NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The World Is Better Off Today Than People Realize

January 23, 2014

Journalists' bias in favor of bad news has masked improvements across the globe, says Bjørn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

Today's news is so focused on revealing problems and despair that polls routinely indicate that while many Americans may see their own lives as better today than yesterday, more think that the U.S. economy is worse off. Lomborn attributes this puzzling result to journalistic bias in favor of bad news.

In fact, indicators across the globe show that the world is improving:

  • The amount of extremely poor people has been cut in half over the last three decades, down to only 17 percent of the global population in 2010, compared to 42 percent of the population in 1981.
  • The rate of extreme poverty has never been lower. In fact, economists believe that more than 80 percent of all people were extremely poor in 1820.
  • Illiteracy is down from 70 percent in 1900 to only 20 percent today. Economists who have attempted to measure the economic cost of illiteracy have found that the cost has dropped down to only 7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), compared to 12 percent of world GDP in 1900.

Poverty and illiteracy are undoubtedly important, and more can be done to lower those rates. But while the news media focuses on the bad, it is important to realize that the world is much better off today than many realize.

Source: Bjørn Lomborg, "The Realism of Global Optimism," Project Syndicate, January 16, 2014.


Browse more articles on Economic Issues