Technology

A Realistic, Positive Picture of the State of Humanity

Things are on the up.

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My colleague, Johan Norberg, has come out with a new book called Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. Along with Ronald Bailey's The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century, which came out last year, it is a must-read for anyone interested in a realistic picture of the state of humanity. In fact, the two authors offered their insights on the scope and speed of improvements in human well-being during a Cato Institute book forum last week.

Norberg, whose previous work includes the highly successful In Defense of Global Capitalism, looked at the global food supply, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, environmental quality, literacy, political freedom and child labor. He found that:

Despite what we hear on the news and from many authorities, the great story of our era is that we are witnessing the greatest improvement in global living standards ever to take place. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labor and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history. Life expectancy at birth has increased more than twice as much in the last century as it did in the previous 200,000 years. The risk that any individual will be exposed to war, die in a natural disaster, or be subject to dictatorship has become smaller than in any other epoch. A child born today is more likely to reach retirement age than his forbearers were to live to their fifth birthday.

Norberg suggests three reasons for the massive improvements in global standards of living. First, he credits the intellectual Enlightenment, which replaced traditions and superstitions with reason and empiricism. Second, he points to the ideas of classical liberalism, which replaced serfdom and authoritarianism with individual liberty and liberal democracy. Third, he notes the role played by the Industrial Revolution in replacing hunger and poverty with prosperity and abundance.

As we near the culmination of an election season that sees the ideas of classical liberalism, the Enlightenment and free enterprise in retreat, and demagoguery, authoritarianism and protectionism in ascendency, it is good to remind ourselves of the progress that humanity has made thanks to economic and civil freedoms. As such, I include Norberg's chart showing the extraordinary global decline in child mortality, hunger, illiteracy, pollution and poverty since the fall of communism and rise of globalization in 1990.

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64 responses to “A Realistic, Positive Picture of the State of Humanity

  1. You’ll notice, dear reader, that there’s a line missing from that graph: clown attacks.

    1. Attacks by Clowns or Attacks on Clowns?

      1. Oh, you mean attacks with Clowns.

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      1. Talk about your leading indicators.

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  2. “The risk that any individual will be exposed to war, die in a natural disaster, or be subject to dictatorship has become smaller than in any other epoch.”

    You don’t government much, do you? China’s economic freedom may be increasing, but it’s still a dictatorship, or at least oligarchy. And have you seen the polls here?

    1. The polls here are really somewhat confusing. I see them and my reaction is “Where are these people hiding who answered that way” because the real-life statements don’t seem to bear the polling out. Though it is possible that the social circles I run in are a non-representative sample. (ie “I don’t know anyone who voted for Nixon”)

      1. It’s a special group of people, hidden among us: “People who believe the 10 p.m. News.”

    2. Not that it makes much difference to the average person, but China is definitely an oligarchy and not a dictatorship. The rise and fall of their leaders are regular occurrences. At least, according to what an outsider can observe about the country.

      China post-Mao is kind of like the USSR post-Stalin. Nobody* would ever have the power he did again. But the government was (is) still authoritarian, dissent was (is) still severely punished, and the economy was (is) still run by a committee of idiots in Moscow (Beijing).

      * = With the possible exception of Kruschev right after Stalin died, before he intentionally gave up much of that power in the process of “de-Stalinization”.

      1. Interesting comparison, to be sure.

  3. I will repeat my comment from the other thread w same point:

    ””…you’re referring to 2 entirely different groups of people.
    The people whinging are not the ones who have benefited from declines in Hunger, Illiteracy, Child Mortality, etc.
    All those benefits have accrued entirely in the developing world.
    All the people who think the world is going to hell live in the already-developed world.

    1. A decline in the standard of living in the Western world is something to fear. The New Poor (Hoffer) are the most dangerous.

  4. The rising tide raises all boats over the objections of those who say it does not and in spite of those who try to prevent the tide from rising.

    1. Except those boats securely anchored to the seabed with holes drilled in their hulls for good measure.

      1. +1 Paul Krugman column in the NYT

        1. Nah, the hole’s been drilled in Krugman’s head.

    2. I think this makes sense from the POV that developing world improvement results in growth of net global aggregate demand… but I’d be more enthused if you didn’t have millions of people fleeing the developing world and draining it of human capital in favor of joining the welfare rolls in Sweden, etc

      1. Bzzzzt! Study after study has shown people emigrate for more freedom and the chance to better their lives by hard work, regardless of the senseless fears stoked by anti-immigrant propaganda (Mencken had something to say about politicians spreading alarms). A lot of them also move back home once the mayhem settles down and once they have something to contribute. The small downside of the few parasites is far outweighed by the positive upside. Then there’s the matter of freedom, a supposed hallmark of libertarians.

        1. Except that’s not the pattern shown by the economic migrants currently swamping the system. Very few are from ‘meyhem’ zones, and a lot are actively refusing to work, shopping around countries for the highest hand-out.

          1. That’s not really a problem of immigrants. That’s a problem of the system. Even if we stem immigration, we’re still going to have that problem as more and more native citizens latch onto the system for support and don’t let go.

            1. Native citizens aren’t bound to turn the system into a spoils state fractured along ethno-sectarian lines.

              1. a spoils state fractured along ethno-sectarian lines.

                So, the U.S. before the abolition of slavery, in the Jim Crow South, and in urban areas post-LBJ?

        2. Study after study has shown people emigrate for more freedom and the chance to better their lives by hard work

          Link one.

          1. (be careful, this may be a trick question where you read your Pollyanna interpretation into data where it doesn’t actually exist)

            1. Google yourself, or better yet, activate your memory. If you haven’t seen those studies, it’s wilful avoidance.

        3. Study after study has shown people emigrate for more freedom and the chance to better their lives by hard work

          I have no doubt that was true for the last few hundred years

          My point wasn’t any anti-immigrant thesis (read the link). It was about flaws in the global development theory pushed by people flogging headline numbers and pretending that benefits are distributed normally and across the entire spectrum

          The “everything is better than the past” argument works by largely ignoring what is different now vs the past. All things equal – sure, whoopee lower infant mortality… I just don’t think that’s very relevant to people in Chicago housing projects

          1. Alive people, you mean? That’s something atleast!

    3. Millennial derp: “trickle down economics has never helped anyone, ever”

      But a growing economy helps everyone all the time you idiots.

      1. They focus and obsess over that part of the population who don’t benefit looking ways to blame ‘greedy capitalism’ in the process.

        Of course, there will always be a ‘natural rate’ of people who just don’t succeed, survive etc. and the reasons for this are varied as they can be complex (not necessarily by choice or plain bad luck) – or not (by choice). Such is the reality of living in a (ostensibly anyway) free world.

        1. The consistant thread amongst people who make certain categories of fallacious economic arguments is an inability to accept personal responsiblity, either that of others or for themselves. Therefore, failure must have been forced on someone, since it’s not their fault or responsibility to make something of themselves.

  5. Just saw that someone brought an emotional support duck on an airplane. I think that ruins the thesis of this article.

    1. Emotional support duck? That is awesome. Did they let them fly with it?

      1. They tried, but the duck wasn’t strong enough to lift the person.

      2. It wasn’t really an emotional support duck. They wanted to show off their duck l’orange to the brother in law and used that line to have fresh duck on the airline’s dime.

        On second thought, duck l’orange can be pretty comforting so maybe it was legit.

    2. Who consoles the duck?

    3. emotional support duck

      Nice band name.

      1. Since we are on the subject of ducks, how about a little Constipated Duck.

      1. *Great* song!

      2. Some kid I knew at the time the song came out thought it was “I Need a New Truck”.

  6. “Third, he notes the role played by the Industrial Revolution in replacing hunger and poverty with prosperity and abundance.”

    Nuh Uh! The Industrial Revolution has led to the enslavement of all of us to enrich the 1%, and has put so much carbon in the atmosphere that the polar bears are melting and Miami is going to be under water, like in, like 9 weeks, and ya know, it like, it totes fucked up everything.

    -Barrista with unnecessary Masters degree at any given Starbucks

  7. All great news, and half of the millennial shits think communism is fantastic and are fighting to bring it back.

    How the fuck do these idiots keep crawling back to Marx? 100 million bodies not enough evidence?

    Fucking capitalism took communism out behind the fucking woodshed in the 90’s and these millennial pricks think they found some new great solution to get rid of it.

    1. I heard that poll about millennials and communism on the news in passing yesterday. It is beyond frightening.

      It might have something to do with them not being taught about the 100 million bodies, but are taught that capitalism is bad and benefits evil rich countries like the US.

      They have no idea how capitalism has benefited the rest of the world as the world has grown smaller.

    2. Because it sounds great and they haven’t been taught rigorous logic and economics. Just listen to the SJW idiots for more than two seconds and you’ll know that the state of education is pathetic. Western civilization is having an identity crisis.

      1. Just listen to the SJW idiots for more than two seconds

        I don’t wanna. 🙁

        The problem is, they’re impossible to ignore. SJWs are the herpes that infected America’s nutsack. Yeah, I anthropomorphized a country as a male. In my metaphor, it’s an able CIS white male to boot. Come at me.

    3. BigW needs to brush up on his revised history. Hitler was a right wing monster dontchaknow.

    4. All white people are racist. White people invented capitalism. Therefore, capitalism is racist. /woke

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