The Tao of Innovation

Insights for the modern business samurai

2012, The Greatest Year of All Time for Humanity

Hard to believe, but 2012 was the greatest year of all time for the human race!

After Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook tragedy, you may not be feeling it... but 2012 was the greatest year of all time for humanity. You read that right. Yes, the western world remains in the economic doldrums and biting our nails over a fiscal cliffhanger, but the developing world has been lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. What's more... the death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also at an all time low. There has never been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. It's true, we are now living in a golden age.

Consider global poverty. In 1990, the UN announced Millennium Development Goals, the first goal was to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015. And Bob's your uncle, the target was met in 2008. Yes, even as food prices rose and the world slipped into an economic crisis during 2008, the population living in extreme poverty, which is defined as less than $1.25 a day, was declining in every region of the world. Since then, the long-term rate of poverty reduction has continued.

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The decreased poverty rate in China was the prime contributor to the overall lower rate; since the early 1980s, China’s economic growth has taken 660 million people off the poverty rolls. So all that worthless junk that Americans buy—made in China, and all the customer service calls we made to Hyperabad—answered by grateful Indian operators, really helped to make poverty history. But for the media, the achievement did not merit even an announcement.

Wait, there's more. Naysayers will demand that we cannot sustain worldwide economic growth without ruining our environment. But while the rich world’s economies grew by 6 percent over the last seven years, fossil fuel consumption in those countries fell by 4 percent. This remarkable and unreported achievement has nothing to do with green taxes or wind farms. Consumption is down to consumer demand for more efficient cars and factories.

And what about the concerns that the oil would run out? As it turns out, engineers in America have found new ways of mining fossil fuel. The amazing breakthroughs in ‘fracking’ technology mean that, in spite of the world’s escalating population—from one billion to seven billion over the last two centuries—we still live in an age of energy abundance.

And global inequality? This too is lower now than any point in modern times. Globalization means the world’s not just getting richer, but fairer too.

Furthermore, advances in medicine and technology are helping people across the world live longer and with greater quality of life. The average life expectancy in Africa reached 55 this year. Ten years ago, it was 50. The number of people dying from AIDS has been in decline for the last eight years. Deaths from malaria have fallen by a fifth in less than half a decade.

Now let's talk about war, which has historically been humanity’s biggest cause of destruction and mortality. But in most of the world today, a generation is growing up that has not been touched by the spectre of warfare. The Peace Research Institute in Oslo says there have been fewer war deaths in the last decade than any time in the last century! For some reason, mankind seems no longer to be its own worst enemy. But for now, the planet is enjoying a little peace and quiet.

Finally, if all of this isn't enough for you, here are six more pieces of good news:

  • The global rate of new HIV infections has declined by 25 percent since 2001, and new treatment approaches have seriously improved chances for surviving the disease and reducing the chances of transmitting it at birth
  • The Antarctic ozone hole is shrinking
  • Traffic fatalities are actually at the lowest they've been since 1949
  • Teen pregnancy is at an all time low—and nobody knows why
  • People are getting happier as they age, according to a nationwide survey involving over 340,000 people between the ages of 18 and 85.
  • Life expectancy is increasing as well as the quality of life overall

Fifty years ago, the world was seriously contemplating nuclear annihilation, as the Cuban missile crisis loomed. But today, humanity is approaching some sort of tacit but foundational turning point. If we open our collective eyes, we can see that something amazing and wonderful is happening. Things are getting better.

Moses Ma, a partner at Next Gen Ventures, is co-author of the forthcoming book Agile Innovation.

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