200 years ago subsistence agriculture was the norm across the planet. Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

200 years ago brutal poverty was the norm across the planet. Not so today. Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

When I look at the political news or any news in general I get very pessimistic about our future.

In contrast, when I look at the amazing things happening beyond the headlines in today’s newspaper I feel incredibly optimistic.

Consider that private companies are developing the technology for space exploration. Consider the energy revolution created by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Consider radical changes in technology that are making so many things easier, faster, and cheaper. Consider that anyone that wants to do so can publish their own book, distribute their own music, or create a feature movie.

As a tiny illustration, look at my company and pastimes. Technology allows me to run a high quality CPA practice without any staff. In my spare time I am a publisher and journalist. Anyone in Europe or North America or most of Asia could easily do the same and at minimal cost.

(Cross post from my other blog, Nonprofit Update.)

When I look at long-term economic trends I am incredibly optimistic.

For yet one more explanation of why that is the case, consider a column by Glenn Reynolds at USA Today: Actually, things are pretty good / Free markets and free inquiry have changed the historic ‘norms’ of poverty and violence.

Until relatively recently, an illness-filled short life of dirt-eating poverty was the normal condition for practically everybody on the planet. In the last 100 or 200 years life has gotten radically better for practically everyone.

As a very broad indicator, consider that 100 years ago 19 out of 20 people on the planet were living in absolute poverty. In 2015 the estimate is that 2 out of 20 will be living in the same horrid conditions.

The raw numbers:  In 1820, 94% of the world’s population was living in absolute poverty. In 2015 the projection is 9.6% of people will be doing so. That cutoff is based on $2 income per day in 1985 prices before 1970 and living on less than $1.90 in 2011 prices after 1980.

You can see a graph of that information from Max Roser at Our World in Data.

Prof. Reynolds makes many points, three of which I would like to highlight.

First, what has caused this radical improvement?

He says

Globally, we’ve changed that “normal condition” by the spread of free markets and free inquiry, which have led to a global growth in knowledge and skills that has made almost everyone rich by human historical standards. But we could revert to the “bad luck” norm if things went wrong, and they still might.

Free markets. Free inquiry.

Next post:

  • Second, it is possible for us collectively to turn back history.
  • A third point he makes is that mentally we have not adjusted to the changes in the last 100 or so years.
  • Another writer provides a description of why things have improved so much over the last century or two.



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