Cheer Up - Things are Getting Better

Can you guess which "ism" is making that happen?

“Pessimism,” according to John Kenneth Galbraith, “is the mark of a superior intellect.” Many pessimists would no doubt agree. And yet, if another mark of a serious intellect is attention to facts, then Galbraith is wrong, and so are the pessimists. The facts give us great reason for optimism.

Marian L. Tupy, a scholar at the Cato Institute, has assembled a vast number of those facts at a fascinating new website, humanprogress.org. Its interactive maps and tables allow you to examine for yourself the ways in which the “evidence from academic institutions and international organizations shows dramatic improvements in human well-being.”

Consider, for example, infant mortality: Only half a century ago, more than 100 children of every 1,000 who were born perished within a year. That figure has plunged 80 percent.

Or consider warfare: In the 1500s and 1600s, the world’s great powers warred against one another more often than not, and almost constantly during certain periods. Over the past several decades great-power conflict has been the exception rather than the norm.

Those changes produce others: “Average global life expectancy at birth,” Tupy wrote recently in Reason, “hovered around 30 years from the Upper Paleolithic to 1900.” In 2010 the global average life expectancy was 67, and it is on the cusp of reaching 68.

The conditions in which people live have improved vastly as well. Until the Industrial Revolution the great majority of humanity scratched out a miserable subsistence from the Earth by farming from sunup to sundown. They had no electricity, no refrigeration, no painkillers, and no means of travel or communication faster than a horse. Now even the developed world’s poor enjoy amenities — central heating, cellphones — that the world’s richest aristocrats could not have dreamed of at one time.

Those in the developing world are not so well off (though 24 percent of the people of Niger, for example, had cellphones by 2010 — compared with only 0.02 percent a decade before). And most are far better off today than they were half a century ago. According to the Center for Global Development, more than half the world’s people live in places where GDP “has increased more than fivefold over 50 years.”India’s economy has increased tenfold since 1960.China’s has grown 17-fold. And even those in the underdeveloped world are seeing their lot improve: “In sub-Saharan Africa,” Tupy writes, from 1990 to 2012 “(daily) caloric intake (per person) increased from 2,180 to 2,380.”

More gleanings from the Human Progress website? People have more leisure: The typical Dutch citizen works 40 percent fewer hours per year than in 1950. People enjoy better housing: Twenty-three percent fewer people in Bangladesh live in slums now than in 1995. They get more education: Worldwide, the mean number of years of schooling an adult had received in 1980 was 4.7. By 2011 it was 7.6. Women’s circumstances are improving: Gender wage gaps are shrinking, and the number of women in ministerial-level positions is growing.

Does this mean everything will soon be perfect, and so our work is done? Not even close. Tupy does not mean to suggest the world is all rainbows, butterflies and unicorns. The goal of Human Progress “is not to paint a rosy picture of the state of humanity, but a realistic one.” To do that, he writes, one should “compare the imperfect present with a much more imperfect past, rather than with an imagined utopia of the future.”

Indeed. If the horrors of the 20th century hold any one lesson, surely it must be the danger inherent in utopian thinking. As someone or other pointed out, if you truly believe you hold the plans for perfecting human existence, then it is easy to justify savagely repressing anyone who stands in your way. It was the utopians — not the skeptics or the ironists — who built Russia’s gulags. It was the utopians who droveChina’s populace into communes and hence into famine — and who covered the Cambodian killing fields with a carpet of bones. As Thomas Adcock wrote, the dirty business of a noble cause never ends.

If grand utopian schemes do not improve humanity’s lot, then what does? According to a June piece in The Economist, one answer is: capitalism. In “Toward the End of Poverty,” the magazine notes that from 1990 to 2010, the number of people in extreme poverty worldwide declined by nearly 1 billion — “and it was growth, principally, that has eased destitution. ... Around two-thirds of poverty reduction within a country comes from growth. Greater equality also helps, contributing the other third.”

While “targeted policies — basic social safety nets and cash-transfer schemes” can alleviate poverty somewhat, the “biggest poverty-reduction measure of all is liberalizing markets to let poor people get richer. That means freeing trade between countries (Africa is still cruelly punished by tariffs) and within them (China’s real great leap forward occurred because it allowed private business to grow).”

Economic growth contributes to progress in other realms as well — e.g., by aiding the ecosphere: “Rich countries pollute less relative to output,” according to the Human Progress website. Environmentalism is a virtue, but it also is largely a luxury of the middle class. Indigenous peoples will stop slaughtering elephants for ivory, for instance, when they can make a better living doing something else.

If we have so many grounds for optimism, then why is there so much pessimism? Evolutionary psychology suggests one explanation, captured well by Laurence J. Peter’s quip that a pessimist is someone who looks both ways before crossing the street. If you’re constantly scanning your environment for threats, then you have a better chance of surviving. You might not stop to smell the roses, but you are more likely to pass on your DNA than the chipper oaf who does — completely oblivious to the poisonous snake he is about to step on. Obtuse complacency is a quick path to the grave.

But we do not have to make what President Barack Obama would call a “false choice” between obtuse complacency and foul-tempered despair. It is possible to embrace a third alternative: The world remains a dangerous place, full of great suffering that must be addressed — yet it has grown far less dangerous and sorrowful than it was not so very long ago. This is good news.

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  • kinnath||

    There are three ways of viewing the world: optimism, pessimism, and cynicism. Only one of those approaches reality.

  • Hawk Spitui||

  • Dr. Frankenstien||

    Unless you live in Venezuela.

    http://www.reuters.com/article.....edType=RSS

    I thought they kicked out the Obama administration officals giving them bad economic advise.

  • Hyperion||

    Well, when nothing you're doing is working, the only option is to double down on stupid.

    /The Obama admin.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Well that was completely predictable.

  • Brian||

    Venezuela is a case study in showing that, yes, it can get really, horribly bad, and people are still too stupid to stop supporting socialists.

    Socialism survives based on populism, not effectiveness.

  • Mokers||

    Venezuela does not have enough TOP MEN.

    For example, Obamacare was designed by people from Harvard and Yale, so price controls will work differently when applied to health care.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Went to democraticunderground to see the reaction there. Even they recognize the folly of price controls, etc... in Venezuela, but all that seems to be lost on them when applied to the USA.

  • Dr. Frankenstien||

    American Execptionalism FTW

  • LynchPin1477||

    "Inflation's killing us. I'm not sure if this was the right way, but something had to be done. I think it's right to make people sell things at fair prices," said Carlos Rangel, 37, among about 500 people queuing outside a Daka store in Caracas.

    And that is why your economy is in the shitter.

  • fish||

    I was both "Shocked" and pleased at the "Shocking French Video" link at the side of the webpage!

  • Gilbert Martin||

    “Pessimism,” according to John Kenneth Galbraith, “is the mark of a superior intellect.”

    As a Keynesian Kool-Aid drinker, Galbraith is an extremely unreliable source of what characteristics constitute a superior intellect.

  • Paul.||

    Seattle council race tightens; socialist Sawant has 49.5% of vote

    http://seattletimes.com/html/l.....inxml.html

    That's in a race against incumbent quasi-socialist Richard Conlin, who along with 100% of his colleagues voted to nationalize a parking lot so it could be used as a parking lot.

    Yeah, things are awesome and getting even betterer!

  • sarcasmic||

  • Paul.||

    When I get back to Georgia, that woman gonna feel my pain.

  • Flemur||

    "humanprogress.org" says "We're sorry, but something went wrong."

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Ha ha, it's true!

  • Hyperion||

    What, seriously, is wrong with this woman? Has the excess grease from her hair soaked through to her brain and done permanent damage?

    DWS: Dems will run and win on Obamacare in 2014

  • Swiss Servator, I got nothing.||

    I urge TEAM BLUE to adopt her call to own and boast of O!care.

    Then TEAM RED can stay agin' it and when they sweep into power, let us down like a certain OH football team!

    OPTIMISIM!

  • Paul.||

    “I think Obamacare, because Americans have been feeling the benefits since 2010

    There isn't enough Preparation H in the world...

  • Pro Libertate||

    Yes, indeed, please do not throw me into that briar patch.

  • fish||

    So how soon after the 2014 dem bloodbath is DWS jailed as a wrecker and counterrevolutionary?

  • Hyperion||

    I don't know if anyone remembers this, but back before the 2010 midterm elections, there were articles all over the web by Dem talking heads claiming that the Dems were going to win big. This was just weeks before the election with the polls showing the Dems were going to face heavy losses.

    It's like they are robots or something, who are programmed to say and believe something, against all obvious signs pointing to the opposite. It must be the group think syndrome.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I'm sure everyone pointed out they were anti-science for ignoring the polling data, too, right?

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    I don't know, I'm sure they can find some poor, minority family with a child with a pre-existing condition that's getting free healthcare from Medicaid.

    They'll talk to the camera and the narrator or on screen text will talk about how if you vote Republican that little girl will die.

  • Paul.||

    NPR has a rolodex full of those contacts.

  • Enough About Palin||

    She's just doing her job as Minister of Propaganda.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    ThinkProgress outraged Texas open-carry activists counter-protested a Mother's Against Gun Violence meeting

    On Saturday, nearly 40 armed men, women, and children waited outside a Dallas, Texas area restaurant to protest a membership meeting for the state chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun safety advocacy group formed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

    According to a spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action (MDA), the moms were inside the Blue Mesa Grill when members of Open Carry Texas (OCT) — an open carry advocacy group — “pull[ed] up in the parking lot and start[ed] getting guns out of their trunks.” The group then waited in the parking lot for the four MDA members to come out. The spokeswoman said that the restaurant manager did not want to call 911, for fear of “inciting a riot” and waited for the gun advocates to leave. The group moved to a nearby Hooters after approximately two hours.

    MDA later released a statement calling OCT “gun bullies” who “disagree[d] with our goal of changing America’s gun laws and policies to protect our children and families.” The statement added that the members and restaurant customers were “terrified by what appeared to be an armed ambush.”

    Is open-carry legal in Texas?

  • Paul.||

    The spokeswoman said that the restaurant manager did not want to call 911

    Funny how the presence of guns in the hands of private citizens makes everyone chill the fuck out.

    # of people shot: 0

  • Swiss Servator, I got nothing.||

    The statement added that the members and restaurant customers were “terrified by what appeared to be an armed ambush.”

    Yeah, sure. "nearly 40 armed men, women, and children" a comin' to bushwhack 4 gun banner wannabes.

    ThinkProgess....I knew armed ambushes, I served with in armed ambushes. You are This was no armed ambush.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Then there's this

    Apparently the photo being shared on anti-gun websites is actually just the group taking a photo.

  • IDPNDNT||

    Ah good ole ThinkProgress my daily source for entertainment.

    I personally think the comment sections are the best.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Glennis Waterman · Top Commenter · Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School
    What is the goal of these "gun advocates" in taking this action, other than to intimidate? What did they expect to do to the people meeting inside the restaurant? Did they expect to disrupt the meeting? This is terrorism, plain and simple.

    It's hilarious they fell back to a Hooters.

    Well she's right about the Hooters thing.

    Jason Chilton · Top Commenter · Independent Contractor at USPack Courier
    This is terrorism, plain and simple. I am in favor of RESPONSIBLE people being able to own and use firearms, but these people have shown their true colors as thugs who will go to any lengths to force their will onto others. This is proof in itself that one can be a terrorist without firing a single shot.

  • Brett L||

    Wait, I don't understand. How is advocating for open carry by carrying different from advocating for, say, allowing black people to sit at the white lunch counter by blacks sitting down at the lunch counter?

  • MJGreen||

    ...Shut up!

  • Hyperion||

    The progressive doctrine on display. It's only free speech when we agree with it.

  • Root Boy||

    Indeed. The commenter the Viscount quotes is okay with "responsible" people owning guns, however I think he would only consider cops and other favored citizens be able to own guns.

  • Brett L||

    Fuck him. Nobody made him the dictator of responsibility.

  • Root Boy||

    He'll vote for some statist to dictate that unfortunately.

    Hopefully Gabby Giffords Vets for Gun Control group (hey she has a ship named after her!) can waste more of Bloombergs cash to keep it away from the dangerous idiots

  • Brett L||

    Technically, it is legal to carry unloaded long guns in public. However, you better damn well have them on your shoulder by a strap and your hands away from the trigger and action because I'm pretty sure there's a "reasonable fear" standard written in the law.

  • Hyperion||

    “Average global life expectancy at birth,” Tupy wrote recently in Reason, “hovered around 30 years from the Upper Paleolithic to 1900.” In 2010 the global average life expectancy was 67, and it is on the cusp of reaching 68.

    Yes, but unfortunately, most of that increase is due to the lowered risk of being eaten by a sabertooth tiger or shortface bear, not because of any increase in life extending technology.

    Given, sanitation and some drugs, like antibiotics have added some to that. But besides that, lifespan has not really increased at all. People who were lucky to not die of some disease that is preventable today with antibiotics, were living just as long thousands of years ago.

    We're just now getting around to being close to a breakthrough in life extending technologies, but still no real results have been achieved.

  • William of Purple||

    Lower life expectancy is due to most people dying within the first few years of life.

  • Hyperion||

    That also. Infant mortality is down a lot.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Wonder how the final socialization of the U.S. medical industry will affect medical research?

  • Hyperion||

    Adversely. More regulation and bureaucracy, what result can we expect?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Definitely adversely, the question is, how adversely?

  • Hyperion||

    Enough to drive researchers out of the country. They'd better hurry up with that big fence that McCain gets out of the amnesty deal, before things get so bad that everyone flees the country. Revenue drain, you know, can't have that.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Where to? That's the other big question.

  • Hyperion||

    I guess we will see.

    How about Singapore or Hong Kong, both of which are well above the US now in economic freedoms. In another few years, there will be lots of places that will be.

  • Paul.||

    All research will finally be put toward the right things chosen by a presidential committee who will be beyond the reach of politics.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Is this the same group that I read about this weekend who would correct market failures in deciding what people should major in? That's some group.

  • Paul.||

    Same type of group. Yes. You have a group for academia, you have a group for healthcare, you have a group for end of life care, etc.

    It's groups all the way down.

  • Jan S.||

    It's going to be a nightmare from that perspective. So much money/effort will be spent on the enforcement of all the laws and regulations, and compliance of the same, that resources for R&D is going to be hard to come by.

  • Enough About Palin||

    "Wonder how the final socialization of the U.S. medical industry will affect medical research?"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T.....experiment

  • Zeb||

    Well, I'm sure that's all true, but I'm quite glad to be far less likely to die violently or from some odd infection.
    I think you are giving too little credit to medicine too. No, it doesn't increase the natural human lifespan much, but by 1900, disease was a far bigger problem than short faced bears and tigers.

    In any case, life extending technologies are worth fuck all unless you can first come up with some reliable youth extending technologies.

  • Paul.||

    With Obamacare, kids can stay on their parents insurance until they're 26. I'd say that's extending youth considerably.

  • Hyperion||

    That's progress. If the progressives have their way, not only will you be responsible soon for your children until they're 40(they won't have jobs, of course), but also everyone the children of everyone else. Just ask Melissa Harris Perry.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It Takes Some Pillage.

  • Hyperion||

    life extending technologies are worth fuck all unless you can first come up with some reliable youth extending technologies

    I think that most of the research being done is focused on both. IOW, no one is looking at increasing lifespan without increasing 'healthy' lifespan, and even reversing aging.

    Look at some of the sites of the orgs devoted to radical life extension and you will see this.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I don't really desire to turn into the Face of Boe.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Look, just dig up the monolith at Tycho, and everything will be groovy.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    You're crossing the streams!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Look, I'd make a good Star Child. My benevolence would be wonderful for you all. Really.

  • optimusratiostultum||

    actually diet has probably had the biggest impact, people used to die by mid 40's because poor diets are particularly hard on older people. People with good (varied/balanced) diets not only live longer but have a much higher quality of life.

    technology has done wonders for improving diets for example prior to refrigeration and railroads fresh fruits and vegetables were seasonal, no you can buy them year round.

  • Root Boy||

    One thing I like about Reason is most of the folks seem pretty optimistic (ZeroHedge is where I get my dose of doom), but also realistic about problems in the US and the world.

    I'm pretty optimistic about my life, but the country is going downhill and freedom is being squeezed out of most people's lives. Hope my kids do okay when they grow up, but things are not going our way politically -- even with the failure of O-care.

    I saw something on Hotair about how the mercantile wing of the GOP is going to go after Amash. Have to throw him some bucks. Either that or napalm some Chamber of Commerce office.

  • Hyperion||

    It's the cronies that don't like Amash, of course. Fuck them.

  • Root Boy||

    They hate having to give up all that government cheese (plus all the monopoly inducing regs).

    Someone needs to burn down the Ag Dept as well (or drown them in raisins and raw milk).

  • BaBaBoosh||

    "As someone or other pointed out, if you truly believe you hold the plans for perfecting human existence, then it is easy to justify savagely repressing anyone who stands in your way."

    I think that was Malcolm Reynolds.

  • Rasilio||

    "Does this mean everything will soon be perfect, and so our work is done? Not even close. Tupy does not mean to suggest the world is all rainbows, butterflies and unicorns. The goal of Human Progress “is not to paint a rosy picture of the state of humanity, but a realistic one.” To do that, he writes, one should “compare the imperfect present with a much more imperfect past, rather than with an imagined utopia of the future.”"

    Far more important than where we are, where we were, or where we want to be is where we are heading.

    While it is indisputably true that things have been getting much better for the bulk of humanity it is also true that most of the changes/developments which lead to those improvements were developed a generation or more ago. To make matters worse many of those changes are being eroded or actively dismantled in the name of fairness or the environment or god. Capitalism is under fire from all quarters, environmentalism has bread a much more virulent strain of luddism than we have ever seen before. Combine that with the fact that every rich country in the world has been living beyond it's means for generations and if we are not actively backsliding to the bad old days we are still very close to the edge of an unstable cliff which with 1 wrong or even unlucky move will eradicate 50 - 100 years of progress overnight.

  • triclops||

    It has always appeared to me that the forces of good (free association, inventiveness, uncoerced compassion) have always been at war with the forces of evil (centralizing authority, jealousy, "tallest nail gets the hammer" syndrome, demagoguery, identity politics). And though the evil side wins many battles, often winning the most visible battles, the trend line that life is improving for humanity, on the whole, worldwide, is inescapable.

  • timbo||

    Except that society is regressing. Americans, and I'm sure the sheepish masses of all countries are getting stupider. Just watch the plethora of comedy talk shows that do the stupid man on the street thing. More idiots believe in ghosts and aliens than ever. Obviated by the minutia of "reality" shows about sasquaches and UFOs. We are actually moving more towards barbarism because the sheep have embraced the distractionary tactics of the politicians. The enlightenment is over. Idiocracy is here. Unfortunately, the cool technologies will not benefit the whole in ways that can outpace the destructive measures that our government is foisting on un-born children. How is that for realism, or what ever stupid term some professor makes up who thinks he has everything figured out when he cannot even run a business.

  • maryannezfa905||

    ▲▬▆ ▆▬▆■▉▬▉▉▉ I just got paid $858o working off my computer this month. And if you think that's cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $9k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do,

    ►●►●►●►▶ http://www.jobs53.com

  • bassjoe||

    "Indigenous peoples will stop slaughtering elephants for ivory, for instance, when they can make a better living doing something else."
    -------
    It's kind of shocking how this fact isn't more widely understood.

    Odds are, most of the people who kill the elephants for ivory have little to no desire to see the animals go extinct and are most likely aware that their actions are contributing to the species' decline. However, you give them a choice between putting food on their children's plates or killing off every last elephant, is it any surprise which one they'll pick?

  • Edwin||

    that's probably not true. Elephants cause a lot of problems. Frankly, as much as I like the animals, it'll probably be better if/when they are extirpated from large areas of Africa, just like the Buffalo were from America. Ever been in a major American city in the midwest like Omaha or Kansas City and then the entire city and its industry had to shut down for an entire day or three because a buffalo herd came through? No? Yeah that's right, no, because they're all gone. The idea that animals are only good is environmentalist nonsense. Conservation should be practiced, but humans should come first ultimately.

  • Edwin||

    They're getting better... until the Western governments go bankrupt and/or collapse completely, which is inevitable. I KNOW that the Federal Government will go bankrupt within my lifetime if things don't change.

    What happens after will have its benefits and its downsides. Way I see it, Texas will be one of the few American states that might have some future afterwards. They've got industry, resources, room, and state pride + culture, including a more free-market, fiscally conservative outlook.

  • optimusratiostultum||

    As long as Texas is a part of the US it will share in it's fate. The last part of a ship to sink, still sinks.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    Texas Secedes! Problem solved.

  • Kuwanki||

    If you like your Free Speech, you can keep it. If you like your Constitution, even if it is sub-standard, you can keep it. Period.

  • taithit||

    my co-worker's half-sister makes $81 hourly on the computer. She has been fired for 5 months but last month her pay was $20214 just working on the computer for a few hours. hop over to this website.....
    WWW.JOBS84.COM

  • Free Society||

    It is possible to embrace a third alternative:

    You know who else advocated a third way?

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