The World is Getting *Better* – Not Worse

by STEVE BLOOM

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I hear a lot of people complain about how messed up the world is. I get it. I truly do. War, poverty and crime are continuing troubles. Our leaders seem incapable of doing anything right and, all the while, problems keep mounting ever higher.

That’s one way to see the world. It’s not my way though.

I’m one of those few people online who actually admits to paying attention to the news on a regular basis. It seems to be a common fad to condemn the news media as a purveyor of negativity and pessimism. They’re often accused as being a source for sad stories that only serve to make us feel bad.

But the news never makes me feel pessimistic about the state of the world – it just doesn’t. That’s because I don’t pay attention to individual stories as much as I do the overall trend of where the world is moving. And if you look at the data, you’ll see that there are many reasons to feel hopeful and optimistic.

You have to look at trends over time to see just how much better the world is becoming. Let’s look at some of the data:

Health and Well-Being

Average life expectancy worldwide in 1960 was 52.48 years. By 2012 it has increased to 70.78 years.

According to the Global Hunger Index, global hunger has decreased 39% since 1990.

Extreme poverty (living off $1.25 a day or less) affected 43.1% of world population in 1990. Today it is 20.6%. There are even serious talks between governments about eliminating extreme poverty permanently.

Freedom and Self-Determination

According to Freedom House, in 1975 there were 41 free countries and 63 not free (the rest were in the middle). By 2013 the numbers had reversed. Now, 90 are free and only 47 are listed as not free.

Education

In 1970, 37% of people worldwide were illiterate. Today it’s just 15%.

The number of years people spend in school increased in developing countries from 1.7 years in 1950 to 7 years in 2010.

Crime and Conflict

Crime in the United States has dropped year after year to low rates we haven’t seen since the late 1960s. The crime rate is getting better all over the rich world, not just the U.S.

War has decreased too. In the past decade we’ve averaged 55,000 deaths a year from war (both civilian and military). But that’s lower than the 1990s (100,000 a year) and way lower from 1950 to 1989 when the average was 180,000.

More Evidence the World is Getting Better

Not convinced yet? How about improved access to clean water, sanitation and internet usage? How about the fact that the freedom of press is getting better too?

Need more?

How about the better child mortality rates, maternal mortality rates and death rates from cancer?

I could go on – seriously, there are dozens more pieces of good news I could add – but looking up and linking to all this information is tiring me.

When you actually look at the trends, it’s hard to not see anything but a brighter future ahead of us.

None of this is to suggest we don’t currently have any problems. There is still crime and violence and a world completely without war is a long way away. Obesity, the high cost of healthcare and education are growing problems too.

But even then, I remain optimistic.

Today’s problems may seem insurmountable. It may seem like we’ll never find a solution to them.

But our past is littered with problem after problem that seemed just as impossible to solve at the time. Yet each one eventually was. Here are some examples:

  • During the cold war, communism and the fear of nuclear annihilation was a constant threat. But now that the cold war is over, that threat has vanished.
  • When I was young, contracting HIV/AIDS was a death sentence. Today, because of new medicine, people can live full lives with the disease.
  • People talk about war a lot, but what about the progress for peace? The conflict in Northern Ireland lasted for 30 years until a resolution was finally found. There’s astounding progress in peace talks happening in Colombia right now that is ending a 50 year old conflict there.

All problems have solutions. Just because something seems difficult and insurmountable today doesn’t mean it will never be solved. There’s always something around the corner coming to fix even the biggest of problems.

The world isn’t a perfect place. Stupid, terrible people will continue to do stupid, terrible things. Problems will linger because others don’t have the courage or fortitude to do what’s right.

But there are far more people who are working to make this world a better place. Remember – we’re talking about a world community that eradicated smallpox from the earth and found peace in Europe shortly after two world wars decimated the populations.

There will always be things going on in the news to make you think the world is getting worse. A war might break out or a new potential disease is making headlines.

But for every war that breaks out, two stop. For every disease that comes around, we discover new treatments for others.

That’s progress. Just make sure that when you see the one step backwards, you don’t miss the two we took forward.
photo credit: Bethan

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Comments

  1. I definitely don’t watch or listen to the news. Mainly because the overall state of the world IS a negative one. Is human nature geared towards picking up on the negative?

    Perhaps.

    When reading the stats on life expectancy, my immediate reaction was ‘is living longer necessarily a good thing?’!!!

    Seeing the world getting better at a macro level is possible. Especially with the stats you’ve presented. However at a micro level, it’s getting better for some and worse for others. I doubt the Afghanis think their world is better now than it was 40 years ago.

    • Most people consider living longer a good thing. I would imagine most people would prefer to live longer than 50.

      But life expectancy is more than that. Living longer implies better medicine, better safety, access to sanitation and a lot of other factors that improve overall living conditions.

      As far as Afghanistan, I’ll play along with you. 40 years ago was 1974. In 1974, Afghan’s life expectancy was about 38 years old. Now it’s 61. In 1974, the average Afghan earned $174 a year. Now it’s $678. Today more people have access to clean drinking water. Maternal mortality rate has improved drastically. More children are in school today including over four million girls – less than a million girls attended school only ten years ago. A recent measles immunization drive is estimated to save about 30,000 lives.

      Afghanistan has actually made some great progress in many areas in the past ten years alone. So yes, their lives are much better than 40 years ago. Yes, there are still major problems and a lot more could be improved. But we shouldn’t discount all their progress simply because of that.

      • Your stats make sense. My point was that a person’s world-view isn’t impacted by the global state of the world. When they think of the ‘world’, they think of their own world; their immediate surroundings.

  2. Hi Steve,

    I am really impressed by your positive thoughts, the efforts you have made to put this data together are truly creditable. I agree with you, world is definitely getting better – just look at the global connections and reaching each other within the fraction of a second! Isn’t it a marvel?
    This post has reminded me of Abraham Lincoln’s Letter To His Son’s Teacher, where he says: “He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not true. But teach him also that for every Scoundrel there is a hero, that for every selfish politician, there is a dedicated leader.
    Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend…..”
    A must read for all who doubt your thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

    • That’s a great quote from Lincoln. I’ve never heard those words before, but they resonate with me. That’s how I see the world. There is some bad, but we can’t let that overshadow the good going on around us too.

  3. Steve,

    Really good perspective Steve. One thing I beleive is that a lot of the issues we have that people point to aren’t new ones. The idea we’ve fallen back from some golden age simply isn’t true.

    Having said that, one area where we’ve slipped a little in the west is the length of the working week but it’s still better than working in Victorian England.

    • There’s always that idea that there was some golden age that happened in recent memory – usually from our youth. We tend to remember the good and forget about the bad which skews our perception of what life was actually like in those times. When you weigh everything, things are really getting better.

  4. I agree that overall things have changed dramatically for the better. In my opinion, so much of the emphasis on the negative is because we actually have the ability to know more now – information travels nearly instantaneously. We never would have known about an Ebola outbreak before. The news never would have made it to us.

    • There’s definitely something to that. When you see bad things on the news all the time, you start to think that bad things are happening more frequently. It reminds me of a few years ago when the news reported heavily on a couple of kidnappings and perceptions among the public were that it was a problem getting worse. In fact, it was the opposite. The only thing that changed was how much it was reported.

      When you get too involved in individual stories, what you think is real isn’t actually true. You have to see big trends over time to see how the world really is doing.

  5. It’s all about perspective I guess.

    Many people just can’t see long-term an DO get stuck in the day-to-day negativity (which does sell, people love their drama subconsciously)

    Guess; “Should You watch the news?” needs more nuance. For people who can look at the bigger picture I’d say it’s ok (but then again: What value does it add in your life?)

    People stuck in negativity loops? Stay the f away.

    Nice post Steve! Got me thinking :)

    Have you had any results yet from your recent coin-flip?

    Take care,

    • By coin flip, you must mean the IVF? I have had results and things are working better than we expected. I’m actually going to announce it in a later post, but I was giving it some time.

      Anyway, there do seem to be people who get stuck in the negativity of news media – that’s why there is so much attached to it. I think a healthy dose of history helps put it all into perspective. We still have troubles today, but we often forget about the troubles of years ago. We’ve come a long way and we can’t forget all we’ve accomplished in the world.

  6. Your facts don’t lie – it is a great example of how to focus on what is positive, not on what is negative. Razwana’s point is a good one – we see the world in relative terms to our ownimmediate one and so that makes it difficult, perhaps, to see that there are indeed positive trends. I think it’s a question of seeking the good, rather than the bad.

    • I wouldn’t say we should seek out the good over the bad. I want to pay attention to the bad things going on too. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t focus exclusively on the bad and completely ignore the good. We need to know the bad too so we can fix those problems. This relates to my idea of being completely self-honest. We need to say both in order to get a clear picture of what’s going on. From there we can more clearly figure out what needs to be done.

  7. I don’t read the newspaper often because, like you said the negativity, I feel like sometimes it puts me in a bad mental space. But I still keep up the major stories because it’s hard not to.

    The data here is what I’d like to see in a newspaper or hear on the news every now and then. People should know this stuff. The media probably only reports on the bad stuff because it brings about that awe factor, that keeps people captivated, their eyes glued to the screen.

    ~Lea

    • You’re right. People should know about these things. I don’t know why the news doesn’t report these things either, but it could be that positive news doesn’t get as much attention from viewers. Or it could be a number of other reasons.

  8. This world continues to drain down the toilet. You can put your head in the sand and pretend it is not, however I have spent most of my life traveling this marble and perceptions are usually the rule, unfortunately. I have too many stories to substantiate my view. Email me if you would like.

    • I read complex articles and documents about world issues from a wide variety of think tanks. I read news magazines that are required reading for diplomatic services and read by CEOs, economic analysts and political science professors. I have a deep understanding of what’s going on in the world.

      I’m glad that you travel. So do I. I’ve traveled extensively for the past ten years. I’ve traveled to some of the poorest countries on the planet. I’ve lived in Africa. I’ve befriended people from slums and seen more than most people could imagine.

      But to get back to your main points. Perceptions are NEVER the rule.

      Here’s what a professor at Harvard had to say about perception:
      “A professor at Harvard, David Perkins, did research on perception and found that 90% of errors in thinking are errors of perception, not errors of logic. We are quite good at logic, or think we are. Yet, most of our thinking consists of emotions disguised as logic.”

      I’m assuming your stories are anecdotal evidence. Stories are a terrible source for information. I’ve used solid data that backs up my point. An actual scientific definition of anecdotal evidence is: “information that is not based on facts or careful study”.

      And you have to remember, I never said the world is perfect. The world still has many problems. But when you compare the way the world is today vs the world of forty years ago, it’s much better for everyone.

  9. “It is logical to conclude, at least on the part of those who believe in the word of God, that today’s “development” is to be seen as a moment in the story which began at creation. (…) this development fundamentally corresponds to the first premises [of world’s creation] (…) it is always man who is the protagonist of development.”
    Sollicitudo rei socialis, IV, 30

    “Train yourself to think of and to look upon the world as a something which is becoming, which is growing, and to regard seeming evil as being only that which is undeveloped.”
    Science of Getting Rich

    These quotes are part of my philosophy. I agree with you Steve. There are also negative trends, like divorce rates, but progress is programmed into human DNA and this world’s design.

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