Stephen Moore, opines in today’s WSJ about a new United Nations report, “State of the Future”. Of it he says:
A new United Nations report called “State of the Future” concludes: “People around the world are becoming healthier, wealthier, better educated, more peaceful, more connected, and they are living longer.”
Yes, of course, there was the obligatory bad news: Global warming is said to be getting worse and income disparities are widening. But the joyous trends in health and wealth documented in the report indicate a gigantic leap forward for humanity. This is probably the first time you’ve heard any of this because–while the grim “Global 2000” and “Limits to Growth” reports were deemed worthy of headlines across the country–the media mostly ignored the good news and the upbeat predictions of “State of the Future.”
But here they are: World-wide illiteracy rates have fallen by half since 1970 and now stand at an all-time low of 18%. More people live in free countries than ever before. The average human being today will live 50% longer in 2025 than one born in 1955.
To what do we owe this improvement? Capitalism, according to the U.N. Free trade is rightly recognized as the engine of global prosperity in recent years. In 1981, 40% of the world’s population lived on less than $1 a day. Now that percentage is only 25%, adjusted for inflation. And at current rates of growth, “world poverty will be cut in half between 2000 and 2015”–which is arguably one of the greatest triumphs in human history. Trade and technology are closing the global “digital divide,” and the report notes hopefully that soon laptop computers will cost $100 and almost every schoolchild will be a mouse click away from the Internet (and, regrettably, those interminable computer games).
It seems almost too good to believe that things are getting better. So programmed are we to bad news that good news seems almost impossible, inconceivable, and suspect. With that in mind I decided to look more at the actual report – at the context…. Here is the opening paragraph of the executive summary:
People around the world are becoming healthier, wealthier, better educated, more peaceful, and increasingly connected and they are living longer, but at the same time the world is more corrupt, congested, warmer, and increasingly dangerous. Although the digital divide is beginning to close, income gaps are still expanding around the world and unemployment continues to grow.
Ok, so it isn’t quite as rosy as Mr. Moore writes…
Although the majority of the world is improving economically, income disparities are still enormous: 2% of the world’s richest people own more than 50% of the world’s wealth, while the poorest 50% of people own 1%. And the income of the 225 richest people in the world is equal to that of the poorest 2.7 billion, 40% of the world.
This is a little more than “the obligatory bad news”. There is actually a lot more bad news in the report – huge threats to continued growth, huge threats to life, huge threats of war and so on.
But at the end of the day Mr. Moore is more right than he is wrong. There is much good news in this UN report and our progress should be lauded because for many, many people things have gotten better and that is objectively good. We need this kind of hope because if we are all lead to believe that things are only going to get worse it becomes very easy to just give up and declare efforts to help futile.