Good News

There has never been a better time to be alive. Conditions in the world have never been better than they are today. While far from perfect, there is less violence, less war, less ignorance, less disease, less hunger, less poverty, less injustice, and less human suffering today than ever before. Indeed, humanity’s amazing progress, which has accelerated in recent decades, may well be the most significant and least appreciated story in human history.

Just consider this incomplete list:

There are 200 million fewer people suffering from malnutrition than there were 25 years ago.

Globally the infant mortality rate has fallen by 49% since 1990.

The global literacy rate is now 84%, up from 66% in 1967.

Over the last 150 years global life expectancy has doubled. Worldwide, life expectancy has been rising steadily for well over 100 years. In the U.S, life expectancy was around 40 in 1880 and is nearly 80 today. Life expectancy has risen nearly ten years in my lifetime alone!

90% of the world’s population now has access to safe drinking water. Since 1990, 2.6 billion more people have gained access to clean drinking water. And since 2000, the number of children who died because of waterborne illnesses has been cut in half.

The total number of people living in poverty is at an all-time low, despite a population increase of 143 percent since 1960. In the last 35 years, the number of people living on less than $1.25 (adjusted for inflation) has fallen from 42 percent of the population to 16.9 percent. Experts believe that extreme poverty may be completely eliminated by 2030.

Even as we have fewer poor people, the poor are more affluent.

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Crime is falling across the board. Murder and rape are about 20% of what they were in 1973, for example.

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We are living in the most peaceful time in human history. Because war is so rare, battle deaths and war-related destruction has dropped dramatically since the end of WWII and now is statistically nearly non-existent. State on state warfare is now seemingly obsolete.

Rates of violence against women and children are in steep declines. Rates of rape and sexual assault in the US for example, have fallen by over half in the last 20 years. Violence against spouses has fallen by nearly 2/3 during that period. Over the last 20 years, sexual assaults on children have fallen by more than half, as has other forms of physical violence. Bullying has decreased by 2/3.

Genocide and other forms of mass violence against civilians is only 25% of what it was 40 years ago, even with the uptick associated with the rise of ISIS

Even in places with very high homicide rates, like Mexico, Columbia, and Brazil, for example, the rates are less than half what they were just a few decades ago and they continue to fall.

And as we’re becoming healthier, wealthier and less violent, we’re also becoming smarter. IQ testing reveals a substantial, consistent and long-sustained increase in IQ scores worldwide since data began being collected in 1930. One estimate is that the average IQ in 1932, for example, was only 80 by today’s values.

There’s also never been a safer time to be a police officer or an apprehended criminal suspect. For example, the number of police officers intentionally killed in duty now is the lowest amount ever recorded.

This is the least violent time in American history. US homicide rates are at a 51 year low, falling by nearly half over the last 20 years. Gun homicides have declined by 49% since 1993, even as gun ownership has increased by 56%. Gun-related police deaths peaked in the 1920’s and have been steadily falling ever since (other than a sharp brief uptick in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s). There are fewer this year than last year and less than half what they were in 1880.

Crime among African American youth has fallen by 47% in last 20 years.

The decline in violence has been ongoing for all of human existence, it’s just accelerated lately. Prehistoric remains show that on average 15% of humans once died violent deaths (at the hands of other humans)! Today that’s an extremely rare cause of death–only about .001%.  In 1450, Italian homicides averaged 73 per 100,000 people. England was relatively safe, with just over 13 homicides per 100,000 people. In 2011, in contrast, homicides in Great Britain and the United States averaged 1 and 4 per 100,000 people respectively.

From 1997 to 2011 U.S. emergency departments have seen a 48% reduction in adult deaths.

Abortion rates are at all-time lows in the developed world and fewer teens are giving birth than ever. Abortion rates have been steadily falling since 1980 and have dropped over 35% since 1990. The number of teens becoming moms has dropped by a total of 54% from 2007 to 2015.

In 1920 82.4% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. In 2015, only 13.6% did.

In 1920, just 28 percent of American youths between the ages of fourteen and seventeen were in high school.

100 years ago, ten percent of infants died in their first year, compared with only one in every 168 births in the U.S. today.

The typical American spent one-third of his or her income on food 100 years ago, which is twice today’s share, and 13% of his or her income on clothing, which is only 3% of a typical consumers budget today.

In 1920,  with a fatality rate of 61 deaths per 100,000 workers, the workplace was about 30 times more dangerous than it is today.

In fact, a typical middle class person today is materially richer (and enjoys a better lifestyle) than even John D. Rockefeller did 100 years ago.

As recently as 1960, 16.8 percent of American households were without complete plumbing; today, almost no one is.

Appliances were 4 to 10 times more expensive in 1963 than they are today (even without considering the improvements in capabilities). In 1963 a 23″ black and white TV cost $229 (with trade-in). Today a 24″ flat screen LED TV costs $130. Adjusted for inflation that TV in 1963 would cost $1,804 in today’s dollars (over 10x more than a better TV costs today)! Another way of looking at it: in 1963 the minimum wage was $1.25/hr and today it is $7.25/hr. In 1963 a person would have to work 183 hours at minimum wage to be able to buy a 23″ TV. Today a person would only have to work 18 hours at minimum wage to do so. Same story with the other appliances. In 1963 a 14.1 cubic foot refrigerator (with trade in) cost $329. Today the same size fridge costs $476. In today’s dollars the 1963 fridge would cost $2,591 (over 5x more than a better fridge today)! It would take 263 hours at minimum wage to afford a refrigerator in 1963 and only 66 hours today. A 32 lb washing machine cost $209 in 1963 (with trade in) and costs $416 today. In today’s dollars the washer in 1963 would cost $1,646 or 167 hours at minimum wage, versus 57 hours at minimum wage today. 

Systemic injustice is being overcome as well. In 1942, 68 percent of white Americans thought that blacks and whites should go to separate schools. By 1995, only 4 percent of American whites thought that. In 1958, 45 percent of white Americans said that they would “maybe” or “definitely” move if a black family moved in next door. That number fell to just 2 percent in 1997. So rare were segregationist attitudes by the mid-1990’s that the federal government discontinued collection of such statistics.

As late as 2002, only 38 percent of Americans believed that gay and lesbian relationships were morally acceptable. A mere 13 years later, 63 percent of Americans felt that way. Consider also that in 1996, only 27 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. By 2015, that number more than doubled with 60 percent of Americans in support.

The threats that are most frightening to many these days, terrorism and mass shootings, are actually extremely rare. Excluding U.S. military personnel, fewer Americans have been killed by terrorism globally since 2002 than have died from allergic reactions to peanuts. In most years bee stings, deer collisions, ignition of nightwear, and other mundane accidents kill more Americans than terrorist attacks. An American is three times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be a victim in a mass shooting.

In Laura Grace Weldon‘s excellent post late last year, she collected even more:

We’re overcoming diseases at extraordinary rates.

  1. AIDS related deaths have continued to drop for the last 15 years in a row and new HIV infections among children have dropped by 58% since 2000.
  2. Malaria, one of the world’s top killers, is on the decline. Last year 16 countries reported zero indigenous cases of malaria. Globally, mortality rates from the disease have fallen from an estimated 839 000 in 2000 to 438 000 in 2015. In other words, an estimated 6.2 million people have been saved from malaria-related deaths over the last 15 years .
  3. The incidence of polio, which once crippled over a thousand children every day, has now been reduced by 99 percent. Only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, continue to experience wild polio cases.
  4. The painful parasitic disease, Guinea Worm has effectively been eradicated.

Many more children are surviving childhood. 

Mortality rates for children younger than five have been cut in half since 1990 in virtually every country around the world. That’s about 19,000 fewer children dying every day this year compared to 25 years ago.

More people than ever have access to safe water and bathroom facilities. 

Over the last 25 years, an average of 47,000 more people per day were able to rely on a source of clean drinking water. Now 91 percent of the world’s population has safe water. This saves countless people from suffering or dying from water-borne illnesses.

Over two billion people have gained access in the last 25 years to what the World Health Organization politely calls “improved sanitation facilities.” In other words, 68% of the global population has access to a toilet — critical for health and improved living standards.

Fewer people are hungry.

The number of chronically undernourished people has dropped by 200 million in the last 25 years. That’s particularly impressive considering the world’s population increased by 1.9 billion people during that time.

More people can read than ever before.

Today, four out of five people are able to read. In many regions of the world the majority of children and young adults are more literate than their elders, demonstrating that global literacy is rapidly increasing. At this point, nine out of ten children are learning to read.

Female literacy rates haven’t risen as quickly due to inequality and poverty, but in some areas, particularly East Asia, 90 percent more girls are able to read than 10 years ago. As female literacy goes up, other overall positive indicators tend to follow including decreased domestic violence, improved public health, and greater financial stability.

In the U.S., twice as many people are reading books for pleasure than they were in the mid-1950’s.

Internet access is spreading across the world. 

There’s been an eight fold increase in the number of people with access to the net in the last 15 years. Right now, there are two Internet users in the developing world for every user in the developed world. With this access comes better opportunities to network, build knowledge, create jobs, and stay connected with others.

The average person’s standard of living has gone up. 

Twenty-five years ago, nearly half the world’s population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. Today, that proportion has declined to 14 percent. Around the world, the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped by half.

In the U.S., homelessness continues to decline. Over the past five years the number of people without shelter has dropped by 26 percent.

Right of indigenous people around the world to protect their land and their identity are, in many cases, beginning to be upheld.

For example, the Makuna, Tanimuka, Letuama, Barasano, Cabiyari, Yahuna and Yujup-Maku peoples of Columbia have won the right to preserve a million hectares of Amazonian forest where they will continue to act as guardians of the land.

Sustainability is accelerating. 

The U.S. and Europe, over the last two years, have added more power capacity from renewables than from gas, coal, and nuclear combined. Renewable energy jobs more than doubled in ten years, from three million jobs in 2004 to 6.5 million in 2013, and continue to grow.  Dramatic improvements in renewable energy technology have lowered costs while improving performance for hydropower, geothermal, solar, and onshore wind power.

Wind energy prices in the U.S. have reached an all-time low and there’s enough wind power installed in the U.S. to meet the total electricity demands of Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, and Wyoming. Investments in wind power are becoming mainstream, including projects being built for Amazon.com, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart.

Protected areas of land and water have substantially increased in the last 25 years. For example, protected lands in Latin America and the Caribbean have risen from 8.8 percent in 1990 to 23.4 percent in 2014.

In fact, more of the planet found protection in 2015 than ever before.  In the U.S., President Obama has designated 260 million acres as protected public lands and waters – more than any previous president.

This year nations are setting aside one million square miles of “highly protected ocean,” more than any prior year.  This area is larger than Texas and Alaska combined. These fully protected marine reserves are off-limits to drilling, fishing, and other uses incompatible with preservation.

We give ourselves far too little credit for the progress we’re making and the good work we’re doing. The flood of good news which gets lost in the noise these days would astonish and delight our ancestors. Despite all the pessimism in the world, and acknowledging that we still have plenty of obstacles to overcome and plenty of opportunities to screw it all up, humanity is facing a bright, peaceful and prosperous future!

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25 comments on “Good News

  1. Laurie Graves says:

    Reading this post was a great way to start the week. Perhaps you should send this to Trump and Company as a corrective to their dystopian view of the country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      The reason a slogan like “Make America Great Again” has appeal is because our human nature causes us to be nostalgic and to imagine the past was better than the present, regardless of the reality. This has been documented for thousands of years and scientists have theories for why the phenomenon (sometimes called “declinism”) occurs.

      Conservative people tend to be more prone to it, but it is true among a large percentage of progressives as well. Conservatives might emphasize a supposed decline in morals, for example, while progressives often falsely claim there is an increase in racism, gun violence or environmental degradation. It’s a fascinating phenomenon.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. avwalters says:

    And our shoes are more comfortable than at any time in recorded history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Hmm. That may be true. I know that now it’s possible to order shoes on line and have them delivered right to your front door. If they don’t fit you can return them for free. On those rare occasions when I have to shop, I prefer not to leave home.

      However well they may fit, shoes are no longer considered luxury items. When my mother was growing up here, a family that lived near them couldn’t send all their children to school because they didn’t have enough shoes for them all. That wasn’t that long ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This will be SAVED to my computer as a reminder that life is not so bad as it often seems–judging from the news .
    By the way, I don’t have AC yet and don’t want it! Sometimes, improvements aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The folks that spend the most time in AC seem to complain about summer more so than those of us without. I’ve gotten so used to heat that 76 degree days seem COLD
    But please don’t take my furnace away. That I need!
    Have a great week, Bill and thanks again for a reminder …….

    Like

    • Bill says:

      And this is just scratching the surface. As long as this post is, I could probably double it with even more examples. A hundred years ago we were dying by the millions from things like the flu and infections, for example. We live in amazing times.

      Many of the technological advances are of no benefit to me. It’s great that TVs are so affordable now, for example, but we don’t watch TV. The internet on the other hand tremendously enriches our lives and didn’t even exist 30 years ago.

      I know it might seem strange for someone who promotes agrarian values to be a fan of technology, but I consider myself a neo-agrarian technological optimist. As our consumption slows down and we pivot toward sustainability, I believe that the agrarian and artisinal movements can be an important a part of shaping the future, which I expect to be peaceful and prosperous.

      Like

      • Oh yes—and I’m looking forward to those days.
        We went to a farm market (new one to us!) with neighbors last Saturday and this fella was SO interesting to talk to–he’s very well read and keeps up with technology and he said in 20 years we will see the end of gasoline autos and that solar and wind will be powering everything.
        AND–and I love this part the most—the very market we visited will be so much more prevalent. I sure hope so. That was the best day ever-chatting it up with growers. And the entire market was organic…..right down to the meats. Heaven!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for including part of my post here.

    Bet you’ll like this trailer for a new French documentary titled “Demain.” It highlights people around the world who are actively making a better future right now in areas of agriculture, energy, habitat, and more. Here’s the trailer: https://www.demain-lefilm.com/en

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      That’s great! Beautiful. Thanks for sharing it. That’s my vision too.

      I’m glad you didn’t mind me borrowing so much of your post. I was going to just pluck out some facts from it, but I’d already made the post so long (and I was tired of editing) that I decided to just cut and paste instead. Technology has made plagiarism easier too. 🙂

      Like

  5. Sylviak says:

    About half-way through I started to think that this post was a joke. We are facing the largest mass migration due to war in history at the moment. Bees are coming ever closer to extinction. There are no monarchs on my milk-weed laden farm in the summers any more and we just experienced the hottest summer on record with drought conditions here in Ontario. Measuring affluence by the number of TV’s, dryers, air conditioners, cell phones, cars, and microwaves–all things which are killing the planet–has got to be the most misguided way to determine benefit ever devised. State on state warfare might be seemingly obsolete, but only because there are economic ways that powerful nations dominate poorer nations—and they are doing so in increasingly effective ways. And there might be some places where indigenous peoples have more rights, but even in the countries where lip service is to indigenous rights (like in Canada), the track record is horrendous: look at Australia and rates of juvenile incarceration, Canada’s reserves with no drinking water, Palestinian farmers dislocated by settlers, and American indigenous populations. We have more black people in jails, more aboriginal people in jails, more latinos in jails than ever before. A lot of the statements you have given look good on the surface, but if you probe a bit more deeply there are assumptions that are faulty and facts that are mitigating. Sorry to be a spoilsport. You would be better off looking for hope in the garden . . . if you could get beyond all the missing bees.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      Believe me, I totally get it. I’ve blogged here on all the subjects you mention and many others like them. The point is not that there are no problems in our world. Of course there are, some of them potentially catastrophic. The point is that humanity has made amazing progress and that the world is better now than it has ever been, and getting better all the time. There is great reason for optimism in my humble opinion and we have much for which to be thankful.

      I do look for hope in our gardens. I’ve just come in to cool off from picking purple hull peas in the blazing heat. Last year deer wiped out the entire garden and this year we have a bumper crop. More progress. 🙂 The peas are pollinated by wasps and the garden is buzzing with them. In all the years I’ve picked peas I’ve never been stung by one until a few minutes ago. Now I have a swollen throbbing finger. Maybe the wasp sting was nature’s reminder to me not to forget about the bees. 🙂

      Like

    • T. Mannis says:

      I had the same thoughts — this could be like collapsing in joy on your living room sofa because you’ve just cleaned the room, while the entire back of the house is on fire. Climate change (to name the most obvious concern) is not only threatening coastlines and species, but increasing droughts mean we could face widespread hunger (Ethiopia is on the near horizon) and war. The full effects just haven’t yet arrived.

      That said, perhaps human beings do need to be reminded what has improved, if only to remind ourselves it is worth the effort.

      Like

  6. The “typical middle class person today is materially richer (and enjoys a better lifestyle) than even John D. Rockefeller did 100 years ago.” I would ask two things: 1) who is considered “middle class”; and 2) exactly what does this mean?
    I’m sorry, but just being able to say people have more things these days, doesn’t necessarily make them better off; it just shows how terrible conditions were before.
    We mustn’t become complacent and believe that everything’s wonderful just because – for most people – it’s better than horrendous…
    We must continue this trend; attempt improve all of our lives, as much as humanly possible…

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I agree of course. As I’ve been researching this I’ve never seen anyone suggest that we should be complacent or believe that “everything’s wonderful.” But we’re so swamped with negative news we’re hardly even aware of how better off humanity is now than at any time before. I find that inspiring and it gives me good reasons to hope for continued improvement. Just as we look back a generation or two and see how many people lived in abject poverty, died in childbirth, or of the flu, of malnutrition, or of polio, or in incessant warfare, I hope and expect that future generations will look back at us and be pleased that they’ve eliminated the problems that plague our lives. I hope they’ll wonder how we could have ever tolerated CAFOs for example, or how we could have so endangered the environment with industrial scale agriculture. I choose to believe we’ll continue to progress, although it won’t likely be a straight line. When we look at how much better the world is now than it was in 1920, for example, it’s almost hard to believe how much war and genocide there has been between then and now.

      I took the Rockefeller example from here: http://cafehayek.com/2016/02/40405.html

      It’s easy to quibble with his argument, but I for one wouldn’t trade places with Mr. Rockefeller.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow! Thanks, Bill, for this very positive article. In the midst of all the negative news and family tragedies, one is tempted toward pessimism.

    Your detailed analysis of many great achievements and improvements in human civilization helps correct the overemphasis of the negative and troubling.

    Much appreciated.

    May I post this to my own blog site, with credits?

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks Daniel. Sure.

      Pessimism about the future, and the belief that the past was better than the present are natural to us humans. If I can get to it, tomorrow I’ll post some of the data showing how we tend to deny the existence of progress, even when it is as dramatic as what we’ve been experiencing lately.

      I didn’t include sources in here because I didn’t want to clutter up an already long post with hyperlinks. So be aware that most of the sources for this data aren’t credited.

      Like

  8. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, I can’t deny that in my short life span I’m living a better life than when I first remember being alive. My Dad tells stories of his childhood on the farm and my farm memories are definitely better than his. My Dad’s first job off the farm was a pin setter for a bowling alley. He walked a couple miles to town and earned a dollar a week for his efforts. Granted a dollar would buy a lot back in the late 1930s. I remember Dad saying that it was cheaper and easier to burn corn in the stove during the Winter than it was to buy coal. Farm land had very few trees so it wasn’t an option to use wood. Life back then was about survival and not too much enjoyment. Medicine was wives’ tale remedies that some times worked. There were lots of miscarriages and young child deaths. Half of the eight children in my Dad’s family died at birth and one was hit by a drunk driver and killed at age 12 while walking home from school. There were no law suits back then. No one had any money to sue for any way. They grieved and moved on. Life was tough. My Dad barely finished the 8th grade but went on to live a nice middle class life and actually owned his own truck repair business for about 25 years.

    So yeah, I would have to say that life is easier and safer today than just 100 years ago. Every invention has the potential to be good or bad in how it’s used. My favorite made up saying is “There nothing new in the world. It’s just more high tech today.”

    Have a great Good News day.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful post Dave. It’s easy for us to erase the hard memories and only emphasize the good ones. I know I’m often guilty of that.

      Cherie’s father had polio as a child. It didn’t kill him, as predicted, but it did leave him disabled for the rest of his life. I’m very grateful I didn’t have to worry about that with our children. One of Cherie’s great-grandmothers died of pellagra, which is essentially malnutrition even though they didn’t realize it then. That was a common and horrible way to die in the South in those days. I’m glad we’ve put that behind us. My father died of a heart attack at age 49. He suffered his first heart attack two years earlier. With today’s technology they would have treated him after the first attack and he’d still be alive today. My maternal grandfather quit school after the second grade to become head of household during the Great Depression when his father went blind. There was no social safety net at all in those days. I’ve had ancestors who died in childbirth, who were murdered, who were killed in wars, who were tortured to death for their religious beliefs, who died of illnesses we wouldn’t even consider serious today, etc. All those things could still happen today, but they’re now exceedingly rare. For all our problems (and we still have some doozies) we have a great deal for which to be thankful. There’s never been a better time to be alive than now.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. roscoe74 says:

    What about suicide rates? These statistics are from Australia, a country not dissimilar to most other Western democracies in most respects.

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/young-women-and-middleaged-australians-drive-rise-in-national-suicide-rate-20160308-gnd6qy.html

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Yes. You make a very important observation. Suicide rates have increased in the U.S. too. I’ve read elsewhere that suicide rates around the world have increased. A very troubling phenomenon. Even though humanity is making progress in lots of amazing ways, there is still a tremendous amount of pain and suffering in the world.

      Like

  10. thesnowwoman says:

    Great post, a good positive was to start the day. I like how you put things into perspective. I actually stopped watching tv and the news because I felt like I was bombarded with negative doomsday content all the time and it was beginning to feel unhealthy.

    Like

  11. Candace says:

    Amazing because it does seem to be pretty awful if you’re a news junkie like I am. I’m relieved to know that life is improving and will keep this post bookmarked.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      It’s counter-intuitive because by nature we tend to be pessimists. The news doesn’t help, because the headlines are usually bad news. But those stories are newsworthy not because they’re normal or common, but because they’re rare and sensational. For every piece of bad news reported there are thousands (probably millions) of acts of simple kindness that go unnoticed because they’re so common.

      Liked by 1 person

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