In the time of a global pandemic, soaring unemployment, massive wildfires, and racial strife, it feels like the world is going to hell.
It's not, says Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey, the coauthor (with HumanProgress.org's Marian Tupy) of Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know: And Many Others You Will Find Interesting. "In 1820," Bailey tells Nick Gillespie, "84 percent of the world's population lived on [the equivalent of] less than $1.90 a day. It took 160 years for that to get down to only 41 percent. But since then, it's now below 10 percent…and we'll probably be 5% or less by 2030."
Bailey's new book also shows that forests are increasing in size, deaths from natural disasters are declining, and there are fewer autocratic governments than ever. He believes climate change will become a significant problem, but one that can be handled with technology and economic growth. The main reasons for massive and persistent progress are better ideas for organizing human society. "Basically," he says, "the Enlightenment happened." With that came the rise of representative government, property rights and markets, and especially a belief in free speech and open inquiry that are essential for technological and social innovation.
If improvements are so ubiquitous, why don't we recognize it more? Bailey argues that politicians and media outlets have vested interests in focusing on bad news and that humans have a "glitch" that leads us to take progress as a given. "We just take it for granted, he says. "What we're trying to do with this book is to not let people take it for granted and [remind them], this is what has happened. And look to the future. If we keep the same institutions that enabled this, then much more of it will happen in the future."