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Page added on December 28, 2016

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Was 2016 the Best Year Ever?

General Ideas

According to popular wisdom, 2016 was a terrible year. Horrific terror attacks struck many countries. The Syrian crisis claimed tens of thousands of lives. Turkey withstood suicide bombings and a failed coup. More than 70 countries experienced a decline in freedom. Political shocks included Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the United States’ presidential election – both unforeseen by the media or political elite. Zika was declared an international public-health emergency. The year is likely to be the warmest ever measured.

Reading the opinion pages, there is a sense that the world is facing a malaise that exceeds any individual events, and that people are becoming increasingly – and dangerously – divided. But if we take a step back, it is clear that there are many reasons to be optimistic. Indeed, in many ways, we are alive at the best time in history. What’s more, some things that we worry about the most, thanks to 24-hour news and social media, are not the issues that should keep us awake at night.

Consider rising inequality, one of the year’s most frequently addressed topics. To be sure, over the last two centuries or so, the gap between the highest and lowest incomes has grown. But that is because pretty much everyone was equally dirt poor in 1820. More than 90% of humanity lived in absolute poverty.

Then the Industrial Revolution arrived, bringing rapid income growth wherever it spread, with China since 1978 and India since 1990 recording particularly high rates. As a result, last year, less than 10% of the world’s population was living in absolute poverty.

Furthermore, developing economies are now contributing to a burgeoning global middle class, whose numbers have more than doubled, from around one billion people in 1985 to 2.3 billion in 2015. This tremendous reduction in poverty has sustained a decline in global income inequality over the last three decades.

Inequality has fallen by other measures as well. Since 1992, the number of hungry people worldwide has plummeted by more than 200 million, even as the human population grew by nearly two billion. The percentage of people starving has been nearly halved, from 19% to 11%.

In 1870, more than three-quarters of the world was illiterate, and access to education was even more unequal than income. Today, more than four out of five people can read, and young people have unprecedented access to schooling. The illiterate come mostly from older generations.

The story is similar in health. In 1990, almost 13 million children died before the age of five each year. Thanks to vaccines, better nutrition, and health care, that number has fallen below six million. More broadly, lifespan inequality is lower today, because medical breakthroughs that were available only to the elite a century or so ago are now more broadly accessible.

In short, the world is not going to hell in a handbasket. And while plenty of problems still need to be addressed, they are often not the ones that occupy our thoughts and public debates.

Trump’s election prompted hand-wringing from commentators who fear that his potential rejection of the Paris climate agreement could “doom civilization.” But the Paris accord was never going to solve global warming. In fact, according to the UN itself, the agreed cuts in CO2 emissions would produce only 1% of the reduction needed to keep the increase in global temperature within 2º Celsius (3.6º Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial levels.

In contrast, Trump’s promise to dismantle trade deals has received very little pushback. On the contrary, opposition to trade is shared in the trendy neighborhoods of New York, Berlin, and Paris. But cost-benefit analysis shows that freer trade is the single most powerful way to help the world’s poorest citizens. According to research commissioned by my think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, reviving the moribund Doha Development Round of global free-trade talks would lift the incomes of billions of people worldwide, while reducing the number of people in poverty by an astonishing 145 million in 15 years.

Our global health concerns are similarly skewed. We spent much of this year worrying about the Zika virus, especially once it crossed into the US. And it is true that Zika, which has devastating effects on children, is a cause for concern in Brazil and elsewhere. Yet tuberculosis, which has received relatively little attention, remains the biggest global infectious disease killer.

We know how to treat TB, just like we know how to reduce child deaths and rein in malnutrition. These global challenges persist in no small part because of our focus on other problems.

Fake news or real views

Let us resolve, then, to do better in 2017. We must stop devoting our attention to the wrong issues and failed solutions. On climate change, for example, we must embrace research and development to make green energy a genuinely cheaper alternative to fossil fuels. And we must shout from the rooftops that free trade is the most effective conceivable anti-poverty policy.

At the same time, we need to remember that most of the important indicators show that life is better today than it was in the past. We should celebrate the progress we have made against disease, famine, and poverty. And we should continue to advance that progress, by focusing on the smart development investments needed to resolve the real problems we face.

24 Comments on "Was 2016 the Best Year Ever?"

  1. onlooker on Wed, 28th Dec 2016 6:43 pm 

    This article reeks of establishment talking points. Yes fee trade will lift all boats, yes the world has never been better, yes let’s tackle important matters like allowing more poor people to live but live bleak stunted lives so they can multiply and make bleak stunted lives the only type of life available.

  2. Apneaman on Wed, 28th Dec 2016 6:53 pm 

    Hey clogtard, look, its a few days after Christmas and there is NO snow for skiing in the Swiss alps and a fucking forest fire to boot. Yep, were all normal here eh?

    Skiers left disappointed as snow steers clear of Swiss slopes

    Firefighters battle forest fires in eastern Switzerland

    I can’t wait to hear the rationalizations for this one…Bahahahahah

  3. Sissyfuss on Wed, 28th Dec 2016 7:09 pm 

    Yup, things just keep getting better. If you count the sixth mass extinction as a positive.

  4. Apneaman on Wed, 28th Dec 2016 7:17 pm 

    Massive Hole in Siberia Worsening Due to Climate Change, Scientists Say

    “With the ominous nickname of the “gateway to the underworld,” a gargantuan crater growing in Siberia is growing rapidly due to climate change, according to researchers.

    The Batagaika crater has sunken to depths of nearly 400 feet and has been growing at a rate of more than 60 feet per year, according to Motherboard. Since its creation in the early 1990s, climate change has worsened and caused heat waves that melted layers of glacial ice.

    This melting caused the land underneath to collapse, creating the gaping depression.

    Scientists are calling the Batagaika crater a “megaslump,” which is an enormous void. When permafrost rapidly thaws, it creates rifts and causes “scar zones” that sink into the saturated land.”

  5. Apneaman on Wed, 28th Dec 2016 7:20 pm 

    “China’s total primary energy consumption is expected to have reached 4.36 billion tonnes of coal equivalent in 2016, up 1.4 percent compared to last year, the official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday, citing the country’s top energy official.”

  6. Hubert on Wed, 28th Dec 2016 7:43 pm 

    America has committed more genocide than even Nazi Germany. At least the Nazi’s had a purpose.

    And Steven Pinker is the even more stupider than George W. Bush (if that’s even possible).


    The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a 2011 book by Steven Pinker, in which he argues that violence in the world has declined both in the long run and in the short run and suggests explanations as to why this has occurred.[1] In a conversation with Richard Dawkins he states that in last four decades in the United States, the rate of rape has gone down by 80%. He admits that because of the vanishing communication gap, today, the number of reportings of violence has risen giving people an impression of rising rapes, abuses and other violent activities.

  7. Apneaman on Wed, 28th Dec 2016 7:56 pm 

    Here’s a piece from an African publication. Let’s see if they share the hopey white liberals outlook.

    The age of humanism is ending

    “There is no sign that 2017 will be much different from 2016.

    Under Israeli occupation for decades, Gaza will still be the biggest open prison on Earth.

    In the United States, the killing of black people at the hands of the police will proceed unabated and hundreds of thousands more will join those already housed in the prison-industrial complex that came on the heels of plantation slavery and Jim Crow laws.

    Europe will continue its slow descent into liberal authoritarianism or what cultural theorist Stuart Hall called authoritarian populism. Despite complex agreements reached at international forums, the ecological destruction of the Earth will continue and the war on terror will increasingly morph into a war of extermination between various forms of nihilism.

    Inequalities will keep growing worldwide. But far from fuelling a renewed cycle of class struggles, social conflicts will increasingly take the form of racism, ultra nationalism, sexism, ethnic and religious rivalries, xenophobia, homophobia and other deadly passions.

    The denigration of virtues such as care, compassion and kindness will go hand in hand with the belief, especially among the poor, that winning is all that matters and who wins — by whatever means necessary — is ultimately right.”

    Apparently they do not share the safe and protected, professional optimist white liberals views on a happy 2016 or the future. Maybe it has to do with the difference between writing about the 3rd world from inside the empires safeNwarm technological bubble and living in it?

  8. Apneaman on Wed, 28th Dec 2016 8:18 pm 

    Hubert, I got about a 1/4 the way through Pinker’s fantasy book and stopped. He’s done some good work in the past, but better angles is bunk. Wishful thinking by an Ivory tower liberal trying to project his wishes and worldview. I’ve read plenty of anthropology books and still do and his bullshit was obvious. I bet he had drawn his conclusion long before he did any research. Many of his peers and others have given harsh criticism to this flawed work.

    John Gray: Steven Pinker is wrong about violence and war

    A new orthodoxy, led by Pinker, holds that war and violence in the developed world are declining. The stats are misleading, argues Gray – and the idea of moral progress is wishful thinking and plain wrong

    Hubert, if you want a good read on humans check out “Straw Dogs” (2002) by John Gray. He tells it like it is with no sugar coating. Straw Dogs had plenty of critics too and mostly from the same liberal progress pushers who ate up Pinker’s fairy tale.

    Life is meaningless. And yet…
    Britain’s most sceptical thinker is caricatured as a misanthrope – but John Gray reveals his visionary nature in his provocative Straw Dogs

    13 fallacies of Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined”

    “It only took me half an hour to find significant criticism of Pinker’s work and write this up. If I had more time I could find a lot more. Hopefully this will spare you many days of wasted time reading this 832 page book.”

  9. Cloggie on Thu, 29th Dec 2016 9:43 am

    My favorite Canadian for 2016: although she works for the UN, she completely spills the beans on what really is happening in Syria and wipes the floor with an MSM professional liar, in this case from Norway.

  10. Apneaman on Thu, 29th Dec 2016 11:14 am 

    Global ‘Compost Bomb’ Slowly Detonates as Previously Frozen Soil ‘Breathes Out’ Greenhouse Gases

    “Soil respiration merges with the ongoing warming of the atmosphere in what scientists call a “climate feedback loop,” when separate physical processes combine to reinforce and drive each other.

    The amount of CO2 that soil respiration will add to the atmosphere—on top of what humans are directly adding—is significant. “Many feedback loops are already in play, and more are coming into being on a regular basis,” Jamail writes:”

  11. JuanP on Thu, 29th Dec 2016 12:53 pm 

    Ap, The process of soil respiration is very well understood by soil scientists. It is new to the article’s writer but not to scientists. The problem is global and not just restricted to the cold areas of the planet as the article implies. All land surfaces of the planet are warming and most contain large amounts of carbon with the exception of desserts and rocky and sandy soils in hot weather locations, but even places like Florida are experiencing increasing soil respiration and carbon decomposition. The hotter a place is the faster the carbon on the soil will get composted and since the whole planet is heating up we are experiencing increased soil composting activity everywhere in the world.

  12. penury on Thu, 29th Dec 2016 2:01 pm 

    The question “Was 2016 the best year ever?” If you asked anyone over 20 that question in the U.S. or EU the answer would be “of course not” However in another twenty years I fear that the answer will change to a resounding “yes” as people realize that each passing year is slightly less good than the year before. Older people can acknowledge the change as it occurs but for the younger it has always been this way and all they remember is “the good old days”

  13. Apneaman on Thu, 29th Dec 2016 6:53 pm 

    A summary (incomplete) of the unfolding horror show.

    Climate Change 2016: The Year the Future Arrived

    “Global warming didn’t really get started in a big way until the 1950s. Today, the warming rate is seven times greater than it was in the 1950s and the carbon emission rate is four times greater than in the ’50s.”

    “It’s also a very common misconception that some of the warming is natural. However, until about 100 years ago, our climate was cooling. The planet cooled about 5 degrees F in polar regions near Greenland (half or less globally) over the last 6,000 years. This research comes from mini-icecaps on Baffin Island where easily dateable rooted plants were revealed from melt. In the last 100 years, the temperature on Baffin has warmed about 7 degrees Fahrenheit; 2 degrees warmer than at any time in the last 120,000 years. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1950s.”

    – Extremes

    – Attempts at Climate Reform

    – Increasing Wildfires Across Western North

    – The Amazon Continues to Emit More Carbon
    Than it Absorbs

    – A Large Increase in Methane Emissions

    – Global Warming Psychology

    – NOAA Ice-Sheet Collapse Warning

    – Antarctic Ice Shelves Deteriorating Rapidly

    – Ocean Heat Content Doubles in Recent

    – First Tipping Point Timeline for Collapse of the WAIS

    – Dynamical Ice-Sheet Collapse Modeling Arrives

    – Larsen C Ice Shelf Collapsing

    – Alternatives and Renewable Energy

    – Stratospheric Geoengineering With Limestone, Not Sulfates

    – Sequestration Through Mineralization: Faster Than Previously Understood


  14. penury on Thu, 29th Dec 2016 8:07 pm 

    Apneaman I look forward every day to reading your posts. They convey what is available to be seen. However, today for some reason seeing the list just brings it home more forcibly guess I am having a “bad air day”

  15. Apneaman on Thu, 29th Dec 2016 8:24 pm 

    penury, thanks for saying. I was just reading one about how fucked up and comparatively chaotic things are in China (things we take for granted) and it reminded me that things could be worse.

    Chabuduo! Close enough …

    Your balcony fell off? Chabuduo. Vaccines are overheated? Chabuduo. How China became the land of disastrous corner-cutting

    “The deaths pile up: on construction sites where men dangle from tied-together lengths of old rope; from meat carried in unrefrigerated vans; from fires in badly wired apartments”

  16. Davy on Thu, 29th Dec 2016 9:02 pm 

    Another good article Ape. With declining affluence we are almost certain to see “almost” and “good enough” more often. We are going to have service and administrative work deteriorate along with manufacturing and construction . The days of surveys and taped phones for quality assurance meaningless. This is what happens when more is demanded of less and that is a surreal of a facade of absurdity. We are not there everywhere but everywhere it is there at some level like a growing tumor.

  17. Cloud9 on Thu, 29th Dec 2016 9:04 pm 

    Every morning we have to get up and go to work under the assumption that there will be a tomorrow. So far, our assumption has been correct. As we come up on 2017 it is customary to take pause and contemplate what the New Year will bring. The real truth is that none of us know what tomorrow brings. These guys are anticipating something rather horrific happening in the next eight years. If they are right, things fall off of a cliff in 2017.

  18. makati1 on Thu, 29th Dec 2016 9:39 pm 

    Interesting article you ref, Cloud9. I would put the likelihood of those numbers being correct for the timeline at about 80%. I would bet a month’s income that the crash will happen before 2025. I think, by 2020 is more accurate. We shall see.

  19. Davy on Fri, 30th Dec 2016 4:37 am 

    Cloud, take out the deagel bias and or specific agenda which points to an anti-American view of a decline and the numbers could happen. What you would need to do is take the US numbers and then apply the same factor of decline across the rest of the global world based upon what kind of event or process of events got the US number there. If it was a war then pick the other countries affected. If it was a pandemic or economic crisis the same would be true with different numbers. The problem with this deagel prediction is we don’t know what those numbers are. We don’t know why deagel did the prediction this way.

    If you are smart enough to understand the global system could not maintain population and consumption globally with that kind of collapsed in the US then you would know these numbers are focused on a biased agenda of sorts or just flimsy logic. Deagel appears to be an individual and the numbers random. The other idea might be something internal happened like a super volcano and it has yet to impact the rest of the world. The impact would happen within a few months to a year. The disruption from a collapsed US would be too far reaching without a status quo recovery. The same is true for the US from a Chinese or European collapse crisis. If stuff stops working in these TBTF vital nodes of globalism the drop in economic activity across the globe will impact a broad range of activities. Things stop and people quit producing but the need to eat and be sheltered doesn’t. There is 7BIL of us and the needs are incredible.

    This spreading contagion of collapse situation is why we all have to now worry about other too big to fail countries as much as our own. This is the unfortunate and inconvenient side of globalism. Maybe the current nationalistic trends will allow a slow break down of nationalism which will restore a resilience from the collapse of other vitally important nations to the global system. Unfortunately that in itself is a destructive process and will take years if it is even possible at all. I feel globalism has gone beyond the point of reform without collapse. Collapse is now baked into the cake. Collapse will be what rebalances man into a new economic and population model and those numbers are likely an order of magnitude lower.

  20. Cloggie on Fri, 30th Dec 2016 6:13 am 

    David Camoron mentioned as the next NATO chieftain:

    Why not? He showed his statesmanship by involuntarily maneuvering Britain out of the EU, so he seems to be the ideal person to maneuver Britain out of

  21. Cloud9 on Fri, 30th Dec 2016 6:26 am 

    Davy I agree with your summation. How can the U.S. die off drop the U.S. population to 62 million without a similar contraction occurring in Europe and Asia? My bet the other countries are linear projections based on the status quo with the detailed analysis being U.S. centric. I hope Deagel is wrong about this but if you look at the way the deep state has armed up, clearly they are anticipating something.

  22. makati1 on Fri, 30th Dec 2016 6:43 am 

    Cloud9, war, civil or other, is in the cards for the U$. It wants it. It needs it. It will have it. But, it will be the end of America in any recognizable form.

    Yes, when the U$ goes down, so will a lot of the rest of the world, but, most of the seven billion of us are already ‘down’, so the change will not be as difficult or noticeable. That there will be a huge die-off in the rest of the world is part of the U$ arrogance and the idea of it being an “indispensable” nation. Not fact. There will be some, but not as much as most Americans would like to believe.

    Fact is that the U$ needs the rest of the world more than the rest of the world needs the U$. In fact, most of the rest of the world would celebrate the U$ fall. Something Americans seem unable to face. Without the U$, the rest of the world could split the 25+% of the worlds wealth that the U$ consumes constantly. Without the U$, there could be world peace. Without the U$, the world could adjust to a lower level and manage. Think about those “facts”. Only the elite, who rely on the U$ for their wealth and power, would be concerned if the U$ fell. They have the most to lose. The already poor and disadvantaged (most of the seven billion) would hardly notice.

  23. peakyeast on Fri, 30th Dec 2016 9:02 am 

    When the adjustment comes what seems likely is that we are going to make a significant “undershoot”.

    An adjustment to exactly the carrying capacity is highly unlikely since the process will be uncontrolled from the start – since it will only happen involuntarily. Thus there is no system to keep check on status of dieoff.

  24. Apneaman on Fri, 30th Dec 2016 12:11 pm 

    In a Brutal Year in Venezuela, Even Crime Fighters Are Killers

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