A Look Back at the Best Year in Human History

El capitalismo nunca ha a sacado a tantas personas de la pobreza extrema.
Commerce, peace, and democratic institutions have helped record numbers of people out of poverty. (Wikimedia)

EspañolBoth sides predict imminent disaster. Libertarians claim that monopolistic central banks, unfettered public spending, and interventionist government will bring about global economic catastrophe. Meanwhile, proponents of state interventionism attempt to convince us that, without ever more regulations, the world as we know it will cease to exist.

However, the world has never been better than it was in 2014 — and it’s all thanks to capitalism.

“Capitalism has created the highest standard of living ever known on Earth,” wrote Ayn Rand. “The evidence is incontrovertible.”

Soon after winning the Bruno Leoni Prize, Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa echoed her sentiments.

“Never before have we experienced better times than we do today, the moment we are living,” he said. To the optimism of the philosopher and the writer we can add that of the entrepreneur, Bill Gates.

The year that we leave behind will be the greatest in the history of the world. Never before have levels of extreme poverty been as low as they currently are. Never before has there been less hunger. Per capita income, average life expectancy, and literacy rates have never been higher than they are today.

While the economic growth rates of many countries have fallen in recent years, developing countries have demonstrated levels of growth once considered unthinkable. The remarkable capacity of the global capitalist system for exponential growth has made an enormous contribution to the eradication of poverty from human history. On January 1, 2015, we will leave the golden year behind.

The Evidence is Convincing

In 1990, the United Nations laid down its eight Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), to be completed by 2015. Among these lofty objectives were the reduction of the number of people living on less than US$1 per day by 50 percent, cutting the infant mortality rate by two-thirds, impeding the spread of HIV/AIDS, and improving maternal health.

The primary objective of the MDGs, the reduction of the number of people living in extreme poverty, was achieved in 2008. Using World Bank statistics, the Economist found that the percentage of the global population living on less than $1.25 per day fell from 43 to 21 percent between 1990 and 2010 — meaning that more than a billion people escaped extreme poverty during the same period.

Fuente: elaboración propia en base a datos del PNUD
Evolution of the Human Development Index, based on United Nations Development Program data. (Guillermina Sutter Schneider)

The Human Development Index (HDI), a development indicator created by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), is comprised of three parameters: health (measured by average life expectancy from birth); education (measured by adult literacy rates, combined with primary, secondary, and higher education enrollment rates); and wealth (measured by per capita GDP).

According to the 2014 Human Development Report, only 10 of 187 countries experienced reductions in their HDI rates compared to 2013. It is also important to note that all of the countries the UNDP identified as having a “low human development” level demonstrated an improvement in their HDI score, with the single exception of the Central African Republic.

The HDI clearly demonstrates an upward trajectory: never have HDI levels been as high as they are today.

Drastic Reductions in Poverty and Mortality

The reduction in global poverty has been equally striking. In 1990, more than 36 percent of the global population lived on less than $1.25 per day. By 2010 that figure was reduced to 16 percent. In just 20 years, extreme poverty levels were cut in half. And the 2013 figure of 13 percent is even more encouraging. Now, the hope is that this figure can be reduced to 6 percent of the global population by 2020. We’ve managed to bring countless numbers of individuals out of the kind of misery that was considered an inevitable part of human existence for centuries.

Fuente: elaboración propia en base a datos del Banco Mundial
Global life expectancy rates, based on World Bank data. (Guillermina Sutter Schneider)

Advances in disease prevention — both in terms of diagnosis and treatment — have allowed the average person to live a better, longer life. For the first time in history, large numbers of great-grandparents can meet their great-grandchildren, as four generations of a family are all alive at the same time.

While Africa continues to lag behind — especially following the devastation wreaked by HIV/AIDS in countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho during the 1990s — the continent has improved slowly but surely.

In 1900, an individual born in North America had a life expectancy of 48 years, while Latin Americans were not expected to live beyond the age of 29. By 2010, these figures had risen to 78 and 74 years respectively. In 2010, 98 percent of infants lived beyond their first year of life, while 100 years prior the survival rate was just 75 percent. The lottery of birth has become more fair.

The infant mortality rate has plummeted since peaking in the 1970s. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of deaths per 1,000 births dropped from 54 to 23.

Fuente: elaboración propia en base a datos del Banco Mundial
Global infant mortality rates, based on World Bank data. (Guillermina Sutter Schneider)

Globally, the infant mortality rate was reduced by 88 percent between 1990 and 2012, according to the most recent UNICEF report. This means that everyday 14,000 fewer babies die than just two decades ago.

Latin America, North Africa, and East Asia have already reached the goal of reducing infant mortality by two-thirds. If this trend continues over the next five years, humanity will be able to check yet another Millennium Development goal off the list.

A More Peaceful World

The world has also made great strides in the reduction of war, one of the deadliest phenomena in human history. Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University, calculated that in the past decade there have been fewer deaths due to armed conflict than at any other point in the past century.

According to Pinker, this can attributed to the fact that, during the past 50 years, humanity has developed remarkable mechanisms to combat the causes and consequences of war. Additionally, since 1950, democracy has expanded to a majority of countries around the globe. Today, 60 percent of all countries are democracies. Our planet has not only become more secure, it has also become more free.

Despite the wide array of problems faced by every country around the world today, we should take a moment to peer into the past. If we do so, we’ll see that, throughout the years, the forces of capitalism have prevailed — promoting peace, progress, and prosperity along the way.

Translated by Alex Clark-Youngblood.

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