HARVARD University professor and author Steven Pinker says “there are two ways to understand the world: a constant drip of anecdotes about the worst things that have happened anywhere on the planet in the previous hour, or a bird’s-eye view of the grand developments that are transforming the human condition. The first is called ‘the news….’ ” For wisdom and mental health, he recommends balancing the news with the newly published book, “Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know,” by Ronald Bailey and Marian Tupy.
The first of their “Top 10 Trends,” the authors say, is the “great enrichment”:
“Since 1820, the size of the world’s economy has grown more than a hundredfold. Over the past 200 years, the world population grew somewhat less than eightfold….
“Between 1500 and 1820, world gross product grew about 0.3 percent per year, eventually tripling from $430 billion to $1.2 trillion. As some countries began adopting freer markets and the rule of law spread along with increased international trade, the pace of global economic growth sped up to 1.3 percent annually, increasing the size of the world economy to $3.4 trillion in 1900. Since that time, global economic growth has averaged slightly more than 3 percent per year, boosting world gross product to more than $121 trillion by 2018.”
What about poverty?
“The vast majority of our ancestors lived and died in humanity’s natural state of disease-ridden abject poverty and pervasive ignorance. University of Paris economists François Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson estimate that as late as 1820, nearly 84 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty (roughly on less than $1.90 per day per person). That was when political and economic liberalization in some parts of the world kicked off what economist Deirdre McCloskey calls ‘the great enrichment.’ Consequently, the global proportion of people living in extreme poverty began slowly declining to 66 percent in 1910 and 55 percent by 1950. According to the World Bank, 42 percent of the globe’s population was still living in absolute poverty in 1981. In other words, it took 160 years for the rate of extreme poverty to fall by half. Fortunately, the pace of global poverty reduction has greatly sped up. The latest World Bank assessment reckons that the share of the world’s inhabitants living in extreme poverty fell to 8.6 percent. In 1990, about 1.9 billion of the world’s people lived in extreme poverty; by 2018, that number had dropped to 650 million, even despite ongoing population increases that put the world population at 7.5 billion.”
Today, many folks who are into gloom-and-doom scenarios are Malthusians. They are pretty sure that the population is “exploding” and very soon we will run out of resources to feed everyone.
Citing the latest calculations of demographers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Bailey and Tupy said “world population will likely peak at 9.8 billion people at around 2080 and fall to 9.5 billion by 2100…. [A]ssuming rapid economic growth, technological advancement, and rising levels of educational attainment for both sexes — all factors that tend to lower fertility — [it is] project[ed] that world population will more likely peak at about 8.9 billion by 2060 and decline to 7.8 billion by the end of the 21st century. Today, global population stands at about 7.7 billion.”
The authors say other global trends strongly correlate with families’ choosing to have fewer children: steeply falling child mortality rates, increased urbanization, rising incomes, and the spread of political and economic freedom.
“Instead of having many children in the hope that a few might survive, more parents around the world now aim at providing those few whom they do have with the skills and social capital that will enable them to flourish in a modern economy. The trend toward lower population growth is good news because it means that the global expansion of reproductive freedom is empowering more families to decide how many children they wish to have.”
What about food resources?
Bailey and Tupy said for most of history, food was always scarce. But since 1961, “the global average population weighted food supply per person per day rose from 2,196 calories to 2,962 calories in 2017. To put these figures in perspective, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that moderately active adult men consume between 2,200 and 2,800 calories a day and moderately active women consume between 1,800 and 2,000 calories a day. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average food supply per person per day rose from approximately 1,800 calories in 1961 to 2,449 calories in 2017. Put differently, the world’s poorest region enjoys access to food that is roughly equivalent to that of the Portuguese in the early 1960s.”
How is that possible?
“First, agricultural productivity has greatly improved because of more scientific methods of farming, access to plentiful and much improved fertilizers and pesticides, and new high-yield and disease-resistant plants. Second, the world has grown much richer, and people can afford to buy more food, thus stimulating its production. Third, the spread of democracy and the free press ensures that governments are more accountable and human rights abuses widely reported. Fourth, improved transport and communications allow countries with bountiful harvests to sell or donate their agricultural surpluses to countries suffering from food shortages.”
Bailey and Tupy noted that in his 1968 book, “The Population Bomb,” modern-day Malthusian Paul Ehrlich declared:
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”
In 1968, Bailey and Tupy said, “the food supply in 34 out of 152 countries surveyed amounted to fewer than 2,000 calories per person per day. That was true of only 2 out of 173 countries surveyed in 2017. Today, famines have all but disappeared outside of war zones.”
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