☯️ Bad and better – at the same time

☯️ Bad and better – at the same time

For the first time, fewer than five million children are dying per year. Fantastic! But... nearly five million dead children, terrible! Hans Rosling taught us that something can be bad and get better at the same time.

Mathias Sundin
Mathias Sundin

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In the monthly summary for March, I wrote about how, for the first time, fewer than five million children are dying per year. Amazing news, which is hard to rejoice over. Because I can't get past the fact that nearly five million children die every year. Five million!

It's an inconceivably high number. My brain ignores the fact that the number of dead children has halved during the 21st century.

This is often the case with positive news. They contain something deeply tragic. Humanity's greatest success story, the reduction of extreme poverty, is one such story.

About 700 million people live on less than $2.15 a day, the threshold for extreme poverty. 700 million people! An inconceivably large number of people who struggle every day.

But the number has decreased from about 1600 million 20 years ago and over 1900 million 30 years ago. Even as a proportion, the reduction is dramatic. From just over 34 percent 30 years ago, to 24 percent 20 years ago, to about 9 percent now. Thirty years ago, one in three people lived in extreme poverty, now it's fewer than one in ten.

And then you stop again. Nearly one in ten people live in extreme poverty.

The world is bad and better

Wikimedia Commons

As so often, we must turn to Hans Rosling for advice on how to handle this. In Factfulness, he wrote:

"Think of the world as a premature baby in an incubator. The baby’s health status is extremely bad and her breathing, heart rate, and other important signs are tracked constantly so that changes for better or worse can quickly be seen. After a week, she is getting a lot better. On all the main measures, she is improving, but she still has to stay in the incubator because her health is still critical. Does it make sense to say that the infant’s situation is improving? Yes. Absolutely. Does it make sense to say it is bad? Yes, absolutely."

He describes the situation as both.

"It’s both bad and better. Better, and bad, at the same time. That is how we must think about the current state of the world."

Mathias Sundin
The Angry Optimist