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Blog Week # 5 And Now For The Good News

Some people think that 2016 was one of the worst years on record. In fact, one of my favorite people said to me at a holiday party, “To hell with 2016. And she doesn’t live in the murder capital of America, Chicago, either.

Indeed, if you were to judge by the negative amount of news on various media outlets, you’d probably agree with her sentiment. It seems the “negativity index” in electronic media in particular is at an all-time high.

The constant drumbeat of negativity is how products are often sold; it’s how markets are moved, and how elections can be won.

So it might surprise you that overall, the world has never done better.

In fact, by virtually all the major categories of research measuring the quality of human lives things are at or near all-time highs. Things have actually never been better in all of human history, and we’ve got the data to prove it.

For several years I’ve been studying a website called Our World in Data (OWID). It’s a creation of a professor at Oxford University, one Dr. Max Roser, who is a PhD in Economics at the Martin School at Oxford. The primary focus of the site is to help you see long-term statistical trends in human activities and behavior. It’s an important touchstone for programming and content development for media mavens. It’s also an outstanding source of data for advertising executives and speechwriters.

Here’s the link:

Let’s face it --- bad news gets our attention. An airplane crash, a hurricane, a house fire, a police shooting, not to mention a good riot is made for TV news. But beneath all this bang-bang video, there’s lots of progress in the world.

But, I’ll let Dr. Roser and his team explain from the Our World in Data website:

“The number of people living in extreme poverty fell from close to 2 billion in 1990 to 0.7 billion in 2015. On no day in this 25-year period was the headline of any newspaper in the world “The number of people in extreme poverty fell by 137,000 since yesterday”. This is despite the fact that – on average – this would have been an accurate headline every single day during these 25 years.

“Because the media – as well as schools and universities – largely neglect reporting slow but transformative news the large public is extremely poorly educated about these developments.

“Even the decline of global extreme poverty – by any standard one of the most important developments in our lifetime – is only known by a small fraction of the population of the UK (10%), South Africa (14%), Norway (17%), Sweden (23%), and the US (5%),” the OWID site says.

“A second example: Global child mortality fell from 18.2% in 1960 to 4.3% in 2015; while 4.3% is still too high, this is a substantial achievement. But similarly on no day in the last 5 decades was there ever the headline ‘Global Child Mortality fell by 0.00719% Since Yesterday’.”

Roser and his team go on to explain that the focus of journalists on single events is understandable. “The work of journalists is to write interesting stories and the history of progress is largely about the absence of exciting stories – fewer deaths, less poverty, less violence. The unbalanced account of the media and of some intellectuals however, is translated to a popular conception of the development of the world that is too negative,” OWID says.

Roser says he thinks this ignorance about global development is important and that it matters.

“Constant doom saying and the failure to report the accomplishment of our efforts is nurturing cynicism. It is especially sad when those who care about the development of our world turn away as they see no information on global development that would give them hope,” he says.

It’s a fascinating viewpoint when you consider some of the stats that his team have developed to track the amazing progress of humans.

What I’ve traditionally looked at, as an investor, are consumption data points such as food, energy, water and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. All of which point to some Al Gore-worthy trends.

But there’s a treasure trove of additional information imbedded in Roser’s work: For instance, from 1820 to 2015 the vaccinations per 100 people in the entire planet have improved from zero in the base year 86% in 2015. That is remarkable. And with billions from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others, those stats should only improve.

The illiteracy curve has inverted since 1820, so that today nearly 85% of humans around the globe are able to read. That’s still a long way from 100% literacy, but as a smart guy once wrote, it’s hard to teach African tribal bush men how to develop a schedule and plan to take HIV medications if they don’t own a watch and can’t tell time.

In 1820, 99 out of 100 people around the world were not living in a democracy. Today, approximately 56 percent are living in a democratic state. And, if the Chinese ever to move away from Communism, to democracy, that number would clearly jump --- proving at least today that 1.35 billion Chinese can be wrong (I just had to get that shot in.)

Below is a lift from a LinkedIn posting that incorporates some of these stats:

Another important stat is that the use of gasoline is beginning to decline on a global scale. This will have long-range impact on a variety of economic matters, including the value of the dollar, the uptick in public markets, etc. As a proud Exxon shareholder, I’m concerned about that. But as a dad, I’m glad the air will be cleaner, and the next generation is focusing on making our world better.

Indeed, Detroit and Toyota have taken notice, and are beginning macro planning on the end of the “automobile age.” As the driverless car technology evolves, and Elon Musk markets the hell out of Tesla’s unique solar roof solution tied to battery chargers in your garage --- the future seems bright for a dynamic shift in energy usage over the next 10 years.

Roser and his team are tracking these shifts, and other key indicators, and will continue to do so, thanks to several foundation grants they’ve recently received in the UK.

Anyway, I thought some good news was in order as we start the New Year. So, you may want to check out the OWID site.

So turn those frowns upside into smiles, and have a Happy New Year!

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