Friday, December 08, 2006

What! The World's not Going to Hell in a Handbasket?

No kidding, we're not. Because delicate little matters like poverty, hunger, illiteracy, pestilence, famine and death are no longer affecting quite as many human beings on this earth at quite the same rate as they did in years past. Oh well, cross out that last one; death will appear whenever the Grim Reaper deems it's time, inconveniently premature or not; he's got his own schedule to adhere to.

But, as a recently-published book, The Improving State of the World, by U.S. economist Indur Goklany (published by the Cato Institute) fulsomely points out, we're feeding greater numbers, fighting dread diseases more successfully, and experiencing longer lifespans, country to country. Really, despite all the gloom and doom shouting out at us from every newscast and newspaper we're doing all right. Kudos, people.

We know, don't we, because it's constantly being drummed into our guilt-ridden western consciences, that the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer and the lot of us in between are glum about it all. But no, not according to Mr. Goklany's research; rather, it is the poorest who are enjoying the most dramatic rise in living standards. Driven, likely, by those same guilt-ridden westerners whose vaunted lifestyle is achieved on the backs of the poor.

Even the environmental record gets an improbable boost. Mr. Goklany's book points out that as countries become richer they also become cleaner, healthier and more environmentally conscious. So much for the widely accepted popular wisdom that on their way to becoming richer the developing countries heedlessly throw environmental matters to the winds and abuse the environment as a matter of necessity while hauling themselves into a state of acceptable development.

So, does it then follow that, in their search for success developing nations destroy their environment, and when success is reached, look back and suddenly begin to take care of whatever they have left? Can countries undo the degradation they visit upon themselves so handily when the time is right? Are we all worried needlessly, just for the sake of flagellating ourselves?
"We should be especially proud of the fact that humanity has never been better fed: The daily food intake in poor countries has increased by 38% since the 1960s to 2,665 calories per person per day on average. The population of those countries has soared by 83% during that time.
"Together with a 75% decline in global food prices in real terms in the second half of the 20th century, caused by improved agricultural productivity and freer trade, fewer people than ever before go hungry."
Famine, he further points out, and declining life expectancy now belong to the discrete countries who are governed by dictatorial mismanagement busy augmenting their own lifestyles and coffers at their populations' expense; those who reject capitalization and globalization. Aha! If people are to be fed and clothed and housed adequately, their governments must embrace the market economy, the legality of right-of-property, free trade and technological progess along with sound money policies.

Sounds very much like a polemic produced by the Cato Institute in reflection of the North American Way of Life (uber alles).

During the Middle Ages (500 - 1500 a.d.) anyone born in Britain might live to age 22 - 30; now that life span has increased to 77 years. Furthermore, life expectancy in poorer countries has improved even more exceptionally...China has surged from 41 years in the 1950s to 71 years currently.

Industrialization, despite its bad rap for having demolished the environment, given us a life-long love affair with pollutants and life-destroying chemicals, has had the effect of decreasing child mortality rates and child labour has been in steady decline (despite hanging stubbornly on in some parts of the world). While in 1960 a quarter of the world's children were engaged in labour, that number has fallen to 10%.

Improved technology, more efficient productivity permit us to conserve energy resources, decrease emissions of noxious substances, provide potable water and increase air quality in general. From Mr. Goklany's research it would appear, unbelievable though it seems, that western societies are not, after all wasting natural resources beyond control.

If the current trajectory continues he posits the world could eventually be without hunger and malnutrition; malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS and other dire infectuous diseases and parasites will have been eliminated. And won't the world be a happy place then. I trust we won't be bored by the predictability of it all. That we would resort to hankering over the good old days, become sentimental about such great events as the Black Plague and other pandemics.

So don't worry, be happy. Rising crime rates, world terrorism threats, natural disasters, social dislocations resulting from intractable neighbourly rancour leading to death-dealing wars on a truly grand scale may be a problem, but remember, we're on our way to solving some other great bib problems, why not those, too?

Of course, it might help if we were able somehow to transform ourselves into reasonable, intelligent, friendly, inclusive, sympathetic human beings. Oh, the pain of it.

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