We find plenty of reasons for some pretty deep-seated pessimism around here — certain Western democracies’ stubborn march into entirely self-inflicted rates of economic growth much less robust than what they could and should be figuring highly among those reasons — but all in all, I generally subscribe to the school of rational optimism. Sometimes (and I consider Christmas to be a perfect sometime), it’s rejuvenating to take a step back and remember that, while the beguiling promise of big government cyclically rears its ugly head, individuals are everyday responsible for free-market driven innovations and efficiencies that continually make the world a better and better place in which to live.
2012 has been a spectacular year in terms of net global prosperity, accompanied by less hunger, less disease, and less war than ever before. All of the gloom-and-doomers fears of “peak oil” and overpopulation and widespread famine and the like have all miraculously failed to materialize, and standards of living around the world continue to improve.
Take global poverty. In 1990, the UN announced Millennium Development Goals, the first of which was to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015. It emerged this year that the target was met in 2008. Yet the achievement did not merit an official announcement, presumably because it was not achieved by any government scheme but by the pace of global capitalism. Buying cheap plastic toys made in China really is helping to make poverty history. And global inequality? This, too, is lower now than any point in modern times. Globalisation means the world’s not just getting richer, but fairer too. …
Advances in medicine and technology mean that people across the world are living longer. The average life expectancy in Africa reached 55 this year. Ten years ago, it was 50. The number of people dying from Aids has been in decline for the last eight years. Deaths from malaria have fallen by a fifth in half a decade. …
War has historically been humanity’s biggest killer. But in most of the world today, a generation is growing up that knows little of it. The Peace Research Institute in Oslo says there have been fewer war deaths in the last decade than any time in the last century.
Walter Russell Mead had a great example last week of just how wrong all those Malthusian naysayers have been about their hysterics over a skyrocketing population smothering the earth and its resources:
This past June, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization warned us that “Land and water resources are now much more stressed than in the past and are becoming scarcer.” A new report suggests that is incorrect.
While the world has indeed hit “Peak Farmland”, says the report, the reason for the coming reduction in land devoted to agriculture isn’t due to exhaustion but to declining population pressures. By 2060, the report predicts, 10 percent of the earth’s arable farmland in use today will be restored to its natural state. That’s land 2.5 times the size of France, or ten Iowas…
Slowing population growth. The restoration of massive swaths of farmland to nature. Increasing world food supplies. Lower food prices for billions of people. Massive water supplies beneath the driest deserts. Abundant oil and gas. The 21st century is looking like it will be a very different kind of place than the greens and Malthusians have warned us about.
And hey, what about energy scarcity? Pfffft. Thanks to improved efficiencies and new technologies (a.k.a. hydraulic fracturing!), both our total fossil-fuel usage and carbon emissions are on the way down. What’s more, the sane thinking involving the threat of climate change is looking a lot less catastrophic than we have always been led to believe.
I will of course always continue the fight against our own self-imposed big-government folly that really is the single and only thing holding us back from the full fruits of our own genius, but so far, free(ish) markets and human ingenuity is still the more powerful and winning entity in helping people across the globe. Just a few glad tidings for you, friends — enjoy the holiday!