September 24, 2018

The World is Getting Better

It is with some reluctance that I write this blog about a recently issued report card on the world. The Wide Angle blog is aware that some of our readers view us, as Nellie Forbush was viewed in South Pacific, as “cock-eyed optimists….immature and incurably green.”

Our general evaluation of events in a larger context and set against data that may or may not confirm initial analyses in the media, tends to fortify the view of us as “optimists” and today's blog will confirm that view.

When President Obama last spoke to the United Nations he observed,

I often tell young people in the United States that despite the headlines, this is the best time in human history to be born, you are more likely than ever before to be literate, to be healthy, to be free to pursue your dreams.

We see the future not as something out of our control, but as something we can shape for the better through concerted and collective effort.  We reject fatalism or cynicism when it comes to human affairs.  We choose to work for the world as it should be, as our children deserve it to be.

Well, today the website, Vox (described by The Economist as “honourable”), published an “>The Millennium Development Goals Report, the article details the jaw dropping progress that has been made worldwide on a multitude of human needs over the past few decades. It is an assessment that won’t make CNN headlines nor the nightly news nor will its conclusions grace the front pages of our newspapers.

The data bear examination and ought to induce some realization of just how lucky we are to be living when we do and how we can, as the President noted, shape the future for the better through our efforts.

The major findings are,

1) Longevity: we are living longer than ever and the graph of the progress since the 1940s is jaw dropping. In 1770, the world’s average life expectancy was 29 years, today it’s 70. In 1940 in the Americas it was about 55, today it approximates 75 years.

2) Global GDP: the total sum of goods and services produced in the world has grown so steeply in the past 150 years that the graph of the past 50 looks like a rocket ship pointing up.  

3) Poverty: Between 1990 and 2015 about 1.1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty (defined as living on $1.25/day). According to Vox, that means that a seventh of the world has been lifted out of “terrible want.” The transformation of India and China account for much of that progress—sub-Saharan Africa remains a serious problem area.

4) Deaths from war: Despite the tragic wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and several other hot spots, by historical standards we are in a time of relative peace. From the tragic scale of mechanized deaths during the Holocaust in mid-century (with over 20 deaths per hundred thousand) we are now at less than one death per hundred thousand.           

5) Diseases: Deaths from HIV have plummeted as nearly 15 million people are receiving antiretroviral therapy. Some 15.6 million lives have been saved since 2000 as a result of measles immunizations (nearly 84% of the world’s children now receive the measles vaccine).Tuberculosis deaths have decreased by 43% since 1990, deaths from malaria are down by 58% since 2000.

6) Democracy: Despite obvious setbacks (Russia, among the most noteworthy), the spread of democratic governments on every continent over the past forty years is undeniable. While they may not achieve Jeffersonian principles of representative government, it is a trend in the right direction.

7) Food: The percentage of the world’s population that does not have enough food has fallen dramatically from 23.3% in 1990-92 to about 12.9% in 2014-16. There were 991 million hungry souls in 1990, there are around 780 million today—a decline of some 20%.

8) Deaths in childbirth: Since 1990 the global rate of maternal mortality (defined as death during pregnancy or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy) has declined by 45%. A staggering datum—from 380 deaths per 100,000 live births to 210 deaths per 100,000.

 9) Infant mortalityInfant mortality has fallen by over 50% since 1990. Twenty five years ago there were 90 deaths of children under five per 1000 live births, today that number is 45 per 1000 live births.

10) Kids in school: 91% of primary age children worldwide are enrolled in primary school in 2015. In sub-Saharan Africa, the part of the world with the least school participation, the percentage of kids enrolled in elementary school has jumped from 52% in 1990 to 80% in 2012 (62 million to 149 million).

These facts ought not generate complacency nor self-satisfaction, a lot remains to be done. But the numbers clearly demonstrate trends that are moving in the right direction. While we worry about dot com bubbles or when the Fed will raise interest rates or what offers Amazon will have next week—there are organizations that are, literally, transforming the world.

As the UN report notes,

The data and analysis presented in this report prove that, with targeted interventions, sound strategies, adequate resources and political will, even the poorest countries can make dramatic and unprecedented progress.