It’s getting better

So, this is really cool, an Economics professor with a look at all the ways the world has been dramatically improving in terms of health, freedom, literacy, etc.  There’s lots of cool interactive charts, but here’s the nickel summary in chart form:

He concludes with a powerful argument for understanding this data and the case for optimism:

The successful transformation of our living conditions was possible only because of collaboration. Such a transformation would be impossible for a single person to accomplish.
It is our collective brains and our collaborative effort that are needed for such an improvement.

There are big problems that remain. None of the above should give us reason to become complacent. On the contrary, it shows us that a lot of work still needs to be done – accomplishing the fastest reduction of poverty is a tremendous achievement, but the fact that 1 out of 10 lives in extreme poverty today is unacceptable. We also must not accept the restrictions of our liberty that remain and that are put in place. And it is also clear that humanity’s impact on the environment is at a level that is not sustainable and is endangering the biosphere and climate on which we depend. We urgently need to reduce our impact.

It is far from certain that we will make progress against these problems – there is no iron law that would ensure that the world continues this trend of improving living conditions. But what is clear from the long-term perspective is that the last 200 years brought us to a better position than ever before to solve these problems. Solving problems – big problems – is always a collaborative undertaking. And the group of people that is able to work together today is a much, much stronger group than there ever was on this planet. We have just seen the change over time; the world today is healthier, richer, and better educated.

For our history to be a source of encouragement we have to know our history. The story that we tell ourselves about our history and our time matters. Because our hopes and efforts for building a better future are inextricably linked to our perception of the past it is important to understand and communicate the global development up to now. A positive lookout on the efforts of ourselves and our fellow men area are a vital condition to the fruitfulness of our endeavors. Knowing that we have come a long way in improving living conditions and the notion that our work is worthwhile is to us all what self-respect is to individuals. It is a necessary condition for self-improvement.

Freedom is impossible without faith in free people. And if we are not aware of our history and falsely believe the opposite of what is true we risk losing faith in each other.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to It’s getting better

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Why don’t we start with birth control available to every woman and the free choice to use it?

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