Happy New Year.
It’s tough watching the news on TV, or listening to it on the radio sometimes. And – trust me on this – it’s sometimes harder having to read it. The grim facts of awful deeds being committed around the world are often enough to turn even the most resilient of stomachs. I can’t tell you how many times this year as a broadcaster I’ve been upset at the stories I’ve had to cover: from being on the scene of the Shoreham Airshow disaster, to having to ‘up’ the death-toll in Paris, between each hourly bulletin.
But it’s not all bad news. In fact, it’s mostly good news.
Good news doesn’t translate well into news bulletins though. It’s not a criticism of my fellow journalists. It’s pretty hard to talk about rising standards over long periods of time, but completely relatable to talk about an awful event that’s just taken place.
As we have welcomed in a new year, I’d like to take a moment – if you’ll indulge me – and point out why despite the migrant crisis, economic disasters, and sickening terrorist attacks, 2015 was in fact the best year in the history of human existence. And it wasn’t just a ‘fluke’ year. 2014 was also better than 2013, which was better than 2012, and, well, you get the idea.
Not only that, but 2016 will almost certainly be measurably better than 2015 for the vast majority of our fellow species.
This isn’t wishful thinking. Quite the opposite: it’s a simple statement of fact. There are fewer hungry people in the world today than ever before. Yes, fewer as a proportion of the population than ever before, as well as in absolute terms, and that’s even considering the fact we number over seven billion now. We’re still well on course to virtually eliminating absolute poverty in the lifetimes of most people under the age of 40.
Proportionately, there are fewer victims of violence than ever, a fact made clearly when we consider that the last century – which contained no less than two world wars – was actually the least violent century with fewer conflicts than at any time in the history of human civilisation. Yes, we’re right to worry about ISIS, President Assad, and Yemen, Libya, Paris, Charleston. But that’s just us doing what we’ve always done: paying attention to the immediate bad news. It’s much harder – and often quite counter intuitive – to step back and look at the slowly-emerging positive trends of humanity.
Many people, reflexively, intuitively, but wrongly, think that things are always getting worse. If you look at 50 or 100 year ‘chunks’ of time, it’s seldom true. In fact, year-on-year these days, the world is getting better. For example:
2015 literacy compared to 2014? Up.
2015 sexual equality compared to 2014? Up.
2015 human longevity compared to 2014? Up.
2015 infant mortality compared to 2014? Down.
We’re better fed. In 1990, the number of our fellow humans suffering from malnutrition fell to an incredible 19 percent. Fewer than one fifth of us. Amazing. But it got better: despite the increase in population, today the number of us suffering from malnutrition has collapsed to 11 percent and is falling all the time.
The rise of free markets and free trade (both of which could always be freer of course) has dramatically seen more of us healthier than ever before, and overall we’ve made remarkable improvements to the environment around the world. Cleaner water, increased biodiversity all playing a part. We’re so used to hearing that the environment is facing irrecoverable catastrophe, that it’s almost heresy to write those words. But ‘conventional wisdom’ doesn’t make those words any less true.
Another boon in the rise of ever-freer markets is the continuing decline of poverty. Earning $1 a day (in inflation-adjusted 1990 prices) is the definition of extreme poverty. Back in 1990, 43 percent of the developing world population lived on it. It more than halved by 2015 to 21 percent, and globally, it’s 9.7 percent: less than 10 percent for the first time ever. Single-figure extreme poverty. We really are going to make it history.
Even with Syria, Paris, and many other places, terrorist deaths are generally on the decline. The United States continues to wrestle with the issue of mass shootings, despite the number of homicides continuing to fall there by a steady 3,000 each year. Between just 2000 and 2015, the number of people worldwide dying due to violence had fallen by six percent.
There’s just no getting away from it. 2015 was generally for the average person, the greatest year to be a human being. I’d stake every penny I’ve got on 2016 beating it.