In 2019, months before we even had a word for “COVID-19,” a YouGov poll found that a staggering 68 percent of Britons thought that, generally speaking, the world is becoming a worse place to live. Similarly, when the same question was asked to citizens of 17 countries in 2016, YouGov found that Britain was in the least optimistic third. Fewer than one in twenty of us Britons feel that the world was getting better.
It seems pessimism is an engrained part of Britain’s national psyche. But the problem with this gloomy thinking is that it is completely detached from the world in which we live.
In their new book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know, Marian L. Tupy and Ronald Bailey give a detailed and articulate account of the incredible – but largely unknown – progress humanity has made in recent times.
The book will be released on August 31, but the authors have given EA Magazine exclusive permission to highlight five of book’s most jaw-dropping trends – all of which demonstrate how the world is becoming a richer, healthier, and more pleasant place to live.
Global Income is Rising
Economic historians estimate that in year 1 of the common era, the average global income per person per year was just $800 (2011 US dollars). Fast-forward 18 centuries, and by the year 1800, average global incomes had only increased to a measly $1,140. This meant that in the 1,800 years separating the birth of Christ and the election of Thomas Jefferson to the US presidency, average incomes only rose by about 40 percent.
However, things began to accelerate during the Industrial Revolution, and between 1800 and 1900, average incomes rose from approximately $1,140 to $2,021. Thankfully, this progress has drastically increased in recent decades. Today average global incomes are roughly $14,600 per year – more than 622 percent higher than they were in 1900, or 1,725 percent higher than they were in year 1.
The considerable increase in global incomes has largely coincided with the decline of extreme poverty…
The End of Poverty
In 1820, nearly 84 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $1.90 per person per day.) Back then, only a small slither of society did not have to worry about being able to afford enough food to survive. By 1981, 42 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty. Today, the latest World Bank estimates suggest extreme poverty has fallen to just 8.6 percent.
Roughly 158,000 people escape extreme poverty every day, and many experts predict extreme poverty could be completely eradicated within a couple of decades.
Rising Life Expectancy
For much of human history, average life expectancy was just 30 years – even as late as 1820. However, over the last 200 years – largely thanks to better diets and improved medicines – average global life expectancy has more than doubled. Today, the average person can expect to live to 72 years old. And in richer nations like the United Kingdom, the average life expectancy is almost 82 years – up from just 45 years in 1900.
Global life expectancy, years, 1500-2099
Achieving Universal Literacy
Two hundred years ago, more than 90 percent of the world’s population was illiterate. Today, almost 90 percent of the world is literate. This progress is great news as studies have frequently shown that being able to read and write is often associated with reduced poverty rates, decreased mortality rates, greater gender equality, lower fertility rates, and increased political awareness and participation.
Vastly Fewer Children Die Young
Demographers estimate that in pre-modern societies, out of every 1,000 babies born, about 300 (30 percent) died before reaching their first birthday. This heart-breaking statistic was largely due to infants succumbing to infectious diseases and malnutrition in their first few months of life.
Thankfully, today the global infant mortality rate is 90 percent lower than it was in pre-modern society and sits at about 29 deaths per 1,000 live births. This number is declining year-on-year, largely thanks to rising incomes that have enabled more people to access improved sanitation and nutrition, and more resources being devoted to better educating parents. Access to modern medicine, including childhood vaccinations, is also a major factor in falling infant mortality rates. In the UK alone, the infant mortality rate has declined by more than 97 percent since the year 1900.
These are just five of the 77 astonishingly optimistic trends that appear in Marian L. Tupy and Ronald Bailey’s upcoming book. From the decline of global hunger, to rising access to safe drinking water, to the falling murder rate, and the increasing worldwide access to electricity – even during these difficult times, the 78 surprising and cheerful trends highlighted in this book make it difficult for anyone to be a pessimist.
You can pre-order Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know now on Amazon. Its release date is August 31, 2020.
Copyright 2020 and permission to reprint by Humanprogress.org. A version of this article appeared in EA Magazine.