December 20, 2013


2013: The Best Year in Human History : Five Reasons to Celebrate Progress (Zack Beauchamp, 12/17/13, Breakthrough Institute)

2. Fewer people suffer from extreme poverty, and the world is getting happier.

There are fewer people in abject penury than at any other point in human history, and middle class people enjoy their highest standard of living ever. We haven't come close to solving poverty: a number of African countries in particular have chronic problems generating growth, a nut foreign aid hasn't yet cracked. So this isn't a call for complacency about poverty any more than acknowledging victories over disease is an argument against tackling malaria. But make no mistake: as a whole, the world is much richer in 2013 than it was before.

721 million fewer people lived in extreme poverty ($1.25 a day) in 2010 than in 1981, according to a new World Bank study from October. That's astounding -- a decline from 40 to about 14 percent of the world's population suffering from abject want. And poverty rates are declining in every national income bracket: even in low income countries, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty ($1.25 a day in 2005 dollars) a day gone down from 63 in 1981 to 44 in 2010. [...]

3. War is becoming rarer and less deadly.

Another massive conflict could overturn the global progress against disease and poverty. But it appears war, too, may be losing its fangs.

Steven Pinker's 2011 book The Better Angels Of Our Nature is the gold standard in this debate. Pinker brought a treasure trove of data to bear on the question of whether the world has gotten more peaceful, and found that, in the long arc of human history, both war and other forms of violence (the death penalty, for instance) are on a centuries-long downward slope.

Pinker summarizes his argument here if you don't own the book. Most eye-popping are the numbers for the past 50 years; Pinker finds that "the worldwide rate of death from interstate and civil war combined has juddered downward...from almost 300 per 100,000 world population during World War II, to almost 30 during the Korean War, to the low teens during the era of the Vietnam War, to single digits in the 1970s and 1980s, to less than 1 in the twenty-first century." Here's what that looks like graphed:

So it looks like the smallest percentage of humans alive since World War II, and in all likelihood in human history, are living through the horrors of war.

Posted by at December 20, 2013 5:54 PM

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