by Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, FACP, FACR
President and CEO, NCH Healthcare System

Are we better off now than we were a decade or century ago? Do we have cause for doom and gloom, or should we be optimistic and celebratory?

“Everyone is entitled to one’s own opinion, but not one’s own facts,” Senator Daniel Monahan (R-NY) sagaciously stated, when referencing politics in a different era.

But today, even with all the divisiveness, dissention and distrust, a case can be made that overall, we are better off now than ever before in human history, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, The Enlightenment is Working, by Steven Pinker.

Consider these improvements that compare thirty years ago to today, taking into account the increase in population and complexity of society:

  • 11 percent then; now three percent below the poverty line, as measured by consumption
  • 8.5 then; now 5.3 per 10,000 homicide rate
  • 20 million tons then; now four million tons of spewed sulfur dioxide
  • 34.5 tons then; now 20.6 tons of particulate pollution
  • 23 wars raged then; now 12
  • 3.4 per 100,000 killed in wars then; now 1.2 per 100,000
  • 60,780 nuclear weapons then; now 10,325
  • 45 democracies then with two billion people; now 103 with 4.1 billion people
  • 46 oil spills then; now five in 2016
  • 37 percent in extreme poverty then; now 9.6 percent
  • 440 deaths from terrorism then; now 238

Life expectancy has increased markedly from about 30 years, on average in the 19th century, up to 81 years currently in the developed world. Notably, Collier County has the longest life expectancy in America at 83.4 years and that has increased during the past two years.

Until the late 1700s, a third of the children born in the wealthier parts of the world died before age five. Now, less than six percent of children born in the poorest countries die before age five.

Infectious diseases including smallpox and polio are almost eradicated.

Catastrophic famine, extreme poverty and epidemic spread of fatal illnesses are almost non-existent, except in war-torn, previously impoverished regions.

We are all interconnected with digital communication that creates transparency, subsequently encouraging the transfer of resources from the rich to the poor. Wealth and income inequity persists, as outlined in the March issue of Life in Naples, pages 46-47. https://lifeinnaples.net/2018/02/22/march-2018-life-naples-magazineflipbook/

However, support of the severely impoverished is better now with wealthier countries spending about 25 percent of their wealth to care for the poor, elderly and disadvantaged children, versus more than a century ago, when only one percent was shared this way.

Most “poor” people today have cell phones and have internet access. Amazon just extended Amazon Prime to citizens on Medicaid who comprise 20 percent of our nation and are typically close to or below the poverty line.

We are also becoming safer. Americans are 96 percent less likely to be killed in an auto accident, 88 percent less likely run over, 99 percent less likely to die in a plane crash, 59 percent less likely to fall to their deaths, 92 percent less likely to die by fire, 90 percent less likely to drown, 92 percent less likely to be asphyxiated, and 95 percent less likely to be killed on the job, all according to Steven Pinker’s Wall Street Journal article.

Richer countries are typically safer. Poorer countries usually get safer as they get richer. Homicides kill more people than wars. Nationally, our homicide rates are falling but are still worse than in the rest of the world, a fact that contradicts the typical wisdom just shared that richer countries are safer. Elsewhere, homicide is 30percent less likely.

Today more than 55 percent of the world’s population live undemocratic countries compared to two centuries ago when less than one percent of the world’s people enjoyed democracy. Human rights have improved, laws perpetuating discrimination have diminished, and violence against women, children, and minorities continues to decline, although it sadly persists.

Literacy across the world is up to 85 percent from two centuries ago when only 12 percent could read. We are smarter than ever before because we can read, store information and interact much more cognitively. In fact, IQ combined with emotional intelligence perpetuates a learning environment that will further enhance progress while improving our standard of living.

Why are we making progress? We have been in the scientific age for almost two hundred years. Granted, the last fifty have accelerated progress, and the acceleration is quickening. No longer is dogma or antiquated reasoning acceptable. Rational, fact based, truth-seeking institutions in general have become successful and accepted.

Nonetheless, a wide range of veracity and beliefs can and should be challenged. The change is not linear, but with time truth wins out.

Certain diseases have been decimated by sanitation, antibiotics, vaccines and basic hygiene. Food supply has become stable with scientific farming techniques, including crop rotation and improved fertilizers.

Poverty, still a problem, is being attacked by social programs addressing imbedded multi-generational traditions along with education and other economic incentives to break the cycle.

Safety is being designed into buildings, cars, and society in general. Technology is disruptive and beneficial when used to improve safety and the standard of living. Commerce improves everyone’s standards, whereas the disruption of war has the dual negatives of burning up resources and interfering with business.

Being accurate, assessing correctly, staying open-minded and remaining positive are all facilitating characteristics for societal progress. On an individual basis, being optimistic may actually improve health and extend life.

Our entire planet is better now, although we still have room for improvement. Currently, we have fewer pollutants, less spilled oil, more natural preserves, fewer cleared forests and perhaps have peaked on our consumption of oil, coal, timber, and farmland.

Perhaps seeing the glass half-full, not half-empty is better for the world, our nation, Southwest Florida, and all of us.

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