Being a regular columnist, it’s very easy to become the weekly whinger or Mr Angry.
As one gets older, and I’m now in my seventh decade, one has to resist the temptation to look back at the past through rose-tinted glasses – or rosé-filled glasses – for what might be thought nostalgically as better times. When pubs were howfs and not brasseries, when you could open a car bonnet and understand how it worked, when holding a door open for the fairer sex would elicit a “thank you” instead of a scowl.
One tends to see some standards falling and potholes multiplying with the only certainties being Hibs will delight and upset me at some point in the season and politicians will betray their word.
So when this week I received an economic essay written by an old friend, Marian Tupy, that put a smile on my face – and should bring cheer to everyone but the most curmudgeonly flat-earth luddite – I thought I should share its good news. At the very least, it might show I am not a pessimistic cynic but an optimistic realist who’s glass is half full, if not brimming over.
We are often warned by the scaremongers and doomsayers the world cannot support its current population, never mind the growing numbers predicted. In fact various seers have been saying this for centuries and certainly throughout my lifetime. Yet they have been wrong for centuries, for since the industrial revolution we created, the world’s population has grown exponentially and our planet has been able to support it, especially when we have been left at peace and not cursed ourselves with wars or self-imposed famines.
Between 1960, not long after I was born, and 2016 the world’s population increased by a staggering 145 per cent and yet over the same period the real average annual income per head rose by 183 per cent. You may think that this was the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor – but you would be wrong.
Back in 1981 the World Bank estimated 42.2 per cent of humanity lived in absolute poverty on less than $1.90 US per person per day (adjusted for purchasing power), but by 2013 those living on the same amount had fallen to only 10.7 per cent. By 2015 the World Bank put absolute poverty at less than 10 per cent.
Rising incomes across all groups and practically all countries – benefitting from fewer wars, famines or droughts, improved technology, better healthcare and rising productivity – has meant living standards have outpaced the growing numbers of people and the increasing lifespans we enjoy.
We should rejoice that between 1990 and 2016 infant mortality has fallen from 64.8 per 1000 live births to 30.5 – an astonishing 53 per cent reduction – and the mortality rate for children under five years declined from 93.4 per 1000 to 40.8 – a reduction of 56 per cent.
The number of maternal deaths declined from 532,000 in 1990 to 303,000 in 2015 — a 43 per cent decrease.
Outside war zones, famine has all but disappeared; in 1961 food supply was less than 2,000 calories per day in 54 out of 183 countries – by 2013 that was true of only two!
Average life expectancy in 1960 was 52.6 years, but by 2015 it was 71.9 years — a 37 per cent increase, even though the population has more than doubled over the same period from 3.03 to 7.38 billion.
The end of the Cold War, the demise of communism and its collectivist variants and the growth of global free trade has enabled this change – because the system we know as capitalism is best able to allow humans the freedom to solve our problems and spread the solutions quickly.
Marian pumps out this data on a daily basis at www.humanprogress.org so if you ever feel the world’s going to hell in a handcart – maybe after reading my weekly column – go look the website up and feel better.