The Good Old Days are Now!

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg

Writer:  Steph Vermeulen – brain-based EQ facilitator and author of Personal Intelligence: Future Fit Now (EQ + IQ)

The book Progress celebrates our triumphs.  Stop and notice the science, technology and wealth surrounding us – it’s testimony to the store of humanity’s knowledge amassed from the efforts of generations of people like you and me trying to improve our and our family’s lives.  By doing so, we have made the world a better place.

  1. FOOD  Historically human settlements have been plagued by famine.  200 years ago, 20% of Europeans were so underfed they couldn’t work and until the 1950s, 50% of the world’s population were chronically malnourished.  Artificial fertilizer changed this.  In the past 50 years population has more than tripled but chronic malnutrition has declined to 13%.  Outside of war-torn areas, famine has all but disappeared.
  1. SANITATION  In the late 1800s cities were piled high with human and animal excrement (shite).  Over the past 25 years, nearly a third of the world’s population gained proper sanitation – some 2.1 billion people – and 427 million more African people gained access to clean water. Rural Africans still spend forty billion hours per annum fetching water; time that could be spent on work or leisure.  Access to potable water gives people more freedom and – by reducing the risk of waterborne disease – it also increases life expectancy.
  1. LIFE EXPECTANCYFor 8000 generations, we Homo Sapiens lived for about 20 – 30 years.  Mostly, infectious disease killed us.  Until the 1900s large towns regularly suffered from the plague.  With sanitary improvements, increases in farm production and evidence-based medicine replacing prayer and bloodletting, life expectancy has increased to 71 years in a mere 4 generations.  Largely, this is due to defeating the final scourge, poverty.
  1. POVERTY GDP per capita grew by only 50% between 1 AD/CE and 1820 when 94% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty.  By 2015 this reduced to 12%.  First Ascent from poverty was in the Western world and the Second in Asia.  Poverty is material and psychological due to the humiliating prejudice meted out by the rich.  Since 2000, Africa has shown a steady 5% growth annually and – in this writer’s view – the Third Ascent has begun on this continent.  For the first time, extreme poverty is no longer the norm.
  1. VIOLENCEUntil the early 1900s, average annual rate of violent deaths was 524 per 100 000.  Even with 20th century wars, genocide and purges, it has reduced to 60 per 100 000.  Pacification is attributable to increasing wealth, health and smaller families which make us value life more.   Terrorism seems an ever-present threat but, over the past 20 years, more Westerners have drowned in their bathtubs than have died from terrorism.
  1. ENVIRONMENTThe green movement is making an impact on emissions and pollutants.  Deforestation has stopped in wealthy countries and from 2005, it declined in Brazil by 70%.  Forest cover in China is growing by more than 2 million hectares per year.  Since 2000, oil spills have reduced from 24 to 3 spills per year and wildlife protected areas now cover a land mass twice the size of the USA.  Emissions from fossil fuels still pose a threat which reduces once people are uplifted from poverty.
  1. LITERACY200 years ago, it is estimated that 12% of the world’s population could read and write. Today it is about 70%.  Girls – universally the most discriminated against – have benefited and in many countries female participation is approaching that of their male counterparts.
  1. FREEDOM Tragically some 35 million people still live in modern slavery – forced labour, trafficking and forced marriages.  Democracy is the most important development in emancipation.  Presently 64% of the world’s population live in free or partially free countries.  In two decades, more progress has been made than in the past two millennia.
  1. EQUALITYBigotry remains against women, gay people and ethnic and religious minorities.  While too many still face prejudice, hostility and hate crimes daily, most governments are now protecting equality rather than sheltering bigots.  The next generation will be surrounded by more tolerance than ever before.
  1. NEXT GENERATIONSurvival demanded that everyone contributed and child labour was a form of education.  In 2012, there were 168 million child labourers down from 245 million in 2000.  For most youngsters, childhood conditions are now a world away from our ancestors of 200 years ago.  The biggest difference is psychological and intellectual.


Wellbeing surveys show happiness has risen since the 1980s.  While the world is better than portrayed by the doom-and-gloom narrative there are still dictators, nationalists and ‘strongman’ leaders (Orange) who seem determined to dismantle the freedoms gained.  So, for progress to continue, you and I will need to stand firm as fellow torch bearers.

Invite Steph Vermeulen to inject a shot of research-based inspiration into your conference or contract with her for a mind-shifting seminar that will uplift your teams from the apathy so prevalent today.  In meaningful and practical ways, Steph prepares people psychologically to welcome change and – in the process – makes everyone smarter and more functional.

Contact: / +27 11 486-1211