Reasons to be hopeful

I often feel discouraged about the state of the world.  But a lot of things seem to be improving behind my back.

This set of charts was created by the late Hans Rosling for his newly-published book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—And Why Things Are Better Than You Think, and are taken from Amazon’s listing for the book.

Rosling contended that people in Western Europe and North America underestimate the progress being made.  In his opinion, this was based partly on an underestimation of the capabilities of people in Third World countries.  He thought that the harmful effect of this mistaken pessimism is that it discourages continued efforts to make progress.

He created Gapminder software as a means of graphically illustrating progress over time.

Now the curmudgeon in me can’t resist pointing out that it would be possible to make charts showing things that are getting worse—topsoil erosion, rising ocean levels, species extinctions. melting glaciers, extreme weather events and so on.

I also note that much of the information of global statistics comes from the United Nations, which depends on reports by individual governments.

Some governments have accurate statistics, others have statistics skewed by what the rulers want to believe or want the public to believe.

For examples, civilian deaths in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are estimated very differently by the U.S. military and by its opponents and critics.  Statistics from the old Soviet Union and Communist China showed a rising standard of living even when people were dying of starvation.

Then again, what does it mean to say that almost all countries give women an equal right to vote when 44 percent are dictatorships in which the vote (if any) means virtually nothing.

And, as Rosling points out, statistics showing overall progress mask the differences between nations.  Tyranny, war and extreme poverty still exist.  Progress is not evenly distributed.

We also. don’t know how much of this progress is temporary, based economic growth made possible by ever-increasing exploitation of fossil fuels.

But even giving free rein to my inner curmudgeon, I can’t deny the real progress that has taken place.

When I was a schoolboy, it was taken for granted that famines in India and China were inevitable.  The last big famine in India was in 1943 and in China in 1959.   Granted that both countries have big problems, I don’t know of anybody back then who predicted what India and China have become today.

All this progress has been made possible by good government policy, but also by millions of individuals, working quietly and diligently to create better lives for themselves and others.

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