Fact: humanity is better off than it has ever been

Posted 06 January 2016 Written by Leon Louw
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Everywhere news is screaming to us that things are bad and getting worse - from education standards to health, business and politics. While not everything is rosy, Free Market Foundation's executive dirtector Leon Louw points out some facts that suggest things are not as bad as they might seem.

Happy new year. That is not a vacuous wish, it is a fact. Last year was the best year, and this year will be even better. In almost every year almost everywhere almost everything gets better by almost all criteria for almost everyone.

Yet we endure a daily deluge of experts telling us how bad things are. It is in their interests for us to believe that they can save us from whatever impending catastrophe they proclaim, provided we lavish them with status, money and power.

They lie; the sky is not falling. The world has declining misery, disease, death, conflict, inequality, destitution, pollution and crime. Most economies never contracted during the "financial crisis", no one suffered from "Fukushima nuclear disaster" radiation, and population growth continued where there were "pandemics". Notwithstanding a few exceptions, humanity is better off than ever.

Objective data on the state of humanity are overwhelmingly positive. The late statistician Julian Simon found that so many negative predictions were falsified by reality that he offered a wager against any of them materialising.

Conversely, one of the planet’s celebrated catastrophists, Paul Ehrlich, who lost a bet with Simon, continues spewing pessimism after decades of falsified prophesies.

The Global Burden of Disease study found that "excessive eating" has become a bigger problem than food scarcity, and that people are living so much longer that diseases of age have become a bigger problem than infant mortality.

Human progress is so spectacular that the Cato Institute launched "an ever-expanding website" on the subject (http://HumanProgress.org). Its 2015 new year message was that we should "celebrate the extent of human progress". The media are "full of headlines about war, sexual assault, inequality, obesity, cancer risk, environmental destruction, economic crisis, and other disasters (whereas) we are living longer, healthier, more comfortable lives on a cleaner and more peaceful planet".

The Atlantic magazine reported last year to have been "the best year in history for the average human being". Although the world "witnessed obscene tragedy (with) misery for hundreds of millions ... 2015 saw ... progress toward a better quality of life for the majority of the planet". It predicts continuing "good news next year and beyond". Along with declining crime and conflict, "6.7-million fewer kids ... are dying each year".

Last year, Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, declared 2014 to have been "the best year ever, just as 2013 was, and just as 2015 will be". New years are better than preceding years because there is "amazing progress in medicine, prosperity, health and conquering violence".

The American Cancer Society reported cancer rates falling 22% in two decades, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates (who funds programmes to fight Third World diseases), pointed out that "people are lucky to live now (when) progress is faster than at any time in history".

Despite the facts, wallowing in misinformed misery is the norm. Prophesies of doom ignore, distort or contradict reality. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Chris Hedges, for example, prosperity benefits elites at the expense of the masses. "Forces that created ... luxury for elites ... doom us (and) the mania for ... expansion (is) a curse, a death sentence." He parrots poverty and inequality mantras and adds, as if it is bad news, that the "number of people in dire poverty ... is greater than the world’s population in the early 1900s". The reason for that apparently adverse number is that mortality fell exponentially.

Yuval Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, offers a comforting explanation for prosperity denialism. We are "hard-wired to be disgruntled", which is necessary "to achieve progress". Evolution requires us to "demand more and better, all the time".

Louw is executive director of the Free Market Foundation. This article first appeared in Business Day.

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