December 07, 2007
How About Some Good News?
Reading the morning headlines, one would easily get the impression that everything in the world is a mess, and it is only getting worse. This is understandable, as the news business is always obsessed with the unusual and the disastrous. “If it bleeds, it leads”, as they say in the television news industry. Or as one old newspaperman said, “Dog bites man is not a story. Man bites dog is a story.” But without knowing the big picture, it is hard to put into perspective the bloody events and terrible famines that populate the front page. Take the issue of violence, both murder and wars. In tribal societies, the death rate from violence was about .5% per year, or 1 out of every 200 people. But now the world is unbelievably peaceful compared to that standard. If we were still killing each other at that rate, 35 million people would be dying every year from wars and murders. In fact, the toll for murders worldwide is less than 400,000 per year, and in New York City this year it will hit a record low of under 500 people. The 20th century was incredibly bloody, but in the last 10 years we have brought major warfare to a halt over most of the globe. If we had another war that killed as much of the population now as the Second World War did 65 years ago, it would cost 140 million lives. Our current wars are nothing compared to what happened two generations ago. In fact, the only wars currently ongoing are civil wars. Iraq and Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and the Congo round out pretty much all of the conflicts of any size. And even there, the death tolls are in the thousands, not millions. There is no current war between two nations, a remarkable state of affairs. Ten years ago, AIDS was going to ravage the entire world. But the latest data now shows that the epidemic had already peaked in 1998, at 3.5 million new infections per year. In 2006 new infections had fallen to about 2.5 million, and hopefully global public health measures will finally turn the tide on this disease. Meanwhile, polio is close to being totally eradicated from the Earth due to vaccinations, and childhood vaccination rates in the Third World are at record highs. Africa, which spent much of the 1980s and 1990s as a basket case, is finally starting to get off the mat. Over the last five years, economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa has averaged 6%. This is hardly earthshaking news for more successful nations, but for a region that had almost no per capita income growth for the previous 20 years, it is a substantial change. Famine, which was a regular part of life in the Third World for much of the last century, has now pretty much been ended. The only famines to occur in the last 15 years have been man-made, in Somalia and North Korea, and they affected relatively small nations. No large nation has had a famine in decades. Thirty years ago, the seers were fretting over the “population explosion”. There was a great sense of dread that many nations would be overwhelmed by rising populations that would swamp governments and economies. But this explosion failed to happen. In fact, the new worry is that many countries are having too few babies to simply maintain their current size. Even terrorism has been rather muted. After 9/11 there was tremendous anxiety that we had only seen the opening salvo in a long wave of attacks on the US and the West. In fact, 9/11 was a “lucky shot” by a small group of wackos who were rather easily rounded up. It was the overreaction to 9/11, particularly the invasion of Iraq, which has caused America so much extra grief. While Saddam was hanged, Osama Bin Laden remained free to taunt President Bush. Comments can reach me at Nali@socal.rr.com