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The world’s improving in many ways, and he can prove it

One of the dozens of charts on Dr. Rosen's sites; from the Our World in Data Facebook page

One of the dozens of charts on Dr. Rosen’s sites; from the Our World in Data Facebook page

Don’t take my word for it. We have a lot to be optimistic about. So on days when worries about the state of the world are bringing down your spirits, head over to Max Rosen’s Our World in Data or check out his Facebook and Twitter streams. The Oxford economist provides data on the big issues facing us. Here are some of the encouraging trends:

  • A billion people lived in absolute poverty (less than $1.25/day, adjusted for inflation) in 1820. The same number live in absolute poverty today, but world population is seven times larger.
  • Some of the worst diseases humanity has ever known have been eradicated or are closing in on it.
  • The number of oil spills dropped from an average of 24.6 in the 1970s to 3.3 in the 2000s.
  • Child mortality plummeted between 1970 and 2012.
  • Literacy rates are increasing globally.

Rosen does not gloss over issues such as deforestation, CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions or the increase in smaller, state-based wars (though the decrease in deaths is dramatic). However, what his data prove is that overall we have a lot more reasons for hope than for gloom.

If we can get climate change in check and reverse the growth in income equality, we will have even more to make us optimistic. Rather than throw up our hands in despair, we need to pull on our work gloves. Discouragement is normal, but Rosen’s data build a compelling case to believe in our species.



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Mark - August 28, 2015

The best way to get income inequality addressed is to have a push for job growth policies. Any job. More safety net, welfare or wealth tranfer will only serve to keep the poor, poorer. You can only tax so much. There are too many people to peanut butter spread the transfer, so more will in the end get less. That makes no sense. Jobs are the only way to do this while promoting human dignity at the same time. 15 an hour minimums won’t do it either. Prices will rise to cover that leaving them in the same relative position as before. Youth unemployment will skyrocket from already high rates, and those ft workers at the bottom will be let go in favor of technology. Whatever end you hoped to achieve will be quickly negated, and more will be worse off.

    Cathryn Wellner - August 28, 2015

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on some of your points, Mark, especially since the last decade has seen a major wealth transfer from the poor and middle class to the wealthiest. But aside from the income inequality issue, read on in the data. It will give you reason for optimism about people and planet.

      Mark - August 28, 2015

      Thats primarily because of the loss of jobs and more money made by the wealthy in investment that the poor don’t have real access to. Now ceo pay is truly an issue, but otoh, how many ceo’s are there in relation to the average workers? Not many. I’m all for safety nets and assistance for those at the very bottom but because of failed policy we have more and more dipping into the well, and those in need really do get less. The mid 2000s recession was devastating to jobs and there has been no meaningful recovery. More stimulus has absolutely not been effective.

      Mark - August 30, 2015

      Btw Catherine. Can you tell me how there has been a wealth transfer FROM the poor and the middle class TOthe already wealthy? The wealthy didn’t take their money. The investments and policies that give them an advantage do not have one thing to do with taking anything from the poor. If anything is true, because of the push for higher taxes there is a move to take more money FROM the wealthy to give to the poor and middle class. I maintain that the loss of jobs for the poor and middle class has done the damage to them. Although today there seems to be a belief that the wealthy are like thieves and literally taking from the poore . It isn’t true of course but it’s de riguer to espouse that. And I am NOTone of the wealthy class by any means.

Mark - August 30, 2015

One more thing Catherine. Where do you think the relative poverty has decreased world wide? India, Indonesia, the middle east and even africa. Is it because of wealth transfer, basically the UN pouring bazillions into welfare? The reason, sad to say is capitalism. Work. Jobs, starting from literally nothing but making incremental improvement daily. They see the West. They understand what to do. They have lots of obstacles but the human desire ALWAYS prevails. and this is why wealth transfer to welfare, basically, is wrong, it will not help people move forward and will keep them even poorer than they were to begin with. Much less bring them dignity of purpose. The left does not get this. They also want better for people as the right does. But looking realistically at it, you can now understand why the trillions of dollars in the West fighting poverty has not moved that needle hardly more than a point or two. What a waste. The methods are wrong. Purely that. The goal is good. The methods are the issue holding them back. I love your heart. But your incorrect on what’s going to meet your hope. Its been shown so for way too darn long now. Time to seriously try something else to get what you want.

    Cathryn Wellner - August 31, 2015

    Try not to get stuck on income inequality in relation to this post, Mike. Take a look at Max Rosen’s site, and you’ll find lots to give you hope, along with some cautionary figures.

    In terms of income inequality, the issue is definitely complex, the causes a tangled weave. Neither the right nor the left holds The Whole Truth. However, in countries where income inequality is narrowest, the quality of living increases for everyone. We humans have shown we can change for the better. We can do that on this issue as well. Here are some links you might find interesting:

  • Income Inequality at Historically High Levels, Census Data Show
  • How economic inequality harms societies
  • Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective
  • Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising
  • Reply
      Mark - August 31, 2015

      I have no doubt that there are reasons for hope. It’s been clearly stated by a number of economists and sociologists. Be that as it may, the only thing that has driven this improvement worldwide is freedom of capitalism. Look at china. Until they embraced a form of it after the Hong Kong takeover in 1999 they were still a hackward country. Still are in the rural areas they have a split personality structure to be sure. We have in the west full opportunity to education so that’s not an issue. By itself. Higher education is a mess. Why? Directly because the government guatanteed financial aid. Without that there were screams of racism and equal education for all. Since then it has effectively priced everyone equally grom getting an education. This is strictly my point. More government assostance continues to keep people being pushed farther behind. This needs to be absolutely and completely overhauled. But in the political climate we have no will to do it as it leaves them open to criticisms from many sources. They won’t risk that and so it continues.

      I’m not fixating on inequality of wealth. But everyone else seems to be. So let’s address that. Let’s get at that root cause. Then we move to clean water and air and so on. We need to get our priorities in line, triaged if you will. We cannot solve it all at once. If wealth inequality is a second or third tier issue then say so. You will get an enormous push back, but somehow we need to addtess the biggest issues of our times. Have 10 issues. Deal with the top, moving the lower ones up, adding more to the bottom. But deflection is hampering any real movement

      Lets start with a safety net process but not a way of life. Or jobs. Just that. Policies that bring back mfg for lower educationed to get them working again. Tax policies aimed solely at that. Fair wages but not out of line wages because its politically expedient. 15 an hour for mickey d’s is really stupid. Its mainly a first job. Even janatorial is not worth 15. Maybe 10.50. I have no idea. But basing pay for a job on a family of 4 is moronic. In that case i should merely tell my boss i need a raise because i want a better car. The analogy of why is pretty much the same.

        Mark - August 31, 2015

        I do want you to know i’m not particularly contentious about all this. I do like your writings. Alot. Only that we are starting to get stretched. Financially and socially. That has to be considered. The problems are vast. The right and left need to come together to create a new way for all of us to prosper. I don’t see that happening soon enough. The rhetoric is killing us. To tely on the politicians is folly in my view. Their not bad peoplr of either side but their agendas and affiliations are holding us all back.

        I just hope you know this. Really.

          Cathryn Wellner - August 31, 2015

          I worry more about my grandchildren than myself, Mark. So I want a world where the gap between rich and poor is narrowed, where we see each other as allies rather than enemies, where we have the kind of civilized discussions you and I have rather than the name calling that’s part of electioneering.

          I don’t believe someone with cancer has deliberately called that on herself any more than I believe someone at the bottom of the socioeconomic balance sheet has always done something stupid to end up there. I have my single mother to thank for my views. She was the most loving, socially engaged, compassionate, caring, generous person I have ever known. She was poor as a church mouse until her death, but she lived one of the richest lives I have ever witnessed.

          So I want you to know that agreeing on income inequality or anything else is not part of my appreciation of your thoughtful viewpoints. I figure the world is a better place because of people like you.

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