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The world is getting better, not worse

Worldwide, on average people are richer, better educated, and live longer and healthier lives. So why do so many people think that things are getting worse?

Delivered 3 January 2016. Posted 4 January 2016.

On Sunday 3 January I gave my 28th "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester.

With the new year having just started, I decided to remind listeners that the main trend in world affairs, and in our country's own affairs, is that things get better, not worse. Many may have been surprised by this message, since bad news seems to dominate our newspapers and broadcast media.

The text of my broadcast is below, followed by an explanation of why I picked this subject.

Thought for the week

With January starting, many of us will be looking back at the last year. Was it a good one?

I suspect that many people feel that the world is getting worse and worse. Floods. War in Syria. Ebola. Economic crises. The list could go on.

However, when you ignore the headlines and look at the facts, the picture is completely different. 2015 was almost certainly the best year in human history. Total deaths worldwide from war, terrorism and crime have been going downwards for years. A smaller proportion of the world’s population goes to bed hungry than at any time in history. Around the world people live longer. The numbers living in dire poverty, living on less than $2 per day, keep going down.

Technology is transforming our lives for the better. Imagine what it would have cost to make your smartphone 25 years ago, or if it was possible at all. Then think about what you actually pay for your own smartphone.

So why do so many feel pessimistic?

I blame the news. Bad news sells newspapers and gets readers and viewers. Good news doesn’t. We also remember the latest news, and forget about longer ago. The latest floods have actually caused far less damage than the floods we had about 10 years ago.

We also pay little attention to events far away that don’t make the news. In the last 30 years, hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians have stopped being desperately poor. How much have we noticed?

So let me wish you a happy 2016. I hope and expect that 2016 will also be the best year ever.

Why I chose this subject

Technological change is something that we overlook, because sometimes it happens slowly, and we quickly take it for granted. That is why a couple of years ago I wrote the piece "Richer than Pharaoh?" to make the point that on most of the criteria that matter, I was better off than the richest pharaoh of ancient Egypt. I also addressed this question in the autumn of 2015 with my piece "Is the world getting worse or better?"

I was also prompted by a number of pieces that appeared over the last week or so from other writers making similar points. These included:

  1. Daniel Hannan MEP "2015 was the best year in human history, and 2016 will be better yet"
  2. Zac Tate "17 reasons why the world has never been a better place"
  3. Marian L. Tupy "Two cheers for 2015"
  4. Charles Kenny "2015: The Best Year in History for the Average Human Being"


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