Magazine article The Spectator

Joy to the World

Magazine article The Spectator

Joy to the World

Article excerpt

Pessimism sells. It shifts books and newspapers, sends ratings soaring. It fills lecture halls, wins research grants, makes political careers. We are fed this constant diet of doom - predicting anything from meteorological Armageddon to a tyranny of austerity - and so it is little wonder that we tend to miss the bigger story. In fact, a cold, dispassionate look at the facts reveals that 2013 has been the best year in human history.

As a public service, and one which is rarely provided in broadcast or print, here is the evidence for these assertions. We can start from crude figures: $73.5 trillion, the world's economic output this year.

Never has so much wealth been generated - but, importantly, never has it been shared more evenly. And thanks not to the edicts of governments, but to the co-operation of millions of people - rich and poor - through international trade (or as critics call this system, global capitalism). As a result, from the end of Aids to the end of famine, goals that once seemed fantastical are now within reach.

Any assessment of how much better things are should start with the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which were drawn up in 2000. The plan then was to halve the number of people living on $1 a day by 2015; this target was reached five years early. The UN wanted to halve the number of people without access to drinking water by 2015; this was achieved last year. It wanted to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers - with water supply, sanitation and better housing - by 2020.

This target has been met ten years early. It is true that 400 million children still live in poverty, but at the current rates, the World Bank's target to all but eliminate poverty by 2030 will also be achieved early. Most people alive now can hope to see a time when the concept of famine is consigned to history.

This is happening because the world is trading, and its people co-operating through trade, as never before. China, now the world's workshop, has made the most progress. Its embrace of market reform has reduced the number of people living in extreme poverty from 84 per cent three decades ago to 10 per cent now. Yes, China remains far poorer than the West, but the gap is closing fast, and in certain areas of development has already closed. …

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