A Little Better All The Time
Statistics of economic well-bring show that most of the world has been steadily getting better.
July 8, 2018
Lindy Davies

I recall those words from the Beatles song, "Getting Better," which people were singing back in 1968, a year when things really didn't seem to be getting better. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated, the Democratic convention erupted in ugly violence, cities were burning, the Vietnam war dragged on, and Richard Nixon provided the model for the cynically chilling acceptance speech that Donald Trump inflicted on us.

I completed a job of work today that provided me with a gentle antidote to Trumpian nihilistic angst (or whatever).

For twenty-odd years, I have been leading a campaign against Malthusianism. Inspired by Henry George (good anti-Malthusian points can be found here, and here -- and here),

I've been making the argument that hunger and poverty cannot be the result of overpopulation. One bit of ammunition in this effort has been a chart that compares selected population facts for various nations, and the world.

Using statistics published by the CIA (which does at least this one useful thing), I've continually updated this chart over the years, and I have followed a heartening trend. In various key statistics of economic well-bring, things for most of the world's people have been steadily, if slowly, getting better.

True, there have been retrogressions. In Russia, for example, in the early 1990s, life and health numbers tanked, especially for men. For a time there, in places like Bangladesh or Afghanistan, men tended to live longer than women, which (given human biology) indicates that something is socially very awry in such a nation. And in Sub-Saharan Africa, the AIDS crisis was reflected in some pretty scary numbers around the turn of the century.

In general, though, you'd be amazed. Life expectancies, literacy rates, per capita GDP ­ as well as infrastructural measures such as the number of Internet hosts, or the miles of paved roads ­ have all trended upward, especially in the developing nations that need such progress the most. I have watched this long enough ­ resetting the chart's numbers each year ­ to believe that this constitutes a robust trend.

Which is not to say that the problems of poverty, pollution, oppression and rent-grabbing conflict are solved. All I can say is that the efforts of millions of good-hearted people, working to improve things in their communities, have not been entirely in vain, and that makes me want to make sure things don't get blown up.

Of course, we Understanding Economics students know (or we will, anyway, once we get to the good parts of the course) how to vastly accelerate these positive economic trends.

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Lindy Davies

LINDY DAVIES was Program Director of the Henry George Institute and Editor of the Georgist Journal. He was the author of The Alodia Scrapbook, the fictitious story of how a struggling African nation used Geoism to set itself on the path to prosperity, and of the novel The Sassafras Crossing. He managed a successful campaign to get the Henry George Institute's distance-learning program approved by the National College Credit Recommendation Service. He passed away in 2019, and is lovingly remembered by the many people whose lives he touched.