This week the World celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing and it was fantastic to see such a positive story in the headlines, particularly as it seems that the media and people in general can sometimes take a dark pessimistic view of the world.
So, with this in mind, I decided to share some thoughts, courtesy of Jeremy Kisner, an American investment adviser and optimist.
Kisner reminds us that the world has improved dramatically over almost any time frame you can consider. But, he acknowledges, it doesn’t always feel this way because negative headlines attract eyeballs and sell advertising for the media. Granted, there are tons of very real problems. Nevertheless, Bill Gates nailed it when he said, “Headlines are what mislead you, because bad news is a headline and gradual improvement is not.”
Human progress occurs because every day a few billion people go to work and figure out ways to improve living standards. Individuals do not always recognise the gradual improvements. But one place you can see the progress is in the stock market which has been going up for most of our lives (with, granted, a few bumps in the road) and is now close to all-time highs.
People get scared reading the news — North Korea, Iran, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, refugees, economic disparities, global warming — and then they get even more scared thinking about the things that might go wrong. But meanwhile, people buy more things, companies grow, wealth is created, and billions of people live longer and better lives.
Here are a few of Kisner’s examples of human progress:
Life expectancy: Consider this: If you were born in 1900, you would have had a 23% chance of dying before age 20 and a 38% chance of dying before age 45. Kids born today have about a 1% chance of dying before age 20 and a 4% chance of dying before age 45.
Modern Conveniences: When our grandparents were born, virtually no one had electricity … or telephone or indoor plumbing. They didn’t have a car and couldn’t fly in an airplane. Today, 85% of the people in the world enjoy the benefits of electricity. And two-thirds have a mobile phone.
Poverty: Twenty years ago 29% of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Today it’s only 9% . . . and the rate is still falling.
Retirement: Some 90% of 65-year-old American men who were still alive in 1870 were working. Today only about 20% of 65-year-old American men are still working … and many of them are working by choice not necessity.
Housework: The average family spent 11.5 hours a week doing laundry in 1920. That has fallen to 1.5 hours a week as of 2014.
Safety: Americans became 95% less likely to be killed on the job over the last hundred years. Seat belts, air bags and other safety features have brought down auto fatalities from 50,000 a year in the 1970s to about 37,000 today, despite more cars on the road. The fatality rate from road accidents per 100,000 people has dropped from 25 to 11 — less than half what it was in the 1970s.
Disease: In the past century, vaccines and antibiotics have brought miracles for modern medicine. Just since 1990, the control of infectious disease has saved the lives of an estimated 100 million children.
Food. Between 1961 and 2009, the amount of land used to grow food increased by 12%, but the amount of food grown has increased by 300%.
Kisner maintains that people who think the best days for the Western World, and for our economies, are behind us are essentially saying that human innovation is going to slow down or stagnate. He says that doesn’t seem likely, at least over the next 20 to 30 years.
Don’t you agree?