History shows that we are healthier, wealthier and more peaceful than ever
December is a special time of year. My 10th grade history teacher taught me that it’s also a good time to review the past year. He said that, if you and the world are in a better place than in years past, then be grateful and congratulate yourself. He also reminded me not to turn a blind eye on the positive and, more importantly, to share good news with others during the holiday season.
Bad News Everywhere
At first glance, most news seems to support the assumption that we are living through dark and uncertain times. The 2013 graduating class is entering into an employment ice age. Nearly every week there is some sort of active shooting at a mall, school, movie theater or playground. The joy of leaving "on a jet plane" has turned into dread—getting through multiple security checkpoints with bare feet and hands up as if we are entering a high security prison. We hear that the earth is warming quickly and if extreme weather does not destroy us, there are always terrorists and al-Qaeda to fear.
I decided to look below the doom and gloom and do a bit of historic comparison. I found that things might not be as bad as we think.
War or Peace
According to a recent Times magazine article, with the exception of a few civil wars and the usual suspects in the Middle East, the world is at peace. The richest countries of the world are not in geopolitical competition with one another, fighting wars, proxy wars, or even engaging in arms races or cold wars. This is a historical rarity. We have to go back hundreds of years to find a similar period of relative peace. We see bombing in Afghanistan or hear of terrorist plots and think we live in dangerous times. But the data shows that, today, the number of people who have died as a result of war and terrorism is down 50 percent since the 1990s. It is down 75 percent from the preceding five decades and down 99 percent from the 1940s World War II era. Famous historian and Harvard professor Steven Pinker believes that we are living in the most peaceful times in human history.
Rich or Poor
Recent studies concluded that, despite the real estate crisis of 2007, we live in economically stable and prosperous times thanks to a single global economic system in which countries around the world are participating and flourishing. In 1980 only about 60 countries were growing at 4 percent a year. By 2007 that number doubled. Even after the financial crisis, that number is still more than 80. The global economy as a whole is expected to grow 10 to 20 percent faster this decade than it did a decade ago, 60 percent faster than it did two decades ago and five times as fast as it did three decades ago. The United Nations estimates that poverty has been reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500 years. Much of that reduction has taken place in the last 20 years. The average Chinese person is 10 times richer than he or she was 50 years ago.
Healthy or Sick
Thanks to modern medicine we now live, on average, 25 years longer. Life expectancy across the world has risen dramatically. We gain five hours of life expectancy every day, even without exercising. A third of all babies born in the developed world this year will live to be 100. All this is because of rising standards of living, hygiene and, of course, medicine. Atul Gawande, a Harvard professor who is also a practicing surgeon, writes about a 19th century operation in which the surgeon was trying to amputate his patient’s leg. He succeeded, but accidentally amputated his assistant’s finger as well. Both died of sepsis and an onlooker died of shock. That is a 300 percent fatality rate. Today, in my field of practice, anything more than a 5 percent failure (not fatality) rate is unacceptable. We have come a long way.
Technology Savvy or Sour
Our smartphones have more computing power than Apollo 11 (which landed two astronauts on moon and returned them safely back to earth). According to Moore’s Law, that computing power doubles every 18 months while costs are slashed by half. The human genome is being sequenced at a pace even faster than Moore’s Law. A “Third Industrial Revolution,” involving material science, robotics and the customization of manufacturing, is still in its infancy but is expected to change the way we shop. Today's technology will enable us to customize everything we buy in the near future—from clothes to cars.
After the economic crash of 2008, industrial production fell as much as during the first year of the Great Depression. Equity prices and global trade fell even more. Yet this time, no great depression followed. Why? Because of the coordinated actions of governments around the world. When we can come together and put aside our petty differences, the results are astounding. So let's finish 2013 with smiles on our faces and gratitude in our hearts. We live in the most peaceful time in history, enjoy the most health and are more prosperous than ever!
Happy Holidays to all!