Monday, January 2, 2017

Not the Worst Year

I'm as negative about 2016 as the next thinking person, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the argument made by economist Max Roser in this op-ed, titled Quit bellyaching! 2016 was hardly the ‘worst year.’

Yes, things for humans in general, worldwide, have been getting better for a while now. I am a fan of Hans Rosling's Gapminder work, and remind myself constantly of the evidence in Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature.

Some points made by Roser in his op-ed:

  • "Over the past decade, for example, extreme poverty across the world has declined tremendously. In 1981, 44 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty. By 2015, extreme poverty dropped to 10 percent. Yet, when Oxfam asked Americans how global extreme poverty is changing, the majority thought that extreme poverty was increasing. Only 8 percent were aware that it’s falling."
  • The frequency of news publication limits the "ability to cover long-term positive trends. Imagine if newspapers did not come out every day but instead once every half-century. They likely wouldn’t report on half a century of gossip about celebrities and politicians. Instead, they’d focus on major global changes since the last edition. In a 50-year newspaper, the fact that global child mortality has fallen from 17 percent to 4 percent would make the front page." And that's talking about daily newspapers, not 24-hour television news or the always-one interweb.
  • "This week’s announcement of a successful development of a vaccine against Ebola was a footnote in much of the press and will not receive even a fraction of the attention the Ebola scare received when it dominated the news cycles for months."
He goes on:
The consequence of [all] this is that we have no knowledge about the poverty, poor health and the high levels of violence that characterized our past. Only this ignorance makes it possible to tell stories of decline, because it means that we are unaware of how inconceivably exceptional our current living conditions are from the perspective of our ancestors. (emphasis added)
And ends:
A constant supply of news that makes us afraid with little to instill trust in one another and in our institutions has always been the best press demagogues can hope for.

Freedom is impossible without faith in free people...
I would add, follow the money. Who benefits from all of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that is our usual diet of news? It's not just demagogues, but large corporations.

Now if we can just manage to not be nuked by accident during the reign of Il Douche, maybe we can do something about this over the coming years.


Michael Leddy said...

My son Ben did some texting about 1352 as the worst year ever. Far worse than anything last year. And about the news and celebrities: I am not cheered to see that the New York Times is following up on Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve debacle. What went wrong, and who’s to blame? (And who cares?)

Is the e in Il Douche silent?

Daughter Number Three said...

I am trying mightily to not know what happened with Mariah Carey on New Year's Eve. Lalalalalalalalala not listening!

I have only seen Il Douche written, but I am thinking the "e" is silent.

Daughter Number Three said...

I forgot to say — 1352, part of the calamitous 14th century — so probably that would make sense for Europe. For other parts of the world, ymmv.