Meanwhile, the World Is Becoming a Better Place

A public service announcement from Oxford University, especially for Democrats.

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Photograph by Getty Images

Republicans ran an entire campaign off of hell and high water: chaos is at our door, the NRA howls, danger creeps daily through the porous border. Exit polls last night showed that Americans, by an easy majority, believe the country’s headed in the wrong direction. Half expect life to be worse for the next generation. Eight of 10 don't put trust in the federal government. 

But viewed from a different height, a brighter perch, could the wrong track somehow be right? The University of Oxford's Oxford Martin School, a leading center of research and policy, recently spun up OurWorldInData.org, a resource created "to present long-term data on how our world is changing."  Turns out the long view is quite a bit brighter than what you see on the Twitterverse. Max Roser, the economist at Oxford responsible for the data, writes, “The evidence shows that we are becoming less violent and increasingly more tolerant, that we are leading healthier lives, are better fed, and that poverty around the world is declining rapidly.”

If you start in the year one, as Roser does when depicting the world of history of GDP, things look rosy indeed—our days are positively fatty. For well over the first millennium, Roser shows, poverty was the rule. Then, finally, the Renaissance crept in. Italy budged first, and, he writes, "Over the next centuries the center of prosperity moved to the north west of Europe and the fruits of the Enlightenment increased people's incomes there." Industrialization arrived, and incomes shot up. He goes on, “Compared to the rapid increase in global GDP after 1800, all change before is hardly noticeable.”

The number of world citizens living under democracies has expanded monumentally since the turn of the twentieth century, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union. In this game, how much does a collective-bargain-hating, Medicaid denying new governor or House Representative really matter? 

Sure, there are stumbles to this motion—look at the brutal aftermath of the Arab Spring, for one—but, little by little, the human direction is up. Undernourishment on a worldwide level has diminished from 19 percent in 1991 to 11 percent in 2013. So many of the diseases that have threatened in the past have been totally eradicated. There are far fewer homicides in the country than there were in the 1970s and 1980s. The teen birth rate has declined almost constantly over the past 20 years in the United States. We're moving, even skipping, along the yellow brick road.

"The arc of the moral universe is long," said Martin Luther King, Jr.—long, and horrible, and slow. Those of us in the news biz especially like to bathe in filth, fatigue, and gloom. But as Max Roser writes, “It’s a cold, hard fact. Our world is becoming a better place.”

A cold, hard fact—and for some, cold comfort for grieving Democrats.

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