Ten Global Trends by Marian Tupy and Ronald Bailey is a collection of graphs with short commentaries on each. The world is getting better, not worse, is the basic premise. We are more efficient at using natural resources than ever, we are richer than ever, and the birth rate is dropping fast enough that we will likely never reach ten billion. Democracy is on the rise, wars are smaller and fewer, and the internet is educating billions. Tree cover is increasing globally and only in South America is it decreasing. While property damage from natural disasters are increasing (largely because of where people are choosing to build), deaths from natural disasters are down. While the total number of people living in slums has increased (due to increased urbanization), the percentage of city dwellers in slums has dropped. Literacy and communications technology are on the rise. The average workplace is sixty times safer than it was in 1910. Every doom-and-gloom prediction of last century has failed to pass.
The book was basically good, but slightly disappointing. Not all the graphs were explained well. Deaths from cancer are down, but is this because it is being diagnosed sooner, meaning people are living longer with it known to be there? This was never explained. Are less people dying in general? Are they living longer? What is killing people if not cancer? I had heard that heart attacks and strokes used to kill a lot of people in their 50s and 60s, but because of medical intervention such as defibrillation, more people are living long enough to get cancer, making it the new number one killer, meaning the rate was up. Is this true? The data lacks context.
Some graphs covered too short a time period to extract a meaningful trend. For example, the number of smokers went from 25% to 20% during the period 1980-2020. Death by homicide went from 6.5 per 100,000 to 5.1 per 100,000 during the period 1990-2015 – although there was a big jump in the middle to 7.5. Child labor is down twenty percent since 2000.
Some trends claimed as good were questionable, such as increased urbanization and decreased trade protectionism. While much good is associated with both, so is much bad and the jury is still out on whether good or bad dominates. Also, while I believe increased internet use is generally a force for good, it also increases risks of dependency and privacy violations. These things are very complicated.
Some trends are framed in such a way to sound better than they are. For example, while military expenditures are up, as a fraction of GDP they are actually down. A better way of saying this is that most countries are finally rich enough to spend money on something other than the military. That doesn’t mean we aren’t still on the brink of world war.
I was also surprised to see that economic inequality was decreasing globally. I had always heard it was increasing. I never saw this as a very big problem so long as the poor were steadily getting richer too (which they are), but I had thought it was agreed by everyone to be increasing. It’s even part of the extended Kuznets curve. The graph was poorly explained, so I can only guess that there is a stronger income clustering of most people (2000-2010) even while the tiny number of super rich have become proportionally richer. Is this true?
Overall, the book does provide some food for thought and helps counter the claims of the alarmists, especially when it comes to things such as resource depletion. On balance, the world is doing quite well.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.