Pessimism Amid Plenty
— February 23, 2018
By A. Michael Spence
In writing the book, I had planned to include a lot of data in visual form. But a respected literary agent told me that using graphs was a bad idea, because only a small share of people absorb quantitative information better when it is presented visually. I came to realize that graphs are, in a sense, answers to questions. If you don’t pose a question, a graph is somewhere between uninteresting and meaningless.
Recently, the Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker published a book documenting long-term positive trends in multiple dimensions of wellbeing, which he calls “the fruits of the Enlightenment.” Progress is not, Pinker acknowledges, consistent; there have been significant setbacks as new challenges, such as climate change, have emerged. But, generally, wellbeing has been improving since at least the mid-eighteenth century, with the Industrial Revolution bringing a sharp acceleration in welfare gains. Since World War II, 85% of the world’s population living in developing countries have benefited as well.
Read the full article as published in Project Syndicate.
A. Michael Spence is a William R. Berkley Professor in Economics & Business.