspiring and favorite to research and produce. This tradition started five years ago with “A Dose of Reality: Our World is Dramatically Better.” The following year we reported, “Despite Dire Headlines, the World is Getting Much, Much Better.” The next year we added to our long and growing list of positive facts with “Beyond the Doom and Gloom: Over 65 Ways Our World Keeps Getting Better.” Last year we piled on even more evidence with “Don’t Get Dragged Down by all the Negative News: Life’s Better Than Ever.”
One of my favorite books to read in the past year was Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist. He’s “write on” with these comments, “No matter how persuasive our evidence, we routinely encounter disbelief and even hostility, as if accentuating the positive was callous. People cling to pessimism about the state of the world. John Stuart Mill neatly summarized this tendency as far back as 1828: ‘I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage.’ It’s cool to be gloomy.”
Many authors of the books and articles highlighted in these New Year’s blogs point out humans are hardwired to look for weaknesses and what’s wrong. Ridley writes, “We’re even capable of fretting about the bounty of prosperity, as ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic highlights in his clever song, ‘First World Problems’: ‘The thread count on these cotton sheets has got me itching/My house is so big, I can’t get Wi-Fi in the kitchen.'”
Here’s a fraction of the good news reported in the past year:
- 85.8% of the world’s one-year-old children have been vaccinated against some disease, but pessimism based on anti-vaxxer negative news abounds. A poll of Americans showed they felt only 35% of the world’s children are vaccinated. Japanese feel it’s just 18%.
- Smallpox has been vaccinated out of existence. This has saved around 5 million lives per year and between 150 to 200 million lives between 1980 and 2018.
- Since 1990, global average income has increased by 55%. For the first time in 10,000 years over 50% of the world have enough income to be considered middle class or rich.
- 2017 was the first year there were no commercial passenger plane deaths at all with over 4 billion people in the air.
- Global suicide rates have fallen by 29% since 2000.
- Between 1980 and 2017 the world’s population increased by 69% from 4.46 to 7.55 billion, yet resources are more abundant than ever. The CATO Institute researchers found “humanity is experiencing superabundance.”
- In the past 25 years, the share of people living in extreme poverty around the world fell from 36% to 10%. 200 years ago 90% of the world lived in extreme poverty.
- Violent crime in America has dropped 75% since the early 1990s. The chances of an American being killed by a terrorist in the USA in 1 in 3.5 billion — less chance than drowning in a bathtub.
- Since 180 countries signed the Montreal Protocol to phase out chemicals like CFCs, the ozone layer is now improving about 3% per decade and should be fully restored in the Northern Hemisphere by 2030 and Antarctica by 2060.
- Global life expectancy has increased by 10 years since 1980.
- The number of annual deaths from natural disasters has been cut in half in the past 100 years.
- Child mortality has been halved in the past 20 years.
- 2/3 of the world lives in a democracy.
- Since 1990, winter smog is down by 77% and summer smog by 22% while the U.S. population has grown rapidly.
- The 2018 Social Progress Index reports “overall the world is getting better, with 133 of the 146 countries seeing an overall improvement in social progress.”
- The 2018 Report of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climates concludes, “We are on the cusp of a new economic era: one where growth is driven by the interaction between rapid technological innovation, sustainable infrastructure investment, and increased resource productivity.”
Pessimists often call themselves realists. Really? It’s completely unrealistic to believe the world’s getting worse. The evidence clearly and overwhelmingly shows we’re better off with each passing year.
But what about global warming, economic uncertainty, rising populism, famine, war, the refugee crisis, or ballooning debt levels. As Gregg Easterbrook writes in It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear, “There is a great deal to worry about. But while worrying, be optimistic. Optimism does not make us blind to the many faults of the world. Rather, optimism is the conviction that problems can be solved if we roll up our sleeves and get to work… optimism is the best argument for reform — and the bow that propels the arrow of history.”
My very favorite book of the past year is Harvard professor, researcher, and author Steven Pinker’s latest, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. In over six dozen graphs, Pinker provides powerful data showing how the pioneering leaders of late 18th century enlightenment thinking are here now. We truly are living the dream. Click here to read the blog.
Pinker opens the Progress section of his book with the words of Barack Obama, “If you had to choose a moment in history to be born, and you did not know ahead of time who you would be — you didn’t know whether you were going to be born into a wealthy family or a poor family, what country you’d be born in, whether you were going to be a man or a woman — if you had to choose blindly what moment you’d want to be born, you’d choose now.”
Sources of the Above Facts and Suggested Reading
- Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Steven Pinker
- Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmmm on…Enlightenment Now
- Good news: The world is getting better. Bad news: You were wrong about how things have changed, World Economic Forum
- New Evidence That the World Really Is Getting Better, Singularity Hub
- It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear, Gregg Easterbrook
- The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, Matt Ridley
- Good news at last: the world isn’t as horrific as you think, The Guardian
- Capitalism isn’t broken — the world is getting better
- More Evidence for Abundance
- These 9 Amazing Graphs Reveal How Life Is Actually Getting Better for Billions of People
- A global tipping point: Half the world is now middle class or wealthier, Brookings Institute
- The Goalkeepers Report, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
- HumanProgress, Cato Institute
- Our World in Data
- Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, Hans Rosling and Gapminder — website behind the book
- 40 Ways the World is Getting Better
- 50 Reasons We’re Living Through the Greatest Period in World History
- Business as an Agent of World Benefit
- The New Climate Economy