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Counting 2019 Blessings: At Least It's not 1968

Surely, I don’t have to remind you of all the bad news in the world.

Even if you’re not the type to dwell upon the negative, there has been no escape from the endless litany of human misery and failure that has been dished out in the past few weeks. Year-in-review and year-to-come stories have painted a stark picture of exactly what’s wrong with the world.

Terrorism. Populist uprisings. Ruthless dictators. Economic collapses. A migrant crisis. Homelessness. Climate change. Political ineptitude and malfeasance of the highest order. The world must certainly be on the brink of disaster.

Except that it isn’t.

In so many ways, the world is in better shape than it has ever been, and there is every reason to believe things will get even better. Though it goes in fits and starts, sometimes with two steps back for every step forward, human progress has been a constant throughout history.

So, before we endure another year of missing the forest while minutely examining every diseased or damaged tree, let’s take a breath and count our blessings. Not all of them, but a few.

Let us consider, then, 10 ways the world is better than ever:

• There are fewer people living in extreme poverty. The percentage has been dropping for two centuries, from 90 percent to about 10 percent.

• Child mortality is declining worldwide – by more than half in less-developed countries in the last 20 years.

• Life expectancy is increasing. The age of 30 was the end point for most of our history, but today people in developed countries live to be 80, and worldwide, life expectancy is 70 years

• We are freer than ever. Two-thirds of the world’s population today live in democracies.

• Literacy is on the rise. More than 90 percent of the world’s population under 25 can read and write.

• We are safer than ever. Over the last century, we have become more than 90 percent less likely to be killed in a car or plane crash or on the job, and, thanks to better infrastructure, almost 90 percent less likely to die in a natural disaster.

• The world of tomorrow will be less crowded than we think. The population growth rate peaked half a century ago and has been steeply dropping since.

• Between 1961 and 2009 the amount of land used to grow food increased by 12 percent, but the amount of food that was grown increased by 300 percent.

• People work fewer hours for money. Men and women alike have substantially more leisure time than their parents did (10 and six hours more per week, respectively).

• The world is growing less polluted and has more parks and protected wilderness.

I heard some ponderous blowhard on TV a few days ago bidding good riddance to the awful year of 2018. I remember a year I thought was awful – 1968, when it seemed as if the country would split apart. But we got beyond the strife and, I like to think, learned from it. We will learn from whatever mistakes we make in 2018 as well.

Obviously, we should not neglect the real problems in the world or forget that some of our solutions will create new problems we didn’t anticipate. But ignoring the progress we make on the road from barbarism to greater civilization can make us lose sight of our goal and even the heart to keep pursuing it.

Humans may not be perfectible, but the human condition is improvable. Let’s make that our inspirational thought for 2019.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is this year’s winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at leoedits@yahoo.com.