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It’s easy to be a pessimist, but step back with Matt Ridley and take a look at the accomplishments and advances in living conditions that the world continues to experience. You’ll feel much better! I could take issue with certain points: Ridley acts as if fascism is confined to a few despotic regimes worldwide, yet fascism has its roots in the subversion of specific government powers for private gain, what would usually be classified as successful rent-seeking behavior. In that sense, I believe the world is doing pretty well despite the commonality of fascist tendencies, but we could do much better.

Nevertheless, Ridley makes a number of excellent points. Here are a few of my favorites:

The average person on the planet earns roughly three times as much as he or she did 50 years ago, corrected for inflation. If anything, this understates the improvement in living standards because it fails to take into account many of the incredible improvements in the things you can buy with that money. However rich you were in 1964 you had no computer, no mobile phone, no budget airline, no Prozac, no search engine, no gluten-free food.

The average person lives about a third longer than 50 years ago and buries two thirds fewer of his or her children (and child mortality is the greatest measure of misery I can think of).

The amount of food available per head has gone up steadily on every continent, despite a doubling of the population. Famine is now very rare.

Despite what you may have read, there is no global increase in floods, cyclones, tornadoes, blizzards and wild fires — and there has been a decline in the severity of droughts. 

Globally, your probability of dying as a result of a drought, flood or storm is 98 per cent lower than it was in the 1920s.

As Steven Pinker documented in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, the number of deaths in warfare is also falling, though far more erratically.

As for inequality, the world as a whole is getting rapidly more equal in income, because people in poor countries are getting richer at a more rapid pace than people in rich countries.

All true. Mark Perry has a good summary list of Ridley’s points. Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, is no Pollyanna, though he knows that he risks being branded as such. He recognizes that there are significant threats to prosperity and that many challenges remain. Still, naysayers who lose sight of the extent of human achievement, and the conditions that give rise to it, often prescribe policies that would stand as obstacles to continued gains.