Regardless of your political leanings, there seems to be agreement that things in this world are getting worse. “If it bleeds, it leads” say the media titans. Consequently, we are bombarded by news reports showing the world is indeed getting worse. Pessimism reigns.
However, a pessimistic view of the world is inaccurate. Steven Pinker, the Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, has written an essay published in the Wall Street Journal on February 10, 2018 that dispels this Chicken Little perspective.
“Consider the U.S. just three decades ago. Our annual homicide rate was 8.5 per 100,000. Eleven percent of us fell below the poverty line… And we spewed 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide and 34.5 million tons of particulate into the atmosphere.”
“Fast forward to the most recent numbers available today. The homicide rate is 5.3 per 100,000. Three percent of us fall below the poverty line. And we emit 4 million tons of sulfur dixide and 20.6 million tons of particulates, despite generating more wealth and driving more miles.”
“Globally, the 30-year scorecard also favors the present. In 1988, 23 wars raged, killing people at a rate of 3.4 per 100,000; today it’s 12 wars killing 1.2 per 100,000. The number of nuclear weapons has fallen from 60,780 to 10,325. In 1988, the world had just 45 democracies, embracing two billion people; today it has 103, embracing 4.1 billion. That year saw 46 oil spills; 2016, just five. And 37% of the population lived in extreme poverty… compared with 9.6% today.”
These statistics, and many more, can be found on websites such as OurWorldinData, HumanProgress, and Gapminder. Improvements in the quality of life around the world do not diminish the hardships that still exist for too many. “Solutions create new problems, which must be solved in their turn. We can always be blindsided by nasty surprises, such as the two World Wars, the 1960s crime boom and the AIDS and opioid epidemics.”
Nonetheless, pessimism that naturally derives from media reports emphasizing bad news and hardship, does not present an accurate picture of our evolving world. Conditions are improving for the vast majority of our global population. Perhaps we should not be so quick to give up hope. Let optimism reign!