Human Progress

Impending Defeat for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Pestilence, war, famine, and death are all on the decline.

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Most of you think that the world, in general, is getting worse. You are wrong. Citing uncontroversial data on major global trends, I will prove to you that this dark view of humanity's prospects is, in large part, badly mistaken.

First, though: How do I know most of you believe that things are bad and getting worse? Because that's what you tell pollsters. A 2016 survey by the public opinion firm YouGov asked folks in 17 countries, "All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better or worse?" Fifty-eight percent answered worse, and 30 percent chose neither. Only 11 percent thought things are getting better. In the United States, 65 percent thought that the world is getting worse and 23 percent said neither. Only 6 percent responded that the world is getting better.

A 2015 study in the journal Futures polled residents of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia; it reported that a majority (54 percent) rated the risk of our way of life ending within the next 100 years at 50 percent or greater, and a quarter (24 percent) rated the risk of humans being wiped out in the next 100 years at 50 percent or greater. Younger respondents were more pessimistic than their elders.

So why are so many smart people like you wrong about the improving state of the world? For starters, almost all of us have a couple of psychological glitches that cause us to focus relentlessly on negative news.

Way back in 1965, Johan Galtung and Mari Holmboe Ruge of the Peace Research Institute Oslo observed "a basic asymmetry in life between the positive, which is difficult and takes time, and the negative, which is much easier and takes less time." They illustrated this by comparing "the amount of time needed to bring up and socialize an adult person and the amount of time needed to kill him in an accident; the amount of time needed to build a house and to destroy it in a fire, to make an airplane and to crash it, and so on." News is bad news; steady, sustained progress is not news.

Smart people seek to be well-informed and so tend to be more voracious consumers of news. Since journalism focuses on dramatic events that go wrong, the nature of news thus tends to mislead readers and viewers into thinking that the world is in worse shape than it really is. This mental shortcut is called the availability bias, a name bestowed on it in 1973 by the behavioral scientists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. "People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory—and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media," explains Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Another reason for the ubiquity of mistaken gloom derives from evolutionary psychology. A Stone Age person hears a rustle in the grass. Is it the wind or a lion? If he assumes it's the wind and the rustling turns out to be a lion, then that person does not live to become one of our ancestors. We are the descendants of the worried folks who tended to assume that all rustles in the grass were dangerous predators. Due to this instinctive negativity bias, most of us attend far more to bad rather than to good news.

Of course, not everything is perfect. Big problems remain to be addressed and solved. As the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker says, "it's essential to realize that progress does not mean that everything gets better for everyone, everywhere, all the time. That would be a miracle, that wouldn't be progress."

For example, man-made climate change arising largely from increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels could become a significant problem for humanity during this century. The spread of plastic marine debris is a big and growing concern. Many wildlife populations are declining, and tropical forest area continues to shrink. And far too many people are still malnourished and dying in conflicts around the globe.

But many of those problems are already in the process of being ameliorated. For example, the falling prices of renewable energy sources offer ever-stronger incentives to switch away from fossil fuels. And hyperefficient agriculture is globally reducing the percentage of people who are hungry—while simultaneously freeing up land, so that forests are now expanding in much of the world.

The fact that we denizens of the early 21st century are much richer than any previous generation accounts for much of the good news. Thanks to technological progress and expanding global markets, the size of the world's economy since 1820 has grown more than 100-fold while world population grew somewhat less than eightfold. In concrete terms, world gross product grew from $1.2 trillion (in 2011 dollars) to more than $116 trillion now. Global per capita GDP has risen from $1,200 per year in 1820 to more than $15,000 per person currently.

The astonishing result of this increase in wealth is that the global rate of absolute poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 per person per day, fell from 84 percent in 1820 to 55 percent in 1950. According to the World Bank, 42 percent of the globe's population was still living in absolute poverty as late as 1981. The latest World Bank assessment reckons that the share of the world's inhabitants living in extreme poverty fell to 8.6 percent in 2018. In 1990 about 1.9 billion of the world's people lived in extreme poverty; by 2018, that number had dropped to 660 million.

In Christian tradition, the four horsemen of Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death usher in the apocalypse. Compared to 100 years ago, deaths from infectious diseases are way down; wars are rarer and kill fewer people; and malnutrition has steeply declined. Death itself is in retreat, and the apocalypse has never looked further away.

Death

Average life expectancy at birth hovered around 30 years for most of human history. This was mostly due to the fact that about a third of all children died before they reached their fifth birthday. Demographers ​estimate that in 16th century England, 60 out of 100 children died before age 16. ​Some fortunate people did have long lives, but only 4 percent of the world's population lived to be older than 65 before the 20th century.

In 1820, global average life expectancy was still about 30 years. Then, remarkably, life expectancy in Europe and North America began rising at the sustained rate of about 3 months annually. That was largely a consequence of better nutrition and the rise of public health measures such as filtered water and sewers.

During the past 200 years, global life expectancy more than doubled, now reaching more than 72, according to the World Bank. Worldwide, the proportion of folks who are 65 years and older has also more than doubled, to 8.5 percent. By 2020, for the first time in human history, there will be more people over the age of 64 than under the age of 5.

Even in the rapidly industrializing United States, average life expectancy was still only 47 years in 1900, and only 4 percent of Americans were 65 years and older. U.S. life expectancy is now 78.7 years. And today 15.6 percent of Americans are 65 or older, while only 6.1 percent are under age 5.

The historic rate of rising life expectancy implies a global average of 92 years by 2100. But the United Nations' medium fertility scenario rather conservatively projects that average global life expectancy at the end of the century will instead be 83.

A falling infant mortality rate accounts for the major share of increasing longevity. By 1900, infant mortality rates had fallen to around 140 per 1,000 live births in modernizing countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. Infant mortality rates in the two countries continued to fall to around 56 per 1,000 live births in 1935 and down to about 30 per 1,000 live births by 1950. In 2017, the U.K. and U.S. infant mortality rates were 3.8 and 5.9 per 1,000 live births, respectively. Since 1900, in other words, infant mortality in those two countries has fallen by more than 95 percent.

Infant mortality rates have also been falling steeply ​in the rest of the world​. The World Health Organization estimates that the global infant mortality rate was just under 160 per 1,000 live births in 1950. In 2017, it was down to 29.4 per 1,000 live births, about the level of the U.K. and the U.S. in 1950. Vastly fewer babies are dying today because rising incomes have enabled improved sanitation and nutrition and more resources for educating mothers.

According to the World Bank, the global crude death rate stood at 17.7 per 1,000 in 1960. That is, about 18 people out of every 1,000 persons in a community would die each year. That number has fallen to 7.6 per 1,000 in 2016. The global death rate has fallen by more than half in the last 60 years.

Famine

Food production since 1961 has essentially quadrupled while global population has increased two and half times, according to the World Bank. As a result, the Food and Agriculture Organization reports, the global average food supply per person per day rose from 2,225 calories in 1961 to 2,882 calories in 2013. As a general rule, men and women need around 2,500 or 2,000 calories per day, respectively, to maintain their weight. Naturally, these values vary depending on age, metabolism, and levels of physical activity, among other things.

Food availability, of course, is not equally distributed across the globe. Nevertheless, rising agricultural production has caused undernourishment in poor developing countries to fall dramatically. The Food and Agriculture Organization regularly estimates the "proportion of the population whose habitual food consumption is insufficient to provide the dietary energy levels that are required to maintain a normal active and healthy life." It reports that this undernourishment fell from 37 percent of the population in 1969–71 to just under 15 percent by 2002, reaching a low of 10.6 percent in 2015 before ticking up to 10.9 percent in 2017.

Famines caused by drought, floods, pests, and conflict have collapsed whole civilizations and killed hundreds of millions of people over the course of human history. In the 20th century, the biggest famines were caused by communist regimes in the Soviet Union and mainland China. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's famines killed up to 10 million people; China's despot, Mao Zedong, starved 45 million between 1958 and 1962.

In the 21st century, war and political violence are still major causes of hunger around the world. Outbreaks of conflict in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria are largely responsible for the recent uptick in the rate of global undernourishment. In other words, famines have disappeared outside of war zones. Much progress has been made, and the specter of famine no longer haunts the vast majority of humankind.

Pestilence

Prior to its eradication in 1979, smallpox was one of humanity's oldest and most devastating scourges. The disease, which can be traced all the way back to pharaonic Egypt, was highly contagious. A 1775 French medical textbook estimated that 95 percent of the population contracted smallpox at some point during their lives.

In the 20th century alone, the disease is thought to have killed between 300 and 500 million people. The smallpox mortality rate among adults was between 20 and 60 percent. Among infants, it was 80 percent. That helps explain why life expectancy remained between 25 and 30 years for so long.

Edward Jenner, an English country doctor, noted that milkmaids never got smallpox. He hypothesized that the milkmaids' exposure to cowpox protected them from the disease. In 1796, Jenner inserted cowpox pus from the hand of a milkmaid into the arm of a young boy. Jenner later exposed the boy to smallpox, but the boy remained healthy. Vacca is the Latin word for a cow—hence the English word vaccination.

The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines prevented at least 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015 alone. Many millions more lives were protected from illness. As of 2018, global vaccination coverage remains at 85 percent, with no significant changes during the past few years. That said, an additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided if global immunization coverage improves.

Improved sanitation and medicine account for many of the other wins against pestilence. Before the 19th century, people didn't know about the germ theory of disease. Consequently, most people did not pay much attention to the water they drank. The results were often catastrophic, since contaminated water spreads infectious diseases, including diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, polio, and cholera.

From 1990 to 2015, access to improved water sources rose from 76 percent of the world's population to 91 percent. Put differently, 285,000 people gained access to clean water each day over that time period.

As a result of growing access to clean water and improved sanitation, along with the wider deployment of rehydration therapy and effective rotavirus vaccines, the global rate of deaths from diarrheal diseases stemming from rotavirus, cholera, and shigella has fallen from 62 per 100,000 in 1985 to 22 per 100,000 in 2017, according to The Lancet's Global Burden of Disease study that year. And thanks to constantly improving medicines and pesticides, malaria incidence rates decreased by 37 percent globally and malaria mortality rates decreased by 60 percent globally between 2000 and 2015.

War

Your chances of being killed by your fellow human beings have also been dropping significantly. Lethal interpersonal violence was once pervasive. Extensive records show that the annual homicide rate in 15th century England hovered around 24 per 100,000 residents, while Dutch homicide rates are estimated as being between 30 and 60 per 100,000 residents. Fourteenth century Florence experienced the highest known annual homicide rate: 150 per 100,000. The estimated homicide rates in 16th century Rome range from 30 to 80 per 100,000. Today, the intentional homicide rate in all of those countries is around 1 per 100,000.

The Cambridge criminologist Manuel Eisner notes that "almost half of all homicides worldwide occurred in just 23 countries that account for 10 per cent of the global population." Unfortunately, medieval levels of violence still afflict such countries as El Salvador, Honduras, and South Africa, whose respective homicide rates are 83, 57, and 34 per 100,000 persons.

Nonetheless, the global homicide rate is falling: According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, it has dropped from 6.4 per 100,000 in 1990 to 5.3 per 100,000 in 2016. That's a reduction of 17 percent during a remarkably short period of 26 years, or 0.7 percent per year.

Another way to measure the general decline in violence is the global battle death rate per 100,000 people. Researchers at the Peace Research Institute Oslo have documented a steep post–World War II decline in the rate at which soldiers and civilians are killed in combat. The rate of battle deaths per 100,000 people reached a peak of 23 in 1953. By 2016, that had fallen by about 95 percent.

Apocalypse Later?

Some smart people acknowledge that considerable social, economic, and environmental progress has been made but worry that the progress will not necessarily continue.

"Human beings still have the capacity to mess it all up. And it may be that our capacity to mess it up is growing," claims Cambridge political scientist David Runciman in The Guardian. He adds, "For people to feel deeply uneasy about the world we inhabit now, despite all these indicators pointing up, seems to me reasonable, given the relative instability of the evidence of this progress, and the [unpredictability] that overhangs it. Everything really is pretty fragile."

Runciman is not alone. The worry that civilization is just about to go over the edge of a precipice has a long history. After all, many earlier civilizations and regimes have collapsed, including the Babylonian, Roman, Tang, Mayan, and, more recently, Ottoman and Soviet empires.

Yet there are good reasons for optimism. In their 2012 book Why Nations Fail, economists James Robinson of the University of Chicago and Daron Acemoglu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology persuasively outline an explanation for the exponential improvement in human well-being that started about two centuries ago.

Before then, they argue, most societies were organized around "extractive" institutions—political and economic systems that funnel resources from the masses to the elites. In the 18th century, some countries—including Britain and many of its colonies—shifted from more extractive to more inclusive institutions.

"Inclusive economic institutions that enforce property rights, create a level playing field, and encourage investments in new technologies and skills are more conducive to economic growth than extractive economic institutions that are structured to extract resources from the many by the few," the authors write. "Inclusive economic institutions are in turn supported by, and support, inclusive political institutions."

Inclusive institutions are similar to one another in their respect for individual liberty. They include democratic politics, strong private property rights, the rule of law, enforcement of contracts, freedom of movement, and a free press. Inclusive institutions are the bases of the technological and entrepreneurial innovations that produced a historically unprecedented rise in living standards in those countries that embraced them, including the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia.

While uneven and occasionally reversed, the spread of inclusive institutions to more and more countries is responsible for what the University of Illinois at Chicago economist Deirdre Nansen McCloskey calls the "Great Enrichment," which has boosted average incomes 10- to 30-fold in those countries where they have taken hold.

The most striking examples of social disintegration—Roman, Tang, Soviet—occurred in extractive regimes. Despite crises such as the Great Depression, there are no examples so far of countries with long-established inclusive political and economic institutions suffering similar collapses.

In addition, major confrontations between relatively inclusive regimes and extractive regimes, such as World War II and the Cold War, have been won by the former. That suggests that liberal free market democracies harbor reserves of resilience that enable them to forestall or rise above shocks that destroy countries with brittle extractive systems.

If inclusive liberal institutions can continue to be strengthened and if they further spread across the globe, the auspicious trends documented here will extend their advance, and those that are currently negative will turn positive. By acting through inclusive institutions to increase knowledge and pursue technological progress, past generations met their needs and hugely increased our generation's ability to meet our needs. We should do no less for future generations. That is what sustainable development looks like.

This article is based on data and analysis drawn from the author's forthcoming book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know (Cato), co-authored with HumanProgress.org editor and Cato Institute Senior Policy Analyst Marian L. Tupy.

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  1. […] In the latest issue of Reason magazine, “Impending Defeat for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: pestilence, war, famine, and death … (possible $ […]

    1. Conservative commentators should be ashamed to mention longevity and mortality rates. The USA lags far behind similar countries (Canada, UK, Australia, etc.) in these measures. Furthermore worldwide improvement over the last decades is largely due to Chinese effects. Lest we forget China is hardly a bastion of liberal democracy. As if this is not enough the author cherry picks the battle field death rate. Due to medical improvement battlefield death rates have indeed declined but injuries have not.

      1. “The USA lags far behind similar countries (Canada, UK, Australia, etc.)”
        Bullshit.
        First, those are in no way “similar countries”, and then “far behind” is less than a year.
        33 United Kingdom 80.54
        43 United States 79.68

        1. Oh, and CA alone has greater area than the UK and a life expectancy of 80.9 years.
          Are those sour cherries you’re picking?

      2. Remove auto related deaths, equalize the definition of stillborn and get back to me.

      3. “As if this is not enough the author cherry picks the battle field death rate. Due to medical improvement battlefield death rates have indeed declined but injuries have not.”

        I’m confused. Isn’t this a good thing?

    2. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are increasing population, decreasing intelligence, increasing DemonCRAPS (but I repeat myself) and Chuck Schumer.

  2. I believe they like to be called ‘the squad’. Oh, the OTHER four horsemen.? Never mind.

    1. You mean Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, and Arn and Ole Anderson?

    2. HORSEMEN!! HORSEMEN!! HORSEMEN!!
      (Not horse’s asses.)

  3. If you’re ever depressed about humanity or think we’re all going to die, just remember: There are 7.7 Billion people on this earth, at least half of which live in pretty decent conditions, wake up every day, go to school or work, get together for holidays and occasions with their families and overall live pretty decent respectable lives. That’s AT LEAST 4 billion people moving the world forward every single day….

    1. “or think we’re all going to die”
      Currently the chances are 100%.

      1. Yet the crucial questions for all of us are, when, where and from what?

        1. The #1 medical condition responsible for the most deaths, worldwide:

          Birth.

          1. Conception seems to be a better umbrella…

    2. I don’t suppose we can just use the other 3.7 billion for soylent green?

  4. As I’ve often said, if you’ve got a splinter and a hangnail and a paper cut and a stubbed toe and a grizzly bear gnawing your leg off, you really only have one problem. Get rid of the grizzly bear and now you have 4 problems. Obviously, you’re now 4 times worse off without the grizzly bear, right? What we need is a good, old-fashioned Biblical plague to put things in perspective for these whiny-ass complainers who think things are so terrible.

    1. Speaking of biblical, real progress will be the ability to get an erection at the age of 99 and live to be 175 like Abraham.

  5. Great article, except for this hysteria:

    For example, man-made climate change arising largely from increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels could become a significant problem for humanity during this century.

    1. Great news.
      Also a good warning not to elect people who believe in socialism.

      “In the 20th century, the biggest famines were caused by communist regimes in the Soviet Union and mainland China. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s famines killed up to 10 million people; China’s despot, Mao Zedong, starved 45 million between 1958 and 1962.”

    2. Ron may get an invite to join Moyer’s little propaganda clique he pimped at the Columbia Journalism Review.

      1. Come on! Saying “this might be a problem in the future” is hardly alarmist rhetoric.

    3. except that warming temperatures and higher CO2 levels have always been beneficial to life of all kinds. unless you have an expensive house on the coast, you’ll be fine.

      1. ^this

        I’m definitely pro warming

      2. Somehow I think Leo DiCaprio and Al Gore will be fine.

    4. If
      “man-made climate change arising largely from increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels”
      Then why are we calling it ‘climate change’ instead of just sticking with ‘global warming’?
      The only effect of greater CO2 in the atmosphere (aside from better conditions for plants) I’ve seen/heard mentioned is the greenhouse effect.
      But greenhouse effect is bad because it traps heat, making earth warmer, right?
      So why the change in label?
      Hmm.
      Unless someone can explain something else that CO2 does which would contribute to climate change but not exclusively warming?

      Calling you out, Ron

      1. And… nada

        Some science writer we have here

    5. Hysteria?

      Seem like a quite reasonable statement. Could become a significant problem. Not IS a significant problem or is very likely to ruins us.

    6. Bailey has to write a couple of “OMG we’re causing Climate Change but it isn’t Armageddon, only half Armeggedon” every month

  6. Just got everything fixed, but only 12 11 years left.

    1. I regret nothing.

    2. 11 years to do something. Not that the world will end per se.

      DON’T TAKE AOC LITERALLY. Except when she’s being literal. Literally.

      Although I don’t think splitting hairs here makes much of a difference. It’s still anti-scientific cult language.

      In 10, 11, 12 years there are going to be a lot of people with egg on their faces. Not that they’ll notice. I mean it never stopped Paul Erhlich and Al Gore from making failed, fake news prognostications.

      A little of the shifting of the narrative here, and manipulating of the data there and watch me pull this rabbit out of a hat Rocky!

      1. They weren’t embarrassed the last dozen times their predictions were wrong.

      2. The important point is that during the next 10, 11, 12 years, plenty of cranky, bigoted old right-wingers will be replaced by younger, better people, improving our society greatly.

        1. Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland
          August.3.2019 at 12:17 pm
          “The important point is that during the next 10, 11, 12 years, plenty of cranky, bigoted old right-wingers will be replaced by younger, better people, improving our society greatly.”

          With any kind of luck, you and the other asshole bigots will be the first to go.

        2. I dont know why this raving lunatic keeps ranting about replacements, or where they are supposed to happen, but I know it’s not in the White House, Senate, or SCOTUS

        3. Life is good right now, rev. It’s a shame you’re so unhappy.

          Keep waiting, I guess?

          Haha

  7. I’ve got some good news and I have some bad news.

    The good news is we’re winning the war against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse! No, no. Not The Squad. The other four clowns.

    The bad?

    “For example, man-made climate change arising largely from increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels could become a significant problem for humanity during this century.”

    CLIMATE-SYSTEM CHANGE IS GOING TO KILL US ALL.

  8. Nice dose of perspective in the article as usual from Bailey.

  9. Apparently hubris is in full force. But I guess that one’s not a horseman.

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  11. In addition to the other reasons why so many people feel like things are getting worse, we should look at autonomy–personal satisfaction is strongly correlated with a sense of personal autonomy.

    “Freedom and personal autonomy are more important to people’s well-being than money, according to a meta-analysis of data from 63 countries published by the American Psychological Association . . . . Across all three studies and four data sets, we observed a very consistent and robust finding that societal values of individualism were the best predictors of well-being”.

    —-American Psychological Association

    https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/06/buy-happiness

    The study found that personal autonomy even dwarfed the impact of wealth on happiness!

    The more we feel like our destiny is ultimately up to us, the more likely we are to interpret our present circumstances as good–even if our present circumstances are bad. On the other hand, people whose present circumstances are good see their present circumstances badly the more they think their present good circumstances can be taken away from them over their objections and despite their best efforts.

    Maybe think of it this way: personal autonomy can make poor immigrants living in bad neighborhoods starting new businesses feel like things are going well, and a lack of personal autonomy can make relatively well educated people living the American dream feel like immigrants, and other things beyond their control, are a threat to their well-being.

    I’ve long argued that the more socialist systems force people to pay for each other, the more picky people become about the kinds of people who are benefiting from their sacrifices–which is not a recipe for tolerance. Add to that observation that the more socialist a system is, i.e., the less people are free to exercise their autonomy through markets, the more miserable they become–and it’s no wonder if the world becomes more intolerant and miserable as it becomes more socialist.

    Social justice warriors are among the most miserable people I’ve ever seen. If we understand why–because of their hostility to personal autonomy–then it’s no wonder if the world is becoming more miserable as it becomes more about social justice–even as it becomes more prosperous.

    1. “then it’s no wonder if the world is becoming more miserable as it becomes more about social justice”

      Ken, I was thinking along those lines as I read the article about banning foie gras in NYC.

    2. Uh, I think that is seen as a feature, not a flaw in the system.

    3. ” the less people are free to exercise their autonomy through markets, the more miserable they become–”

      So why are Americans more miserable than the Chinese? Do the citizens of Communist China have more personal autonomy than Americans? I suggest you put this theory to bed. It’s back to the drawing board.

      1. “So why are Americans more miserable than the Chinese?”
        Cite missing, as usual.

        1. ” Cite missing, as usual.”

          Answer the question: “So why are Americans more miserable than the Chinese?” You can’t seriously believe this personal autonomy foolishness, can you?

          1. When did you stop beating that dead horse, I mean, your wife?

            1. My wife is a living human.

              1. You’re dumb as a box of rocks.

                  1. Cite missing.

              2. We feel sorry for her.

          2. The Human development index and Cato’s Freedom report back up the claims that personal autonomy being is very important to overall well-being.

            1. I’d argue that a feeling of security is more important to well being. It seems the malaise that America is facing is stoked by a feeling of insecurity, resulting in calls for a wall, and many other issues, including ones that motivate the left. The Chinese don’t seem to suffer from this insecurity and this may account for their optimism relative to America.

              1. It’s because their civilization is clearly on the rise, and this makes them all feel warm and fuzzy… And anybody with a brain can combine 1,000 small data points to see that western civilization is on the decline and committing self immolation. Even the people pushing for the very things destroying it suffer from a sense of unease because they know it deep down inside too.

        2. How else would you explain the millions of Americans immigrating to China each year?

      2. Do American factories have to put up nets to catch all their employees hurling themselves off the roof?

      3. Name five things in the past 5 months that you’ve participated in, that did not involve some law, regulation, statue or rule.

    4. The more we feel like our destiny is ultimately up to us, the more likely we are to interpret our present circumstances as good–even if our present circumstances are bad.

      This is why leftists keep telling people that the system is rigged against them by racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. it keeps them miserable and longing for Big Bro Gov to step in, which, ironically, degrades their autonomy. People who take personal responsibility for their actions, like small business people, non-union employees, etc, are happier with their lot, even if their material well-being is not great.

  12. Oh yeah?!?

    But what about the increase in micro-aggressions? Did you account for that? NO, I don’t think so!

    The level of intolerance around here is terrifying. You didn’t even talk about the rampant hatred that is embodied by the failure to use proper pronouns.

    They were right… this place is nothing but an alt-right cesspool of hate.

  13. “A 2016 survey by the public opinion firm YouGov asked folks in 17 countries…”

    How old were these people? Because unless they’re at least 30, they’re not old enough to have been aware of the world around them long enough to recognize any trends.

  14. “So why are so many smart people like you wrong about the improving state of the world? For starters, almost all of us have a couple of psychological glitches that cause us to focus relentlessly on negative news.”

    This is silly. Chinese people tend to be more hopeful and optimistic and less fearful of the future. It’s not because of ‘psychological glitches.’

    1. I think that is probably a reference to negativity bias, which many people do indeed exhibit.

      1. “I think that is probably a reference to negativity bias, which many people do indeed exhibit.”

        I doubt that the difference between Chinese hope and American hopelessness can be attributed to psychological differences. I would say there are larger, social, economical factors at play. I’d say the pervasive feeling of insecurity which our system does its best to promote is at the root.

        1. “Our system” does not promote insecurity. Our “leaders” and educators feed guilt and grievance to the gullible. Life is good. Unless, of course, one has been indoctrinated into the victim mindset to believe that everything is so terrible and unfair.

          Sucks to think like that. Haha

        2. Chinese have better intra-generational connections then Americans do, resulting in stronger local communities.

          (Healthy) Community and familial connections have a bigger effect on human happiness than money or pure individualism.

          (Cite needed because it’s my theory)

    2. “Chinese people tend to be more hopeful and optimistic and less fearful of the future.”
      Cite missing, as usual.

      1. “Cite missing”

        Wikileaks.

        1. Cite missing, asshole.

        2. Again, do American factories have to put up nets to catch the frequent roof jumpers?

          1. Americans seem to prefer to do their suicides privately. If Americans want to commit suicide in a factory, they bring along a rifle and take a few others with them before shooting themselves. Going postal is the word for it. Nets are useless in preventing these incidents.

            1. When your an Uighur locked up in a concentration camp, all you have is hope.

              1. “all you have is hope.”

                Sounds like a psychological glitch.

    3. Though Chinese economic and political systems are in the aggregate less free than ours in the US, they are trending towards more free. Though certainly not capitalist, they’re moving towards capitalism (or at least a more capitalist system). Though not democratic, they’re moving away from authoritarianism.

      Here in the US, we’re moving away from freer systems on both accounts. Free markets are being attacked on a daily basis as the root of all of our economic and social ills, both rhetorically (see AOC, Fauxcahontas, Bernie, etc), as well as politically via the threat and enactment of evermore regulations and taxes.

      When your society as a whole is moving towards freedom, optimism is a likely side effect. And when your freedoms are slowly eroding with a quickening pace with no end in sight, pessimism is a likely side effect.

      1. This guy gets it.

      2. The Chinese are enjoying more material abundance, but so are Americans. Politically, I don’t see the improvement or moving away from authoritarianism. The recent elevation of Xi was accomplished without any public approval I’m aware of. It’s a one-party state, and there is no opposition outside this arrangement. There are armed police everywhere and people can be disappeared if they raise objections to corruption or heavy handed government actions.

        I’m not sure how Trump has made US less free. Since he came to power, people are taxed less, businesses are regulated less and there are more Republican politicians elevated to the Supreme Court – surely an increase in freedom, not a decrease as you claim.

        1. The problem with your view is that it’s Trump-centric. These trends away from liberty started decades before Trump was an itch in his daddy’s pants, and even if he is a net positive, it’s barely a drop in the bucket.

          And though he has done some good things (tax cuts, fewer regulations, etc), he’s also a person that can make a person’s life savings shrink dramatically with 1 tweet. In fact, it happened just this week. Again. He’s all for no-ceiling spending. His ever-present threat of tariffs on top of tariffs creates great amounts of economic uncertainty. On and on and on.

          He’s certainly not the great evil so many are so quick to label him, but let’s not pretend like he’s a beacon of freedom who will singlehandedly put America back on track towards max freedom (much less that he has already done so). At best he’s a small ripple that will do little to reverse the course of the last several decades.

          1. “…he’s also a person that can make a person’s life savings shrink dramatically with 1 tweet.”

            Bullshit.

              1. So the market was up by 300 earlier in the day, dropped 280, which is less than 1% of the market’s value, left the metric higher for the day, and THAT is going to ‘shrink a person’s life savings dramatically’?
                Can I interest you in, oh some instruction in basic arithmetic?

          2. “The problem with your view is that it’s Trump-centric.”

            I’m not sure it is. I’m sure a Reason reporter, and Bailey is no different here, would cite study after study to show how freedom is alive and thriving in the USA, The same Reason reporters and commenters here will deny there is any problem with a loss of the security I mentioned. I find this strange because a lack of security can go a long way to explaining many of the issues that are closely followed here. The wall and its role in keeping hordes of foreigners from destroying the country, the helicopter parenting anecdotes that we see on a daily basis, practically, and stories about how leftists demand the removal of Yale residence supervisors because they make students feel uncomfortable.

            Maybe we don’t talk about insecurity because we need it. A competitive society has insecurity built in, and can’t work without it. If everyone felt safe and secure, entrepreneurship would come to an end.

    4. Chinese should be pretty happy. Over the past 25 years they have been granted an enormous increase in economic autonomy, and thus hundreds of millions lifted out of abject poverty. On a relative scale they are much, much better off and more free. On an absolute scale they are still living in an open air prison governed by a ruthless power mad controlling clique. The brief euphoria, if real, will wear off as more are put into prison camps and otherwise electronically disappeared by their behavior monitoring system.

      1. More happy and more optimistic too.

  15. The fifth horseman known as Fear is running rampant and making up for his brothers.

  16. Reducing deaths is only increasing our population, and overpopulation increases every problem we have, from pollution to water shortages.

    1. “Over population” is a loaded phrase. Why didn’t you say increased / increasing population?

    2. “…overpopulation increases every problem we have, from pollution to water shortages.”

      Fortunately we don’t have “overpopulation”, except in the minds of those who still think Ehrlich is something other than an idiot.

    3. Overpopulation. What is the ideal number? And on what basis? Without stating that, you’re just making baseless, unscientific complaints.

      1. I don’t actually worry about over population given current trends… But in theory it could be a thing. If there were 30 billion people on earth, we would have a TON of issues we won’t have at 8 or 9 billion when we likely peak… Or that we would have at saaay 6 billion after the population begins to decline.

        More resources per capita is always a good thing. It’s honestly half of American Exceptionalism if you ask me, with the other half being our freedoms.

  17. It isn’t just that people remember bad news and ignore good news, it’s that the news is so much more pervasive and available now. We used to hear only about our own city and the really bad news from other cities and countries. Now we hear about bad news from all over the country and the world, 24 hours a day. So people think things are getting worse, but really we’re just hearing about a higher percentage of the shrinking amount of bad stuff.

  18. You are absolutely right, virtually everything is better. The one thing you failed to bring up…The one area that could devastate most of the progress made in all the areas you mentioned is Fiscal and Monetary policy. Debt defaults and currency devaluation are coming…Hyper inflation. That is about all I am really worried about. Do you have anything comforting for us on that subject?

    1. It will be different this time.

    2. Well just pay for it! -OAC

      Pay with severe disruption, hardship, and possibly blood.

    3. Yup, it’ll happen. I thought it would happen shortly after the last crisis. Now I think it might take decades. No sense fearing it.

  19. Those four are pikers compared to the fifth horseman — government.

  20. If we don’t step up our apocalyptic game, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be replaced with the 4 Bicyclists of Annoyance: flu, slap-fights, “I could go for some lunch,” and…well, death will probably still be a thing.

  21. This is really a informative blog post. I never thought it could be a topic to write on blog.
    how much 1 million views worth

  22. If you liked this article you should definitely read Stephen Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now.” It’s a good book and was most definitely the inspiration for the article.

    1. “Fackfullness”, Rosling is also an antidote for Malthusianism. But it is not well written.

    2. Pretty sure you mean Lloyd Braun’s “Serenity Now”

    3. Enlightenment Now was great, except for the solutions Pinker espouses, which would drastically reduce autonomy.

  23. Uh, “Factfullness”…

  24. “Average life expectancy at birth hovered around 30 years for most of human history”

    #LogansRunDidNothingWrong

  25. Pestilence, war, famine, and death are all on the decline.

    What we need is a Green New Deal to reverse this trend.

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  27. Ironic

    How ironic that we receive this optimistic posting during another rising wave of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever in — where else? Sub-Saharan Africa.

    “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus.” -Joshua Lederberg, PhD (1925-2008)

    What little real news we receive about this rapidly spreading pestilence also paints an optimistic picture of the currently experimental vaccine in short-supply. Its effectiveness against other than the Zaire-strain of the virus remains unknown. Six known variants exist.

    Ebola is an RNA-virus versus a DNA-virus; therefore, it can mutate rapidly although most of the mutations are fatal to the virus. Should it mutate to become airborne like smallpox, expect a global pandemic of immense proportions.

    Given the drift of these United States and the rest of the Western world towards matriarchy, expect Western authorities to promote propagation of the illness as currently is the case. Recall during the last outbreak, the Obama-administration even allowing two infected physicians who voluntarily entered the”hot zone” to return for treatment; thereby, endangering the lives of 300-million Americans for the sake of two. Call such foolhardiness “Radical Maternalism”, a hallmark of matriarchy.

    https://www.nationonfire.com/matriarchy-in-america/ .

    1. “…Call such foolhardiness “Radical Maternalism”, a hallmark of matriarchy.
      https://www.nationonfire.com/matriarchy-in-america/

      Call this a pile of bullshit.

  28. […] Impending Defeat for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Pestilence, war, famine, and death are all… […]

  29. “In addition, major confrontations between relatively inclusive regimes and extractive regimes, such as World War II and the Cold War, have been won by the former.”

    Might want to check the ol’ history books on this one. Look under “Eastern Front”

  30. Jesus, what a crock of shit. The world is turning into a nasty, polluted, overpopulated shithole – and it’s doing so faster and faster.

    We should be hoping for much more (human) subjection by the four horseman – and hoping they get some reinforcements!

  31. […] contrary to the near-universal message of doom. If the Chinese economy continues its downward slump, those who are tied too closely to the shadow […]

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  33. […] In Christian tradition, the four horsemen of Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death usher in the apocalypse. Compared to 100 years ago, deaths from infectious diseases are way down; wars are rarer and kill fewer people; and malnutrition has steeply declined. Death itself is in retreat, and the apocalypse has never looked further away. Read More > at Reason […]

  34. There is more to the world than your paycheck going up a percent or 2 a year.

    All the things that really matter, family, community, a sense of being, etc are being intentionally destroyed and shit on in the western world. Our civilization is collapsing before our eyes. THIS is why people have a sense of unease about the future.

    Social stuff combined with political problems are the only things I worry about in the future. I have little doubt some factory will be more efficient in 20 years… But whether or not I will have free speech, or will get gang beat by rabid communists, or will become a hated minority in the land by ancestors built… Those are all real concerns for the thinking person. All 3 of those seem likely possibilities, and are quite sketchy.

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