Just the Facts

Those running for office this year will speak of the awful state of things and why we need a change. It is standard political fare the world over. And there may be some truth to what some of them say, and indeed, we might ought to elect some of them. But when we leave the election trail and search out the facts, we find that reality is not quite what we think, not quite what we are led to believe.


So, it was when I picked up this remarkable book and learned the facts about things.


Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.


Factfulness is a word coined by the author (Hans Rosling) to signal his laser focus on gathering data. He is a Swedish physician who has spent his life as a global health specialist. He died in 2017 just after launching, with his children, a non-profit center called the Gapminder Foundation. They are committed to gathering the data about the social and economic conditions of the world.


And the results will surprise, even shock you.


Tracking the date from 1800 to today—220 years—we learn that legal slavery has decreased dramatically (from 193 countries to three!), and only 4% of children die before their fifth birthday compared to 44% in 1880.


Since 1940 deaths from disaster have decreased from 971,000 per year to 72,000 per year, and deaths by plane crash have decreased from 2160 per billion passengers to 1 per billion passengers.


Since 1970, the share of people in the world undernourished has decreased from 28% to 11%, and we are living in one of the most peaceful periods in modern history with only one battle death per 100,000 population per year.


The decline in trauma and tragedy is only half the story; the other half is triumph and success.


For instance, the number of countries where women have won the right to vote has increased from one in 1893 to 193 in 2017; and the percentage of earth’s land surface protected as parks and reserves has increased from .03% in 1900 to 14.7% in 2016.


Since 1980, the percent of people with internet access has increased from 0% to 48%, and the percent of one-year-old children who received at least one immunization has gone from 22% to 88%. And over the last 25 years, the share of people with some access to electricity has gone from 72% to 85%, and the share of people with water from a protected source has gone from 58% to 88%.


These are remarkable achievements, to say the least; and there is page after page of these data-driven revelations.


Dr. Rosling created a brief quiz to test people’s perception about the world.


For instance: “In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has: doubled, remained the same, halved”? The answer? Almost halved!


Or this: Where does the majority of the world population live: in low-income countries, middle-income countries, or high-income countries? The answer? Middle income.


In fact, Rosling demonstrates that there is a dramatic correlation between income or wealth and almost all indicators of social health; and as the personal and family income around the world has slowly risen over the last three generations—since World War II—people the world over have gotten healthier, better educated, less threatened, and more secure.


The inside cover of the book features a fascinating graph that charts every country of the world as to health and wealth; and it demonstrates that as wealth increased, health (or life expectancy) also increased. In fact, there is a direct correlation between the two factors.


The worst countries for modern living, based on all these data-driven standards: Afghanistan, Somalia, and Congo; and the best: Singapore, Qatar, and Luxembourg. The United States is in the upper quadrant of income (with Poland, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia) but in the penultimate box of lifespan (trailing such as Japan, France, Ireland, and Slovenia).


Unfortunately, he does not discuss the sources of this dramatic if gradual increase in personal and national revenue, and that is the next focus on my reading. I will report on that through The Meetinghouse.


The bottom line? There is very much for which to be grateful and many people to thank for the global movement toward health, wealth, and safety. Thanks be to God.


Now, back to those politicians trying to paint a very different picture of the world!




January 2020

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