My answer to Will the future be better or worse than the past? Why do you think so?
Answer by Ken Larson:
The lives of individuals worldwide are improving.
Image: “Our World in Data”
“One reason the media focuses on things that go wrong is that the media focuses on single events, and single events are often bad — look at the news: plane crashes, terrorism attacks, natural disasters, election outcomes that we are not happy with.
Positive developments, on the other hand, often happen very slowly and never make the headlines in the event-obsessed media.
The result of a media — and education system — that fails to present quantitative information on long-run developments is that the huge majority of people are completely ignorant about global development. 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 percent) or the US (5 percent). In both countries, the majority of people think that the share living in extreme poverty has increased. Two-thirds in the US even think the share in extreme poverty has “almost doubled.” When we are ignorant about global development, it is not surprising that few think the world is getting better.
The only way to tell a history of everyone is to use statistics; only then can we hope to get an overview over the lives of the 22 billion people that lived in the past 200 years. The developments that these statistics reveal transform our global living conditions — slowly but steadily. They are reported in this online publication —— that my team and I have been building over the past years. We see it as a resource to show these long-term developments and thereby complement the information in the news that focus on events.
The difficulty for telling the history of how everyone’s lives changed over the past 200 years is that you cannot pick single stories. Stories about individual people are much more engaging — our minds like these stories — but they cannot be representative of how the world has changed. To achieve a representation of how the world has changed at large, you have to tell many, many stories all at once, and that is statistics.”