2015 Was the Best Year. 2016 Will Be Better.

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.

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“What’s The Harm?”

Interesting post over at the Skeptical Libertarian Blog, a dissection of the dangers of pseudoscience.

If you want to believe that there are fairies living at the bottom of your garden, that’s your business. If you think that laying under a bed of crystals will “heal” you and remove your cancer better than a doctor, then – though I’d desperately try to persuade you otherwise – it is your body, your life.

But worldwide, billions of dollars are wasted and, more importantly, many people are seriously suffering, simply because they have never even been exposed to a science-based reason-centric point of view. Heartbreaking.

Dan Brown’s Overpopulation Is Overblown

I’ve just finished reading Dan Brown’s latest book Inferno, which I’ve heard is next in line to be a feature film, with director Ron Howard and actor Tom Hanks both on-board.

A lot of people are very snobbish about Brown’s books. My feelings are that this snobbery comes out of the fact that they’re quite popular, and it’s fashionable to look down your nose at what the “masses” enjoy reading on holiday, etc.

I enjoyed the book – another fun straightforward 24-hour thriller that he’s now so well known for.

Another criticism centres around the inaccuracies of his work. But so what if it’s inaccurate? It’s a book, a story – a work of fiction. Let him make up whatever allows his story to be even more exciting I say.

The latest inaccuracies in Inferno centre around the warnings that the human population is rising out of control and so we’ll have to do (cue scary music) “something” to decrease the “surplus population” (as Ebenezer Scrooge put it in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol).

The idea that there are too many humans has been around for some time. Whether it’s the 18th Century scary warnings of Thomas Malthus or Paul Ehrlich’s 1960’s scaremongering in The Population Bomb, there’s never been a shortage of people screaming that the end is neigh.

The fact is though, the overpopulation story is a myth. We’re always on the verge of a population crisis where we can’t feed everyone, and it’s all going to hell. And then it never happens.

Some smart talented people have knocked together some short, simple and highly watchable videos on this subject. They quickly and succinctly give the overpopulation myth a well-deserved reality check:

Many think that we simply don’t make enough food to feed everyone. Wrong again:

And it’s not that there’s too many of us. In some parts of the world, there’s not enough being born:

So it’s good news – if only we could solve some of the problems in the second video (war, poverty, etc.) things would be better still.

St Bob, does he really know best?

There’s a great article in the Independent today by the very thoughtful Ian Birrell about the state of Africa and how lots of the aid in the continent hurts rather than helps.

He lays into Bob Geldof a bit (another super-rich, large-scale tax avoider like Bono who, with no hint of irony or self-awareness, complains that western governments are not taking more ordinary taxpayers money by force to fund an engorgement of ‘aid’ packages to the third world):

His [Geldof’s] British homes were found to be registered in offshore companies, a popular measure with the super-rich costing the hard-pressed British exchequer £1bn a year. And his non-domicile status ensures he avoids paying tax on any overseas earnings, which must be nice.

But it’s not just the hypocrisy. Birrell is pleased St. Bob is finally coming around to the idea that trade and the free market helps elevate poverty better than anything else, but if only Mr. Geldof could see and recognise the harm that the government-enforced aid has done to so many in Africa:

Western politicians of all hues, desperate to look sensitive and caring, cravenly pandered to this aid lobby led by Bob and Bono, while journalists put on kid gloves when engaging with it, ignoring practices that would provoke outrage elsewhere. As a result, global aid spending soared from £50bn a year to £83bn over the first decade of this century; today 595,000 people work in a fiercely-competitive industry.

A study last year found even among these aid workers only about one-third thought their projects worked. In private, many will admit to grave doubts. You could fill this entire newspaper with examples of how the flood of money washes down the drain: a report by two health economists, for example, found nearly two-thirds of health aid in Africa is diverted. The waste, the ineptitude, the tolerance of corruption, the support for repression, the furthering of inequality, the boosting of arms spending is utterly scandalous…all those new colonialists riding around in their big white jeeps telling the locals what is good for them.

“They don’t consult with us,” complained a minister in Somalia, latest recipient of massive British aid. “It’s like a doctor trying to prescribe medicine for a patient you haven’t seen yet.”

This distorts priorities of recipient nations. It leads to the creation of pointless bureaucracy – one study found a typical African country must churn out 10,000 aid reports each year. Additionally, while our government attacks welfare dependency at home, it encourages it abroad with unquestioning support for politicians who have no need to bother responding to the needs of their own citizens.

Imagine how we would feel if armies of Africans came and told us how to run our schools and hospitals (while living in some of the smartest homes)? Or funded politicians who steal and murder? But this is our approach abroad: we know best, our voices count. This is how Britain ended up funding a regime that sent a hit squad to this country to kill people. And how it spent £1bn supporting education in just three east African countries but failed to check whether the teachers turned up or the children were learning; sadly, they were not.

The truth is often counter intuitive. Having our governments take more of our money by force and spend it on aid programs should help so many in Africa and elsewhere. But the reality is that simply stepping back and letting freedom reign does the job far better.