I am relatively old, a grandparent, and retired. One of the temptations of this is to see the world on the road to hell. (OK, AC-DC’s Highway to Hell is on my Halloween playlist.) There is a religious view that sees everything getting worse until God intervenes. Think pre-millenial and dispensational theology. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls had this view long ago.
But is everything really getting worse? There seems a disconnect between perception and reality. One of my pet peeves is how many people think that crime, for instance, is getting worse and worse. You can hardly blame them. The first ten minutes or so of most big city newscasts is devoted to crime. But actually crime statistics have been falling for several years.
If you’ve read me much, you know I have concerns about the decline of the family and about the debasing of money by just digitally printing the stuff with no underlying value. These are real problems. I worry about my grandchildren. I am no automatic optimist. But I do not believe that human life in general is getting worse and worse. I would not wish the world of one hundred years ago on my grandchildren.
All this leads up the this link to an article on Slate, which makes the case for the long-term improvement of the human condition. Lots of things are better now than they used to be. It is not utopia. And we all need to struggle against the trends we see as hurting the next generation. But some things really are getting better. For instance:
Health indicators worldwide have shown some of the largest improvements. Human life expectancy barely changed before the late 18th century. Yet it is difficult to overstate the magnitude of the gain since 1900: In that year, life expectancy worldwide was 32 years, compared to 69 now (and a projection of 76 years in 2050).
The biggest factor was the fall in infant mortality. For example, even as late as 1970, only around 5 percent of infants were vaccinated against measles, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, and polio. By 2000, it was 85 percent, saving about 3 million lives annually—more, each year, than world peace would have saved in the 20th century