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Free Minds & Free Markets

Looking Forward to the Future

The course of progress.

My Cato colleague, Johan Norberg, has just published his latest book, called Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. I first came across Norberg's thoughtful writing in 2003, when, in response to the Battle of Seattle and other anti-globalization protests, he published In Defense of Global Capitalism. The book made a persuasive case in favor of global trade. Thirteen years later, as the current U.S. presidential campaign shows, the book, and the arguments it contains, continue to be relevant.

But back to Progress. The book, as the title suggests, documents progress that humanity has made in ten crucial areas: food supply, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom, equality and the next generation (i.e., child labor). It has been favorably reviewed in The Economist, The (British) Spectator and, mirabile dictu, The Guardian.

I am glad to report that Cato has organized a book forum for Norberg on October 12, with Reason's science correspondent Ronald Bailey as commentator. The books by both authors (Bailey published his own tribute to human progress entitled The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century in 2015) will be on sale.

In any case, the release of Norberg's book allows me, once again, to pitch the wealth of data on a variety of subjects that is made available, free of charge, at HumanProgress.org. The website is aimed at journalists, students, lecturers, as well as the public in general, who are interested in data concerning the state of humanity. Below, I include ten graphs pertinent to each chapter in Norberg's book.

1. Globally, food supply is at an all-time high. Even in Africa, people consume well in excess of the USDA-recommended 2,000 calories per person per day.

2. Globally, some 75 percent of people have access to improved sanitation (e.g., flush toilets, septic tanks, sewers, etc.), which is important, because unhygienic disposal of human excreta has been a leading source of illness in the developing world.

3. Life expectancy, as previously reported at Reason, is at an all-time high.

4. The share of people living in absolute poverty, the Brookings Institution researchers believe, has never been smaller.

5. Wars have become rarer, and so have homicides—at home and abroad.

6. There are also good signs for the environment, as we pollute less in spite of a growing population and larger economic output.

Photo Credit: Andreas Krispler/flickr

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Upward trending support for gay marriage is in the mix as a positive? How about a graph showing increasing support for not having to waste a whole Saturday watching two people put themselves on display for gifts? That's when things are getting better.

  • UnCivilServant||

    I like how selective some of the graphs are to mask problems that won't go away or are coming back. Also, the widely variant time scales used are amusing. Yes, we know the world today would be unrecognizable to someone scooped up from the 1300s. We're not looking at the 2700s yet, so seven hundred years of data points may be interesting, but they're not wholly relevent when mixed in with data going from 1975-20xx

  • ||

    The US homicide rates under No. 5 is a very interesting chart.

    I wonder if there is a correlation between those numbers and the successful push and then failure of gun control laws? Surely that is unpossible.

  • UnCivilServant||

    None of the patterns were caused by the timing of gun laws, but if you're suggesting that the return to form at very low violence rates with an ever more armed society has led to a more widespread rejection of gun control, there might be something to that.

  • ||

    I am aware that correlation is not causation but this issue would take a much more in-depth look than I have time for this morning.

    I am not sure your initial premise is correct. Of course there are many more factors than gun laws affecting those numbers, but to count them out is a mistake.

  • ||

    By failure of gun control laws I meant to say 'the successful push for gun control and subsequent liberalization of gun laws'.

    Mulford Act - 1967 - was the beginning of the successful push for extra-constitutional gun control.

    The passage of shall-issue concealed carry in Florida was the decisive turning point for the liberalization movement - 1987 - a movement that started small and after a few years snowballed.

    That macro chart appears to mirror micro charts in every state that liberalized gun laws.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Also in that time span was the initial ramp up of the war on drugs.

  • Jerryskids||

    I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure my future involves being dead for billions of years and I ain't looking forward to that a damn bit.

    Although the longer this campaign goes on, the more attractive the idea of being dead sounds.

  • Eman||

    Not being alive can't be so bad

  • Gray Ghost||

    Until we get our Morning Links...

    WTF happened at WABC in NY that they would say on the air that Hillary died? Credulous intern? Practical joke? Complete hoax?

    If true, and not something cobbled together in Alex Jones's news studio, it just strikes me as the sort of thing that the leading ABC station in NYC wouldn't put on a news telecast unless they were damned sure.

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