Pessimism sells. That just seems to be the way we humans are wired and so, we are fed a constant diet of doom predicting everything from meteorological Armageddon to a tyranny of austerity. Therefore, it is little wonder that we are missing the bigger story of humankind today. A cold, dispassionate look at the facts reveals that we are living in a golden era and that, if you use objective measures, 2013 has been the best year in human history.
We can start from crude figures: $73.5 trillion, the world’s economic output this year. Never has so much wealth been generated — but, more importantly, never has growth been shared more evenly. While the rich world is wallowing in a mire of debt, the developing world is making incredible progress. As a result, goals that once seemed fantastical are now within reach: from the end of Aids to the end of famine.
The United Nations goal to halve the number of people without access to drinking water by 2015 was achieved last year.
The plan to halve the number of people living on $1 a day by 2015 was reached five years early.
The UN wanted to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers — with water supply, sanitation and better housing — by 2020. This target has been met ten years early (in fact, 200 million were helped by 2010, twice the target).
China’s embrace of market reform has reduced the number of people living in extreme poverty there from 84% three decades ago to 10% now–all this while child labor has fallen by a third over the past decade.
In Asia and North Africa, primary school enrollment is now as high as it is in the rich world. Literacy there has been extended to 83% of adults and its rising fast.
Extraordinary advances in medicine, and in the ability to produce affordable drugs for millions, is sending levels of life expectancy soaring in the poorest nations.
The rich world’s fossil fuel consumption is actually falling due to consumer demand for more efficient cars and factories – not government diktats. With hydrocarbons, as with so much else, we’re doing more with less.
We are in an era of hydrocarbon abundance, thanks to advances in fracking technology. It has helped America cut energy prices by two thirds and prepare for an era where it won’t need oil imports from Arab tyrants, or anyone else.
At the current trajectory, the World Bank’s target to all but eliminate poverty by 2030 looks like being achieved early. Most people alive now can hope to see a time when the concept of famine is consigned to history. (In fact, the United Nations now believes Africa could be only 12 years away from this extraordinary goal).
Some of these facts are not publicized much, perhaps because they’re being achieved by the market rather than foreign aid. All of this is happening because the world is trading, and its people co-operating through trade, as never before. People, when free to trade with each other, are succeeding where decades of government schemes failed.
The media and politicians all tend to focus on problems – and rightly so. There are all too many of them out there. But this year, things have been getting better faster than any rate in history. By small incremental improvements in health, technology, wealth and trade – there has never been a better time to be born.