I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time we had some optimism in our lives. From the time we wake up, we’re fed a never-ending barrage of fear, information, and misinformation, keeping us constantly confused and hopeless for the future.
Everyone is guilty of spreading negative vibes at some point — including this author, but if we strip back the fear porn, the mass media matrix, the politics, and the social injustices for one moment, though it’s hard to believe, we have made decent progress as a species over recent history.
We got so angry at each other, at the media, and at the people in power, we forgot to pay attention to the major, long-term trends. And guess what? They look good.
In Ten Global Trends: Every Smart Person Should Know, Ronald Bailey and Marian Tupy destroy the pessimistic narrative that the world is heading toward an apocalypse by laying out ten simple, yet powerful, facts showing humanity has progressed over the last few centuries.
So if you need a break from the fear porn, if you’re down in the dumps, if you’re depressed by what you see and hear every time you plug yourself into the media matrix, then these ten things will help you see the light in the darkness.
The global economy has increased by 100x.
In what Diedre McCloskey calls the Great Enrichment, global GDP (gross domestic product) has grown over 100 times in the past two centuries.
Compared to between 1500 and 1820 when GDP increased on average by 0.3% per year, the 1900s, with the help of freer markets and rule of law, saw GDP growth rates average at least 3%.
In the future, using global rates of annual GDP growth since 2001, Tupy calculates GDP will increase to a whopping $1.1 quadrillion by 2100.
GDP has its critics and its flaws, but you’ll need a radical reason to dispute how expanding the global economy by 100 times is a negative overall.
Global poverty has imploded.
In today’s world of rampant consumer capitalism, it’s hard to believe that only two centuries ago 84% of the global population lived in poverty, earning almost $1.90 per day. But as The Great Enrichment spread gradually across the world, we managed to cut extreme poverty in half.
Now, the global poverty rate stands at 9.3%, and if this keeps falling at today’s pace, it will drop to roughly 5% by 2030. The United Nations also set the goal of abolishing extreme poverty for everyone, everywhere by the same year.
Easier said than done, though.
We’re not running out of fuel.
Despite what some people claim, we’re not running low on any resource. In fact, the Simon Abundance Index reveals that almost every commodity increases in volume and availability the more we demand them.
Humanity has yet to run out of a single commodity, and we’re not even close.
As it turns out, listening to characters like Paul Enrich, who claimed a rising population would result in the exhaustion of resources and a global apocalypse, was probably not our best moment.
Famine has almost disappeared.
Coincidentally, following the aftermath of Mao Zedong’s nationalization of Chinese farmland in 1962, global food consumption began to soar.
In 1961, the daily supply of calories stood at ~2,100, but now, this has risen to ~3,000. In other words, “the world’s poorest region enjoys access to food that is roughly equivalent to that of the Portuguese in the early 1960s,” Tupy says.
Today, famines only exist in wartorn countries and those experiencing droughts, but that could change in the future as relief efforts continue to improve.
It’s also debatable whether most of the food the world consumes is healthy enough for us to be at our best, not just survive. But the rise of regenerative agriculture hopes to address this. Getting people to eat more bioavailable nutrition while plant-based diets increase in popularity, however, will be a challenge.
Democracy is smashing autocracy.
Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, democracy has spread rapidly across the world, beating the communist and fascist regimes that had arisen since the 1920s.
Though now it’s still close, the world has more democracies than autocracies.
Using a scale from -10 to 10, where -10 equals tyranny and 10 equals a free society, the Center for Systemic Peace measures every country’s regime.
From 1989 to 2017, the number of “fully-fledged democracies”, a score of 7 or above, rose by 13%, while “fully-fledged autocracies”, a score of -7 or less, decreased from 39% to 11%.
Some will debate whether some of those democracies are autocracies in disguise, and rightly so. But that goes way beyond the scope of this post. After all, we’re trying to be optimistic here.
We have more trees now, not less.
Contrary to popular belief, mother nature is beating deforestation.
In September 2018, a University of Maryland study found that the global tree canopy — the visible portion of the plant— has not declined but increased by 2.24 million square kilometers, an area bigger than Alaska and Montana’s landmass combined.
The world is much safer.
As technology has advanced rapidly in the modern age, dying from a natural disaster is now 99% less likely according to the International Disaster Database (lovely name).
Since satellites give scientists a comprehensive overview of developing weather conditions, meteorologists have Doppler radar to measure hurricanes, seismologists use data to detect future landslide risk, and volcanologists listen to volcanoes to predict eruptions, most governments can act in time.
As Northrop Grumman’s Amanda Maxwell says, “Big brother may be watching you”, but he’s damn good at getting you out of a crisis alive.
Interstate wars have almost disappeared.
In 2017, the RAND Corporation reported that, apart from a short period between 2014–2015, armed conflict worldwide has decreased dramatically.
Now, if we could just get the U.S. and China war machines to leave the Middle East and Africa, we may get closer to world peace. But as several warmongers remain in high positions of power, unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen soon.
We’ve yet to become urban.
“No country has grown to middle income without industrializing and urbanizing. None has grown to high income without vibrant cities,” says the World Bank, illustrating how the rise of cities globally has helped improve human prosperity.
While you’ll find most innovation, growth, and money in cities, this actually helps the planet. It’s hard to fathom how city dwellers produce a smaller carbon footprint than people living in rural areas, but it’s true.
And as the other 3 billion people who still live in rural areas keep moving to the city, this will continue to improve.
There’s more to go around.
You’ve probably heard that a decreasing population is bad for the world — and especially bad for your stocks, shares, and real estate. But there are many upsides too.
As Tupy and Marion state, “falling child mortality rates, increased urbanization, rising incomes, and the spread of political and economic freedom” correlate with families having fewer children, which also creates more reproductive freedom.
Wolfgang Lutz, a demographer at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, predicts the global population will peak at 9.8 billion in 2080 and will have dropped to 9.5 billion by 2100. This one is for the grandchildren.
It’s still f*cked though.
And it always will be. That’s how the world works. As new injustices and atrocities emerge every day, we’ll never be content or satisfied.
That’s the way we think. Our minds make it happen. Negativity and availability bias, psychological fallacies Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman discovered in 1973, mean we love to consume the bad over the good.
Maybe we’re too privileged. Maybe we have it so great that when most of our problems disappear we tend to create or seek out new ones. “Progress, it seems, tends to mask itself,” says Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert.
And sometimes, we focus so much on the negatives that we forgot old injustices exist.
We can’t dispute that the ten trends Tupy and Bailey have outlined prove we’ve progressed as a species, but we’ll never let go of how we believe the world is descending into chaos. We won’t be able to ignore the minor injustices in society. Instead, we’ll try everything to solve them, and we’ll invent new problems to replace them.
We know it’s not all doom and gloom. We know the world is a lot less f*cked than we want to believe it is, and, deep down, this will keep us going in the back of our minds; for now, at least.
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This article is for educational purposes only, not financial advice