The world is doing much better than the media would have us believe

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IGNORE THE DOOM-MONGERS

There’s no shortage of bad news – it dominates the headlines. The media concentrates on the negative aspects of life because bad news sells. As readers, viewers and listeners, we thrive on human drama, so the news is replete with stories about terrorism, murders, epidemics, and crashes.

News broadcasts begin with the most traumatic story of the day, in line with the media’s maxim – if it bleeds it leads. This relentless “death and destruction” focus triggers our innate negativity bias and causes us to believe that the world is descending into disaster and chaos.

Following our exposure to a negative event, we tend to overestimate its significance due to a phenomenon called the availability bias. If you have just watched a news report of a plane crash in Sydney and are then asked about aviation safety, you might think (as it’s top of mind) that plane crashes are a problem in Australia whereas they rarely happen here.

In reality, the world is not full of doom and gloom – lots of positive things do happen. However, good news unfolds over time and receives fleeting coverage whereas bad news – such as a rise in coronavirus cases – explodes daily and attracts rolling coverage. Steady progress – like a gradual fall in coronary disease – is not breaking news.

Most positive developments are not camera-friendly as they aren’t built in a day. So, a single act of brutality will capture the headlines while hundreds of acts of kindness over time are ignored. In the words of Harvard University Professor of Psychology, Steven Pinker:

News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a journalist saying to the camera, “I’m reporting live from a country where war has not broken out” – or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up.

In a time when so many things seem dire, it’s refreshing to learn how many important trends are improving. Providing a balanced view of humanity’s progress is the motivation behind a book which helps us see how the world is really faring.

In Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know, Ronald Bailey and Marian Tupy debunk the belief that the world is getting worse. In fact, for the most part, it’s getting better. The authors have assembled a superb collection of factual information which provides an uplifting report card on humanity’s progress.

Despite its title, the book actually presents 78 trends. The first chapter, Top 10 Trends, has a global focus. The remaining eight chapters identify other significant trends covering people, health, violence, work, natural resource, farm, technology, and US trends.

Ten Global Trends serves as a counter-argument to doomsayers and leaves the reader in no doubt that human progress over recent times has been nothing short of stunning. As the top ten trends reveal, the world is becoming richer, healthier, greener, safer, freer and a more pleasant place to live.

TREND 1 | THE GREAT ENRICHMENT

The size of the world’s economy has grown more than a hundredfold over the past two centuries. Economic growth leads to higher average incomes, enabling consumers to buy more goods and services and enjoy better standards of living. If global economic growth maintains its 2.8 per cent average rate since 2000, GDP will increase to a whopping $1.1 quadrillion by 2100.

TREND 2 | THE END OF POVERTY

Extreme poverty has plummeted from 84 per cent of the world’s population in 1820 to under 10 per cent today. Over the course of the last generation, more than a billion people left the most destitute living conditions behind. Extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 per day) is expected to retreat further by 2030 with less than 5 per cent of the world’s population experiencing penury.

TREND 3 | ARE WE RUNNING OUT OF RESOURCES?

Despite claims to the contrary, humanity has not run out of a single supposedly non-renewable resource. Fossil fuels and most minerals are more abundant than in the past. Indeed, most resources are so plentiful they will last for centuries. There are compelling reasons to challenge the claims of resource depletion.

TREND 4 | PEAK POPULATION

World population will peak lower (at 8.9 billion) and sooner (by 2060) than UN forecasts and will decline to 7.8 billion people by the end of the century. The significant decline in fertility rates in most nations means that global population will not continue forever on a runaway upward trajectory, but will ultimately drop below its current level. [NB: In a previous post, I explained in greater detail why global population is set to fall.]

TREND 5 | THE END OF FAMINE

Famines have all but disappeared outside of war zones. Adequate nutrition is a basic requirement for human survival, yet throughout history, food has always been scarce. Today, the world’s poorest region (Sub-Saharan Africa) enjoys access to food that is equivalent to that of the Portuguese in the early 1960s.

TREND 6 | MORE LAND FOR NATURE

The global tree canopy increased by 2.24 million square kilometres between 1982 and 2016. This equates to seven-per-cent of the Earth’s surface covered by new trees. Mother nature is beating deforestation resulting in expanding woodlands. There are just over three trillion trees on our planet – that’s roughly 422 trees for every person on Earth.

TREND 7 | PLANET CITY

The world’s urban population in 2018 was 4.2 billion people – more than the world’s total population in 1975. Cities are the centres of innovation and the engines of growth. No country has grown to middle income without industrialising and urbanising and none has grown to high income without vibrant cities. Urbanisation is also good for the environment – fewer humans habituating rural areas enables some land to revert to nature.

TREND 8 | DEMOCRACY ON THE MARCH

Since 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. The supremacy of democracy is reflected in free elections, the rule of law and constraints on executive power. Autocrats reject these democratic norms in favour of ruthless behaviour which limits rights and liberties.

TREND 9 | THE LONG PEACE

Over the past half-century, wars between countries have become rarer, and those which do occur kill fewer people. International trade offers a path to world peace as it encourages nations to live in harmony. Free trade raises the cost of war by making nations more economically interdependent. The more that people rely on trade with others, the greater the cost to all parties of a conflict.

TREND 10 | A SAFER WORLD

The chances of a person dying in a natural catastrophe – earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic, etc. – has declined by nearly 99 per cent over the past century. Today, buildings are better constructed to survive earthquakes, weather satellites provide early storm warnings, and swift medical interventions limit the spread of diseases.

■      ■      ■

Clearly, the world is not going to the dogs and these are not bleak times. Almost everywhere you turn, you can find evidence of some positive trend – if you are prepared to look. The remaining 68 trends outlined in Ten Global Trends show that on all key dimensions of human well-being, the world is in an extraordinarily better place today than just a few decades ago.

Most people are better educated, better fed, more literate, and have more life options than at any other time in human history. Incomes and life expectancy are rising while child mortality and cancer death rates are falling. Stocks of nuclear warheads have plummeted and digital technology has transformed how we live, work, and play.

The world isn’t as horrific as we have been led to believe. Indeed, there’s never been a better time to be alive. In bygone years, life was shorter, sicker, poorer, more dangerous, and less free. So, we need to stop bingeing on bad news and seek out the positives in the world as good news lifts our spirits. We should also follow the advice of the Monty Python song – Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

And if you want to appreciate the simple things in daily life, just listen to the lyrics of Louis Armstrong’s song – What a Wonderful World.

Before you go …
The astounding ascent in living standards over the past 200 years has been driven largely by capitalism. Yet this innovative, free-market system – which has delivered untold benefits to humanity – is under attack by anti-capitalists. I’m a proud proponent of capitalism and in my post next fortnight I will mount a strident defence of capitalism and argue that it remains a force for good – despite its many imperfections.

Regards

Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

2 Replies to “The world is doing much better than the media would have us believe”

  1. I loosely label this blog as a checkmate argument. Well done and thank you for the quality research. Does the media have a motto? It could be: Why let the facts spoil a good story. Why are we attracted to “bad news”? Psychologists explain this with the term “negative bias”. In simple terms, this means that negative events have a greater impact on our brains than positive ones. We should never forget that fear is a great stimulus.

  2. Hello Paul,

    It is good to read a circuit breaker on our conditioned thoughts, particularly during these challenging times, that is public healthwise.

    Thank you for the update on human biases, good news versus bad news time span etc

    Definitely enjoyed the learning!

    Thank you,

    Des

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