From the content of the news it is difficult not to conclude that things are getting progressively worse. But is our world actually falling apart as some politicians and media doomsayers tell us? Not if we concentrate on the real data, the facts.

Instead of things heading downhill we will find that our health, prosperity, safety, peace, happiness and overall quality of life are on a protracted upswing. And this unprecedented human progress is not just taking place in the developed western world but also in the undeveloped world as well.

People read about a small upstart conflict somewhere and immediately conclude that things are out of control all over. But the real facts show that the frequency and severity of violence has been heading steadily downward since 1946.

Even here at home the homicide rate has gone down almost by half since 1992. And the worldwide rates of disease, starvation, extreme poverty, illiteracy, revolutions, new dictatorships, oligarchies and autocracies have all dramatically decreased.

According to observers from all disciplines none of this progress is attributable to cosmic, magical or supernatural intervention. And there will always be contravening temporary setbacks like disease pandemics, wars and other events like the post-1960s U.S. crime wave.

And we are also faced with the fact that we can’t refreeze the polar ice cap. But we can retard the melting process and temper its severity.

The overall conclusion? Fewer and fewer people today living in a nightmare world of war, disease and starvation. The emerging long-term theme appears to be one of steady, inexorable human progress.

Continued progress toward a lasting world peace? Over recent decades preparations for war by major powers have markedly decreased. Military conscription, the relative size and strength of armed forces and the level of military spending as a percentage of GDP have all decreased since the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. More importantly, our thinking has changed regarding warfare as a legitimate means to settle international disputes.

How did this change in thinking come about?

War has long been condemned by theologians and philosophers, but pacifying forces were never actually organized and put to work. But today democracy and balanced, reciprocal international trade have proven to be more pacifying and mutually beneficial and have shown war to be less advantageous and appealing.

We are currently enjoying the longest period in human history without a war between major powers-76 years. While the statement that no two democracies have ever gone to war is a little suspect, in general democracies are less likely to confront each other militarily.

Most economists and sociologists agree that poverty and income inequality, although related, are not the same thing. The poorer half of the U.S. population is, relatively speaking, just as poor as it was in the past. But the total wealth today is so vastly greater than before, this segment is much better off materially than in the past. Their proportionate slice of the pie is the same, but the pie itself has grown infinitely larger. But there’s a downside to all his success.

Today we must accept the fact that the “Golden Age” of well-paying, dignified blue-collar jobs has been made obsolete by automation and globalization and is fast disappearing. But we must also realize that 25% of Americans were relatively poor in the mid-1950s when there were no food stamps, housing programs and a majority had no medical care coverage whatsoever.

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at

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