A few days ago Oxfam, the UK charity fighting global poverty, published a detailed report, which title soon reached global attention “An Economy for the 1%. How privilege and power in the economy drive extreme inequality and how this can be stopped”. In this sensational report Oxfam’s researchers prove that the global wealth is in the hands of a privileged few (1%) and that the rest is living in different degrees of poverty.
We are all familiar with the existence of wealth inequality and have experienced, since the 70’s, the hegemony of a financial world that won over politics and imposed their neoliberal. The dominance of finance over politics, together with the worldwide adoption of neoliberal theories, poses many threats to the fabric of society and in particular poses threats to the survival of social welfare and human rights.
Fighting these theories and guaranteeing an equal distribution of wealth is in the ambitious political programme of the Roosevelt Movement- we’ll never tire supporting like-minded organizations, like Oxfam, and individuals who dream of and work towards a more democratic, progressive and equal world.
What I would like to underline in this post, though, is another trend, a more subtle one but none the less dangerous, which is well known to most social-media users: the social media pessimism.
On social media sites, there’s a constant level of complain about pretty much anything: All politicians are the same (i.e. bunch of corrupt individuals), all bankers are the same, Europe is bad, Trump is bad, Government is bad etc. etc. Many can agree or disagree with some of the critiques, which generally demonstrates the fact that we still live in a democratic/liberal type of society with freedom of opinion and speech.
However, the amount and quality of criticism in social media has somewhat reached surreal picks, and you see people invoking the good times where Mussolini would sort out the aftermaths of an earthquake in 3 months (after the particularly tragic recent events in Central Italy), or some nostalgic statements like “it was so much better in the old days”.
In reality, many indicators show that the World is living its best time in history. Which is absolutely a relative statement. It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect and great, but, as the economist Stefano Bassi in one of his recent posts says, “today’s man has the Web, which allows him to read about anything all the times, to be super-informed (sometimes mis-informed), and to develop strong opinions about anything and, most importantly, it allows him to express his (mis-leading, mis-informed) opinions on anything, even if he doesn’t understand or is not an expert of the subject”.
This causes some serious alteration to our perception of reality.
The Oxfam report falls like a bomb from the sky in a social substrate that can’t wait to find the hidden conspiracy about anything, to find the enemy in the wealthy (all of them, just because), and in the general sub-culture that if you have some doubts on something like this report, you’ll be quickly and forever be judged as an inhumane, insensitive neo-liberal monster.
But to believe in anything, just because the source is noble, is not always wise.
In fact, as Stefano Bassi points out, the calculations include “negative wealth” (i.e. debt), which pretty much puts on the same place a wealthy rich full of debts and a real poor.
Also, Bassi continues, the “evil globalisation” is in reality creating wealth across middle classes globally and in half of the emerging markets (considered “third world until just a few years ago).
So while we, the Western countries, have been “privileged” for centuries above the rest of the world, at this very historical moment, we are equalizing “downward”, and only the very pro-active people, that can anticipate and make use of the trend, will be able to benefit from it.
There are a whole series of revolutionary systems (bitcoin/blockchain etc) and a vast amount of knowledge available to us at the moment, and, according to many, this is actually an extremely positive era compared to only 100 years ago.
Among those who believe this is Max Roser, economist and media critic at the University of Oxford, whose impressive research, Our World in Data, is fully available online and is finalised to study and share a statistically informed vision of global development.
He registers how things have changed during the course of history and how much we have progressed, under many aspects.
Why is this important? Because many people don’t believe it is so.
Roser published in the article “A history of global living conditions in 5 charts”, the results of a survey which asked people if, all things considered, they believed the world was getting better or worse than before (or neither). Only 6% of Americans believed it is better, 4% of Germans, 10% of Swedish.
He then summarised the evidence, collected during his research in a list of the 5 recent greatest achievements which show that the world we are in now is not half as bad as what tend to think it is.
Here are some of the most significant passages of his article.
- Extreme POVERTY is fallen very low.
“To see where we are coming from we must go far back in time. 30 or even 50 years are not enough. When you only consider what the world looked during our life time it is easy to make the mistake of thinking of the world as relatively static – the rich, healthy and educated parts of the world here and the poor, uneducated, sick regions there – and to falsely conclude that it always was like that and that it always will be like that.” (…) “In 1820 only a tiny elite (5%) enjoyed higher standards of living, while the vast majority of people lived in conditions that we would call extreme poverty today (measured as living with less than 1.9$ per day). Since then the share of extremely poor people fell continuously. More and more world regions industrialised and thereby increased productivity which made it possible to lift more people out of poverty: In 1950 three-quarters of the world were living in extreme poverty; in 1981 it was still 44%. For last year research suggests that the share in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%.”
- Base EDUCATION and literacy has spread.
“In 1820 only every 10th person was literate; in 1930 it was every third and now we are at 85% globally. Put differently, if you were alive in 1800 there was a chance of 9 in 10 that you weren’t able to read – today more than 8 out of 10 people are able to read. And if you are young chances are much higher since many of today’s illiterate population are old.”
- Global level of HEALTH has increased.
“ In 1800 the health conditions of our ancestors were such that around 43% of the world’s new-borns died before their 5th birthday.” (…) “A more educated population achieved a series of scientific breakthroughs that made it possible to reduce mortality and disease further.” (…) “With these changes global health improved in a way that was unimaginable to our ancestors. In 2015 child mortality was down to 4.3% – 10-fold lower than 2 centuries ago. You have to take this long perspective to see the progress that we have achieved.”
- Democracy and FREEDOM has never been so diffused.
“Throughout the 19th century more than a third of the population lived in colonial regimes and almost everyone else lived in autocratically ruled countries. The first expansion of political freedom from the late 19th century onward was crushed by the rise of authoritarian regimes that in many countries took their place in the time leading up to the Second World War.
In the second half of the 20th century the world has changed significantly: Colonial empires ended, and more and more countries turned democratic: The share of the world population living in democracies increased continuously – particularly important was the breakdown of the Soviet Union which allowed more countries to democratise. Now more than every second person in the world lives in a democracy.
The huge majority of those living in an autocracy – 4 out of 5 – live in one autocratic country: China.”
- World POPULATION has increased.
“The world population was around 1 billion in the year 1800 and increased 7-fold since then.
Population growth increased humanity’s demand for resources and amplified humanity’s impact on the environment. But this increase of the world population should evoke more than doom and gloom. First of all, this increase shows a tremendous achievement. It shows that humans stopped dying at the rate at which our ancestors died for the many millennia before.”
- The world is more EDUCATED than ever before
“None of the achievements over the last 2 centuries could have been made without the expansion of knowledge and education. The revolution in how we live was not only driven by education it also made education more important than ever.” (…) “With the great importance of education for improving health, increasing political freedom, and ending poverty this projection is very encouraging.”
All of these transformations are the result of collaborative work. None of it would have been possible for a single person to accomplish. It is very important therefore that we realise that change not only is possible but social and cultural evolution is achievable if our collective brains work together.
This doesn’t mean that everything is perfect and that we should sit on our far and close ancestors’ victories. Far from it.
Global poverty is now fallen below 10%, but this 10% is unacceptable. So is the level of human rights in some countries, still way below acceptable levels.
So there is still a lot of work that can and must be done, but it is encouraging, sometimes during the path, to stop, look back and give to ourselves, to humanity, a nice pat on the shoulder, congratulate for the results achieved so far and carry on with the strength and trust to be on the right track.
Max Roser “Our World in Data”
Stefano Bassi “Viviamo in una delle migliori epoche della storia umana, per cui meno vittimismo e rimboccarsi le maniche” post su “Il Grande Bluff”