Thursday, November 30, 2006

Better and better (I have to admit it's getting)

It doesn't feel like it and I haven't heard anyone say it on a news programme for quite some time, but things are getting better. According to Indur Goklany in his book The Improving State of the World, we have never been better off, where we does not mean us middle class pigs and oppressors, but humans, rich and poor, from North and South. A sample, just concentrating on the South, from a review in The Spectator

The daily food intake in poor countries has increased by 38 per cent since the 1960s to 2,666 calories per person per day on average

The rate of chronic undernourishment has halved to 17 per cent, compared with a little over a third 45 years ago

The number of people subsisting on $1 a day has declined from 16 per cent of the world population in the late 1970s to 6 per cent today, while those living on $2 a day dropped from 39 per cent to 18 per cent. (In 1820, 84 per cent of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty; today this is down to about a fifth.)

Life expectancy in China has surged from 41 years in the 1950s to 71 years today; in India it is up from 39 years to 63 years, almost doubling the average lifespan of 2 billion people

By the early 1950s a child born in a wealthy country such as Britain could expect to live 25 years longer than a child born in a poor country such as Algeria; today the gap has closed to 12.2 years

Before industrialisation, at least 200 out of every 1,000 children died before reaching their first birthday. Infant mortality globally is now down to 57 per 1,000

In 1960 a quarter of all children aged ten to 14 were in work, a share which has fallen to a tenth today.

The global illiteracy rate has declined from 46 per cent in 1970 to about 18 per cent today.
All of these improvements are the consequence of the spread of Western technology and scientific knowledge as well as economic globalisation. Where in developing countries, these have been accompanied by good governance, the rule of law and economic liberalism, the benefits are felt most strongly.

This will never be enough for the drama queens that would smother everything under regulation just to resolve one problem: carbon emmissions. Sir Nicholas Stern shouts out for crisis management. Goklany has done his own projections.
In fact, equally rigorous modelling using different assumptions suggests that, for the next 80 years at least, the benefits of faster economic growth in further improving quality of life across the developing world will outweigh any cost of global warming. Some reductions in carbon emissions may eventually be needed, Goklany says, but in most cases it would be cheaper to adapt to higher temperatures than to try to stop them.

Our best bet, therefore, is to allow technology, trade and the global economy to continue growing unimpeded. Such is Goklany’s plea: if the present rate of improvement continues, he argues, we could soon be living in a world where ‘hunger and malnutrition have been virtually banished; where malaria, TB, Aids and other infectious and parasitic diseases are distant memories; and where humanity meets its needs while ceding land and water back to the rest of nature ... even in sub-Saharan Africa infant mortality could be as low as it is today in the United States, and life expectancies as high’.

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