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The Improving State of the World

The Boston Globe‘s Jeff Jacoby hits a home-run with his column today.  Here are some key passages:

FEELING CROWDED? Paul Watson is. The founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society writes that human overpopulation is “a virus . . . killing our host the planet Earth,” and so the number of people living in the world should be slashed by 85 percent…..

[Mr. Watson and those who share his apocalyptic delusions] should spend some time with Indur Goklany’s “The Improving State of the World,” a new compendium of data making the case that as nations grow wealthier, the quality of human life rises. Far from being a disaster for our species and the planet, Goklany demonstrates, economic growth and technological change have been a boon for both, making it possible for ever more people to live ever-improving lives in an ever-cleaner environment. And while the developed countries may outstrip the developing world in wealth, it is in the world’s poorest societies that some of the greatest strides are being made.

Take food. Since 1950, the world’s population has soared by more than 150 percent. Yet food has become so abundant that global food prices (in real terms) have plunged 75 percent. Over the past generation, chronic undernourishment in poor countries has been slashed from 37 percent to 17 percent, while in the United States, staples such as potatoes and flour have dropped in price (relative to income) by more than 80 percent.

Or take infant mortality. Before industrialization, children died before reaching their first birthday at a rate exceeding 200 per 1,000 live births, or more than one in five. “In the United States as late as 1900,” Goklany writes, “infant mortality was about 160; but by 2004 it had declined to 6.6.” In developing countries, the fall in mortality rates began later, but is occurring more quickly. In China, infant mortality has plunged from 195 to 30 in the past 50 years.

Life expectancy? From 31 years in 1900, it was up to 66.8 worldwide in 2003.

Health? We are more likely to be disease-free today than our forebears were a century ago. And the onset of chronic illness has been significantly delayed — by nearly eight years for cancer, nine years for heart diseases, and 11 years for respiratory diseases.

Education, child labor, clean air, freedom, famine, leisure time, global poverty — Goklany shows that by almost any yardstick you choose, humanity thrives as never before. Living standards do not fall as population rises. On the contrary: Where there are free markets and free minds — economic growth and technology — human progress and hope are all but guaranteed.

“Humanity, though more populous and still imperfect, has never been in better condition,” he writes.

Our lives are better than our ancestors’. Our descendants’ can be better than ours.