Is the world getting better or worse? Is the human race getting better or worse?

Your answer probably depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, but 21 of the world’s top economists have tried to provide an objective answer by measuring and forecasting 10 areas (e.g. health, education, air pollution, etc.) over a 150 year period (1900-2050). Their conclusion?

Neither the pessimists nor the optimists are entirely right. But the optimists definitely win on points—most indicators are going in the right direction…That’s not to underplay the serious issues still confronting much of the world, especially in developing nations. But overall, we can stop panicking. Things are generally getting better.

Some highlights from their findings:

Air pollution
The biggest environmental problem in the world is not climate change; it’s indoor air pollution (caused mainly by indoor cooking in developing world). All told, the effects from indoor air pollution killed almost twice as many people—260 million—than all the 20th century’s wars combined, and four times as many as outdoor air pollution.

Armed Conflict
On average, 20th-century military conflict cost about 5 percent of GDP per year. Today, the cost of conflict has fallen to about 1.7 percent and most experts expect it to remain that way.

Climate Change
One of the more startling findings is that climate change is expected to have a net positive benefit through 2050….However, after the year 2070, as temperatures rise, global warming will become a net cost to the world, justifying cost-effective climate action now and in the decades to come.

Today, 20 percent of the world population is still illiterate. Yet in 1900 that number was perhaps closer to 70 percent. By 2050, it is estimated global illiteracy will fall to only 12 percent.

Pakistan and South Korea started with about the same level of education and income in 1950. Today, Koreans have an average of 12 years of education, whereas Pakistanis have not yet reached an average of six years. Korea’s per-capita income has grown 23-fold versus Pakistan’s three-fold growth.

Human Health
In 1900, the average person lived 32 years; today it’s 69 years, and by 2050 it will be 76. Advances are so rapid that for every month you live, medical science adds a week to your life expectancy.

There are a number of other indices but I’ll let you read them for yourself and instead conclude with a few comments.

First, let’s thank and praise God for His common grace. There are clear signs of progress and improvement in many areas of the world – better health, raised life expectancy, improved education, less war, etc. This is not chance but providence, and therefore praiseworthy: “The Lord is good to all, And His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9).

Second, these economists remind us to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes we can get caught up in the multiple problems of our own family, church, or nation, and fail to see what God is doing in the wider world. Or, if things are going well for us, and we’re tempted to self-confident complacency, these stats remind us of the struggles of billions of people around the world.

Third, notice how different man’s report card is to God’s. God is not disinterested in economics; He is concerned about the environment, education, etc. But His criteria are primarily moral and spiritual: “God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God” (Psalm 53:2; 14:2). He measures what has eternal impact and consequence.

Fourth, the self-confidence of the researchers is quite astonishing. “Overall, we can stop panicking. Things are generally getting better.” They’re confident about their analyses of causes and effects in the past. And they’re confident about their predictions for the future. War will only cost 1.7% of GDP, average life expectancy will rise, global illiteracy will fall.

All by 2050!

Even though none of us can be sure the world will exist tomorrow!

There’s absolutely no sense of possible divine intervention to upset their figures and predictions. “If the Lord wills” or “If the Lord tarries” is totally absent. As Jesus himself predicted:

For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be….Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:38-39, 44).

Then humanity’s report card will be irrelevant and the only one that matters will be the one in God’s files with your name upon it. Unless, of course, you’ve asked God to rip yours up and substitute it with Jesus Christ’s. There’s nothing more world-changing and eternity-changing than that.

  • Chris

    Thinking about moving from amill to postmill :)