Cato Institute senior fellow Norberg (Financial Fiasco: How America's Infatuation with Home Ownership and Easy Money Created the Economic Crisis, 2009, etc.) surveys human history and finds “things have been getting better—overwhelmingly so.”
In this brightly written, upbeat book, the Swedish author blends facts, anecdotes, and official statistics to describe “humanity’s triumph” in achieving the present unparalleled level of global living standards. By virtually every measure—food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom, equality, the conditions of childhood—life has improved for most people, writes the author. Much of the progress stems from 18th-century Enlightenment thinkers, who believed “the world could steadily improve if reason was set free,” thereby encouraging innovation and problem-solving. Major breakthroughs have fed upon one another: better access to food and health care, for example, have made it possible to work more and ensured “even better nutrition and even better health.” Growths in wealth, knowledge, trade, and technology have been chief animating forces. As a result, humanity has enjoyed a remarkable array of life improvements, often overlooked in our daily preoccupation with bad news: average life expectancy in the world has gone from 31 years in 1900 to 71 today. Malnutrition in Peru has declined by 76 percent since 1990. Global literacy jumped from 21 percent in 1900 to 86 percent in 2015. Poverty dropped by 24 percent in India between 1993 and 2012. Slavery, which existed worldwide in 1800, has been formally banned everywhere. Norberg reminds us that throughout history, parents often had to bury their children. He notes certain individuals have played key roles: Maurice Hilleman, developer of the measles vaccine, is among those who saved the most lives in history. While acknowledging the mayhem, hunger, and poverty still facing much of the world, the author remains optimistic that human ingenuity will prevail in shaping the future.
A refreshingly rosy assessment of how far many of us have come from the days when life was uniformly nasty, brutish, and short.