World Getting Worse or Not

Some statistics from a talk by Stephen Pinker. The original video can be found here.

Last year (2017), Americans killed each other at a rate of 5.3 per hundred thousand, had 7 percent of their citizens in poverty and emitted 21 million tons of particulate matter and 4 million tons of sulfur dioxide.

But 30 years ago (1987), the homicide rate was 8.5 per hundred thousand, poverty rate was 12 percent and we emitted 35 million tons of particulate matter and 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide.

Last year, the world had 12 ongoing wars, 60 autocracies, 10 percent of the world population in extreme poverty and more than 10,000 nuclear weapons.

But 30 years ago, there were 23 wars, 85 autocracies, 37 percent of the world population in extreme poverty and more than 60,000 nuclear weapons.

True, last year was a terrible year for terrorism in Western Europe, with 238 deaths, but 1988 was worse with 440 deaths.

For most of human history, life expectancy at birth was around 30.

Today, worldwide, it is more than 70, and in the developed parts of the world, more than 80.

250 years ago, in the richest countries of the world, a third of the children did not live to see their fifth birthday, before the risk was brought down a hundredfold.

Today, that fate befalls less than six percent of children in the poorest countries of the world.

Famine is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It could bring devastation to any part of the world. Today, famine has been banished to the most remote and war-ravaged regions.

200 years ago, 90 percent of the world’s population subsisted in extreme poverty. Today, fewer than 10 percent of people do.

For most of human history, the powerful states and empires were pretty much always at war with each other, and peace was a mere interlude between wars.

Today, they are never at war with each other. The last great power war pitted the United States against China 65 years ago. More recently, wars of all kinds have become fewer and less deadly.

The annual rate of war has fallen from about 22 per hundred thousand per year in the early ’50s to 1.2 today.

Democracy has suffered obvious setbacks in Venezuela, in Russia, in Turkey and is threatened by the rise of authoritarian populism in Eastern Europe and the United States. Yet the world has never been more democratic than it has been in the past decade, with two-thirds of the world’s people living in democracies.

Homicide rates plunge whenever anarchy and the code of vendetta are replaced by the rule of law.

It happened when feudal Europe was brought under the control of centralized kingdoms, so that today a Western European has 1/35th the chance of being murdered compared to his medieval ancestors.

It happened again in colonial New England, in the American Wild West when the sheriffs moved to town, and in Mexico.

Indeed, we’ve become safer in just about every way.

Over the last century, we’ve become 96 percent less likely to be killed in a car crash, 88 percent less likely to be mowed down on the sidewalk, 99 percent less likely to die in a plane crash, 95 percent less likely to be killed on the job, 89 percent less likely to be killed by an act of God, such as a drought, flood, wildfire, storm, volcano, landslide, earthquake or meteor strike, presumably not because God has become less angry with us but because of improvements in the resilience of our infrastructure.

And what about the quintessential act of God, the projectile hurled by Zeus himself? Yes, we are 97 percent less likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning.

Before the 17th century, no more than 15 percent of Europeans could read or write. Europe and the United States achieved universal literacy by the middle of the 20th century, and the rest of the world is catching up. Today, more than 90 percent of the world’s population under the age of 25 can read and write.

In the 19th century, Westerners worked more than 60 hours per week. Today, they work fewer than 40.

Thanks to the universal penetration of running water and electricity in the developed world and the widespread adoption of washing machines, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, dishwashers, stoves and microwaves, the amount of our lives that we forfeit to housework has fallen from 60 hours a week to fewer than 15 hours a week.

My comment: Compare the story told by these statistic to the degree of anxiety expressed by victims of a mentality convinced that America is an evil empire, manmade pollution will destroy life on earth in a decade, and that the proper and dignified response to the nomination of a qualified judge to the justice of the Supreme Court, albeit one not of one’s own party, is to tear with bare fingers at the solid bronze doors of the court building, and to scream helplessly at the sky.

Just for the record, here are the 12 ongoing wars mentioned in paragraph one:
1. War in Afghanistan
2. Iraqi Civil War
3. Mexican Drug War
4. Syrian Civil War
5. Somali Civil War
6. South Sudanese Civil War
7. Boko Haram insurgency
8. Libyan Civil War
9. War in Darfur
10. Kurdish–Turkish conflict
11. Sinai insurgency
12. Yemeni Civil War

Please note how many do not involve the Dar-el-Islam. I tally only one: the Mexican Drug War.