Last weekend’s mass shootings exacerbate the widespread misperception — along with worsening political divisions and issues such as global warming — that we live in dark times which are getting worse. Perhaps we could use some good news.
By virtually any standard, those living today have it exponentially better than those living just decades ago. This is borne out by myriad statistics involving wealth, literacy, life expectancy and education. As University of Oxford economist Max Roser noted in a 2017 paper, understanding these achievements is key to humanity’s continued progress.
“A positive lookout on the efforts of ourselves and our fellow humans is a vital condition to the fruitfulness of our endeavors,” Mr. Roser argued. “Knowing that we have come a long way in improving living conditions and the notion that our work is worthwhile is to us all what self-respect is to individuals. It is a necessary condition for self-improvement.”
Consider these advances:
■ Poverty. The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen drastically in the past two centuries. In 1820, 84 percent of those alive were destitute, Ronald Bailey of Reason magazine reports. That number dropped to 55 percent by 1950 — and has since fallen below 10 percent. “This is an extraordinary achievement,” Steve Danning of Forbes noted, “because the world population has increased seven-fold over the past two centuries.”
■ War. Despite a number of ongoing conflicts in various corners of the globe, we live in a time of relative peace, from a historical perspective. “Your chances of being killed by your fellow human beings have also dropped significantly,” Mr. Bailey reveals.
■ Literacy and education. Literacy rates are way up and the world populace is significantly better educated as a whole than it was 50 or 100 years ago. By 2100, Mr. Roser predicts, “there will be almost no one without formal education and there will be more than 7 billion minds who will have received at least a secondary education.”
■ Longevity. “During the past 200 years, Mr. Bailey reports, “global life expectancy more than doubled, now reaching 72.” By next year, “for the first time in human history, there will be more people over the age of 64 than under the age of 5.”
Virtually all of these advances have been drowned out by a drumbeat of eye-catching events that naturally gets emphasized online and in news reports. “Positive developments, on the other hand,” Mr. Roser writes, “often happen very slowly and never make the headlines.”
The history of human progress suggests the challenges that loom can be successfully addressed. “If inclusive liberal institutions can continue to be strengthened and if they further spread across the globe,” Mr. Bailey predicts, “the auspicious trends … will extend their advance.” A ray of hope during trying times.