It’s par for the course this time of year. Journalists write lengthy but thin pieces reflecting on how terrible this year was and how next year will hopefully be better.
In the Washington Post today, even the ever-brilliant George F. Will falls into this trap, running through a laundry list of government abuse followed by this somber conclusion:
This list of 2015 ludicrousness could be lengthened indefinitely, but enough already. The common thread is the collapse of judgment in, and the infantilization of society by, government. Happier New Year.
Don’t get me wrong: every one of Will’s gripes about the government is 100 percent correct. But I can’t help thinking that my fellow political junkies should step back and get into the holiday season of optimism.
Too often, we miss the forest for the trees. Our daily news diet is filled with stories about tragedy, abuse, and failure, without a clear perception of larger trends. We so quickly forget that, in general, the world is getting safer, healthier, and freer.
Charles Kenny methodically breaks down the historical trend towards human progress in The Atlantic. On violence:
[D]espite its epidemic of mass-shooting events, the country is still far safer than it was in the past. The latest FBI statistics, reported this September, suggested that the trend toward lower rates of violent crime in the United States that began in the early 1990s continued at least through 2014: There were nearly 3,000 fewer violent crimes that year than the year before and more than 600,000 fewer than in 1995—that’s a 35 percent decline over the period. The latest data from the UN suggests that this is part of a global trend—to take one category of violent crime, homicide rates have dropped by an estimated 6 percent in the countries for which data was available between 2000 and 2012.
Famine deaths are increasingly rare and increasingly limited to the few areas of the world suffering complete state collapse. Related to that, the proportion of the world’s population that is undernourished has slipped from 19 percent to 11 percent between 1990 and today… Meanwhile, the UN reported this year that global child mortality from all causes has more than halved since 1990. That means 6.7 million fewer kids under the age of five are dying each year compared to 1990.
While 2015 saw rights on the retreat in countries including Turkey and Thailand, the number of electoral democracies worldwide remains at a historic high according to Freedom House—at 125, up from just 69 countries in 1989 (though less than half of these are considered fully “free;” there is still a lot of progress to be made). This year, there were peaceful and democratic transitions of power in settings as diverse as Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Myanmar, and Argentina. And Saudi Arabia held local elections where, for the first time ever, women were allowed to stand as candidates and vote.
Don’t get me wrong: the world has a lot of room for improvement and Will documents this well. However, 2015 was without question “the best year in human history for the average human being,” as Kenny puts it in the title of his piece, and 2016 will almost certainly be even better.