October 14, 2016 Print

People have a tendency to look toward the future with trepidation, focusing on possible catastrophe down the road even as the world around them continues to improve at a rapid pace. The new book Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, by historian, author, and Cato Institute Senior Fellow Johan Norberg, explains that despite the bad news that inundates us through the media every day, human progress in recent decades has been unprecedented — and we have every reason to be optimistic for an even brighter future.

“Mr Norberg unleashes a tornado of evidence that life is, in fact, getting better,” the Economist writes in its review of the book. “He describes how his great-great-great-great grandfather survived the Swedish famines of 150 years ago. Sweden in those days was poorer than Sub-Saharan Africa is today. ‘Why are some people poor?’ is the wrong question, argues Mr Norberg. Poverty is the starting point for all societies. What is astonishing is how fast it has receded. In 1820, 94% of humanity subsisted on less than $2 a day in modern money. That fell to 37% in 1990 and less than 10% in 2015.”

It’s not only that general prosperity has increased all over the world, more people than ever also now have access to better technology, consumer goods, health care, clean water, indoor plumbing, and transportation options than ever before. Still, human nature tends to lead people toward a pessimistic worldview.

“When I follow the news, I’m terrified and I think that the world’s falling apart, and I wrote the book to prove that that’s not the case,” Norberg said in an interview on the Fox Business Network television show Kennedy. “So it seems like — you know this — bad news sells. People are interested in anything that goes wrong in the world. It’s probably some kind of genetic predisposition. Anything that goes wrong could be a threat to our survival, so we pay attention to that.”

It’s not only economic growth, prosperity, technology, and material welfare that are improving, Norberg points out. There has also been a sharp decline in global violence, even after taking modern warfare into account.

“There was a slight uptick last year because of the war in Syria, but still, the casualties and the fatalities on the battlefields, it’s something like a fifth of what it was in the 1980s, with a much smaller world population,” Norberg said during his Kennedy appearance. “And when it comes to violence within our borders, when it comes to homicides, it’s been reduced by half since the 1980s. So we’ve never lived in such a secure environment, and at the same time we think that it’s incredibly dangerous. And that’s dangerous, because when people think that there’s chaos out there, there’s always an authoritarian reflex that’s triggered — and people think that then we need the strongman, we need the big government to protect us.”

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future has received glowing coverage from a wide array of sources, including Kirkus, the Economist, the Times, Reader’s Digest, Business Insider, and Vice.