Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth is a page of opinions about the pleasant prospect of humanity advancing to a better future, continuing the great progress of recent centuries. For a start, here is Warren Buffett's optimistic view:

Early Americans, we should emphasize, were neither smarter nor more hard working than those people who toiled century after century before them. But those venturesome pioneers crafted a system that unleashed human potential, and their successors built upon it.
This economic creation will deliver increasing wealth to our progeny far into the future. Yes, the build-up of wealth will be interrupted for short periods from time to time. It will not, however, be stopped. I’ll repeat what I’ve both said in the past and expect to say in future years: Babies born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.
- Warren Buffett, To the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., February 25, 2017, p. 6

...Gates... articulates a philosophy that drives what he does: the notion that the world is steadily getting better, not worse.

The argument for that, Gates said, is laid out in a 2011 book called “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” Written by Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, the book attempts to explain why, as the New York Times put it, “our era is less violent, less cruel and more peaceful than any previous period of human existence,” despite headlines that may scream to the contrary.

“That matters,” Gates tweeted, “because if you think the world is getting better, you want to spread the progress to more people and places.”
- Brian Fung, Bill Gates told new grads to read this book. Now it’s surging on Amazon., Washington Post, May 15, 2017

The world is falling apart, right? Poverty worsening, more people dying in wars, famine spreading? Actually, it’s the opposite. We in the media focus on the grim news, but the evidence is that this is the best time ever for humanity.
- Nicholas Kristof, 2017 Will Be the Best Year So Far in History

Cheer up: Despite the gloom, the world truly is becoming a better place. Indeed, 2017 is likely to be the best year in the history of humanity.
- Nicholas Kristof, Good News, Despite What You’ve Heard, NYT, JULY 1, 2017

And contrary to the widespread canard that technology has created a dystopia of deprivation and violence, every global measure of human flourishing is on the rise. The numbers show that after millennia of near-universal poverty, a steadily growing proportion of humanity is surviving the first year of life, going to school, voting in democracies, living in peace, communicating on cell phones, enjoying small luxuries, and surviving to old age.
- STEVEN PINKER, Science Is Not Your Enemy, New Republic, August 6, 2013

'We were proud to be French,' he [Conte de Segur] wrote in the 1820s, looking back on the years leading up to the revolution, 'and even prouder to be French in the 18th century, which was regarded as a golden age handed to us by the Enlightenment philosophers... Each of us believed that we were advancing towards perfection, without worrying about obstacles and without fearing them.'
- Caroline Moorhead, Dancing to the Precipice, HarperCollins, 2009, p. 58

The world population in 2017 is estimated to be 7.5 billion. If less than 10% live in extreme poverty, as Kristof reports below, that's less than 750 million in extreme poverty. Yet he tells us about 25% of children are physically stunted from malnutrition. According to Unicef, in 2012 there were 2.2 billion humans under 18. 25% of that would be 550 million, so if being stunted from malnutrition implies extreme poverty, the majority of people living in extreme poverty are children (or under 18). According to a Times editorial (World Hunger Haunts the U.N. Festivities, 9/22/2017),

The number of undernourished human beings on the planet increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated, in a report timed for the world leaders’ annual review of their hopes and fears for the planet. That means 11 percent of the world’s population went hungry every day — a 5 percent increase in two years and a severe setback for the United Nations’ goal of eliminating global hunger by 2030.

The human suffering underlying the data includes almost one in four children under 5 years of age — 155 million — with stunted growth and a greatly heightened risk of cognitive damage and susceptibility to infection. ...
Battles between armed groups within nations have increased 125 percent since 2010, with hunger often enlisted as an allied aggressor. Conflict in South Sudan produced “a humanitarian catastrophe on a massive scale.” Famine was declared in some parts of that country this year, with two out of five people suffering severe hunger and food deprivation “being used as a weapon of war,” the report noted.

If going hungry every day implies extreme poverty, there appears to be an inconsistency between 11% going hungry every day and less than 10% living in extreme poverty, a discrepancy on the order of 75 million people. (Kristof, in 2017 reporting less than 10% in extreme poverty, cites Global Extreme Poverty (Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, Our World In Data, 2017), which shows 705.55 million in extreme poverty out of a 2015 population of 7.35 billion, i.e. 9.6% living in extreme poverty in 2015. Using 9.6% instead of 10% gives a discrepancy of 105 million.) It's unclear what is meant by extreme poverty. Even if it is defined as living on less than the equivalent of $2 per day, it is not clear what counts as equivalent. Polynesians a few hundred years ago may have been living well, or perhaps not, but either way it's very unclear how one would determine whether they lived on less than the equivalent of $2 per day. ("The poverty line was revised in 2015—since then, a person is considered to be in extreme poverty if they live on less than 1.90 international dollars (int.-$) per day. This poverty measurement is based on the monetary value of a person’s consumption. Income measures, on the other hand, are only used for countries in which reliable consumption measures are not available." - Global Extreme Poverty)

Again, if 815 million were undernourished in 2016, it's not clear that is consistent with less than 750 million living in extreme poverty in 2017 (though it should be noted that it is possible to be undernourished despite consuming ample quantities of junk food).

In fairness, there are broader reasons for hope, including astonishing progress against global poverty — more than 100 million children’s lives saved since 1990. Every day, another 300,000 people worldwide get their first access to electricity, and 285,000 to clean water. Global poverty is a huge opportunity, for we now have a much better understanding of how to defeat it: resolve conflicts, invest in girls’ education, empower women, fight malnutrition, support family planning, and so on.

For the first time in human history, less than 10 percent of the world’s population is living in extreme poverty, and we probably could virtually eliminate it over the next 15 years if it were a top global priority. ...
The number that I always find most daunting is this: About one child in four on this planet is physically stunted from malnutrition. And while it is the physical stunting that we can measure, a side effect is a stunting of brain development, holding these children back, holding nations back, holding humanity back.
- Nicholas Kristof, Meet the World’s Leaders, in Hypocrisy, NYT, SEPT. 21, 2017

The popular gloom notwithstanding, we’re actually living in an era of astounding progress. We’ve seen the greatest reduction in global poverty in history. As Steven Pinker has documented, we’ve seen a steady decline in wars and armed conflict. The U.S. economy is the best performing major economy in the developed world.
- David Brooks, Upswingers and Downswingers, NYT, OCT. 16, 2017

The present moment is one of great distress. But how small will that distress appear when we think over the history of the last forty years; a war, compared with which all other wars sink into insignificance; taxation, such as the most heavily taxed people of former times could not have conceived; a debt larger than all the public debts that ever existed in the world added together; the food of the people studiously rendered dear; the currency imprudently debased, and imprudently restored. Yet is the country poorer than in 1790? We firmly believe that, in spite of all the misgovernment of her rulers, she has been almost constantly becoming richer and richer. Now and then there has been a stoppage, now and then a short retrogression; but as to the general tendency there can be no doubt. A single breaker may recede; but the tide is evidently coming in. ...
Hence it is that, though in every age everybody knows that up to his own time progressive improvement has been taking place, nobody seems to reckon on any improvement during the next generation. We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us, and with just as much apparent reason. ...
On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?
- Thomas Macaulay, Southey's Colloquies on Society, Jan. 1830 [review of Sir Thomas More; or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, by Robert Southey]

(For contrasting opinions, see Going to Hell.)

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