11 Reasons to Be Optimistic in 2014
December 30, 2013 12:07 PM   Subscribe

It's not all bad news. People are living longer, we're winning the fight against malaria, worldwide poverty is down, and eight more reasons for hope in the coming year.
posted by gottabefunky (127 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
If we don't get those 20th century diseases out of the way pretty soon, we're going to be doubled up when we discover the 21st century diseases.
posted by michaelh at 12:09 PM on December 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Good news, everyone!
posted by IvoShandor at 12:12 PM on December 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


Impossible. Everyone knows that everything is horrible compared to How Things Used To Be When I Was Young.

Everyone. Everything. Horrible.
posted by aramaic at 12:13 PM on December 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


If we don't get those 20th century diseases out of the way pretty soon, we're going to be doubled up when we discover the 21st century diseases.

Does Buzzfeed count?
posted by duffell at 12:13 PM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


They left out the S&P 500.
posted by bukvich at 12:14 PM on December 30, 2013


This is good news. This is all reason for hope.

All of this progress is threatened by climate change. It's our duty as citizens to make sure our elected representatives don't forget this, because very wealthy entrenched interests everywhere would dearly like this to happen. It's not too late to keep these gains and more, and ensure they are shared more equitably in the future, but not if we delay in decarbonizing the global economy.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:14 PM on December 30, 2013 [19 favorites]


One question I have, relating to people living longer - is this truly additional "living" or additional "not dying?"

It seems to me, at least in Canada, with hospitals full of patients receiving long-term care because the long-term care facilities are full, people's ages are certainly increasing. To necessarily equate this with a good thing neglects a couple of things - specifically, the increasing cost of care per year as people age, and what one might do otherwise with that money (poverty reduction, environmental improvement, etc.)

I see the statistic on how Switzerland increased its life expectancy from 78 to 83 over the last 21 years. Are there a whole new crop of healthy 80-year-olds out there? Are people's 70's getting better? Is the opportunity cost of the way we're increasing people's lives maximizing people's quality of lives overall too?
posted by rutabega at 12:16 PM on December 30, 2013 [19 favorites]


Guinea Worm, a water-borne disease, is down 49% since 2011. We don't have final numbers yet for 2013, but there have only been 144 cases tallied so far in 2013. Back in 1986, 3.5 million people were infected. This is an incredible drop, and means 2014 could be the year we eradicate Guinea Worm.

That really is incredible. I had no idea we'd made that much progress.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:16 PM on December 30, 2013 [31 favorites]


Rutabega, Ithe largest gains worldwide in life expectancy are related to reductions in infant and child mortality, as well as control of communicable diseases like the ones mentioned in the listicle.

My understanding is that the type of care you are thinking of in developed countries has contributed relatively little to these improvements on a global aggregate basis.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:19 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


In partnership with: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

So I guess rethinking the value and morality of a globalized plutocracy is still off the table in the coming year.

It's bad enough that Mental Floss is allowing their site to drive NGO spam ads masquerading as content. Why are we reblogging it here?
posted by R. Schlock at 12:20 PM on December 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I had no idea about Ethiopia. That's fantastic news.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:23 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Climate change wiped out my potential for optimism long ago, thanks. Right now the best I can hope for is that I am not overwhelmed by existential dread before the mass die-offs start.
posted by banal evil at 12:25 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


My understanding is that the type of care you are thinking of in developed countries has contributed relatively little to these improvements on a global aggregate basis.

Oh for sure - I'm questioning developed nations that are also gaining. Switzerland's infant mortality rates are down at least since 2000, but does that account for most of the five-year jump in their life expectancy?
posted by rutabega at 12:25 PM on December 30, 2013


R. Schlock, agreed—what are we, Neatorama?
posted by infinitewindow at 12:26 PM on December 30, 2013


It's bad enough that Mental Floss is allowing their site to drive NGO spam ads masquerading as content. Why are we reblogging it here?

Yes, god forbid I should find out from the Carter Center that Guinea Worm disease is on its way to being eradicated. Because Bill Gates's money touched it, it must be eeeeevil.
posted by feckless at 12:28 PM on December 30, 2013 [62 favorites]


So I guess rethinking the value and morality of a globalized plutocracy is still off the table in the coming year.

It's bad enough that Mental Floss is allowing their site to drive NGO spam ads masquerading as content. Why are we reblogging it here?


Bitch. Moan. Complain. Agitate. Demonstrate. I am totally down with that.

But, in the meantime, always take what you can get and celebrate every victory, however small.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:31 PM on December 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


Because Bill Gates's money touched it, it must be eeeeevil.

Yeah. I didn't say that. I'm just pointing out that a corporate entity with a clear interest in social engineering is using their deep pockets to shape public perception of the social agenda for the coming year. In doing so, they're glossing over other trends that are out of step with their particular political interests and those of their technocrat founder (NSA wiretapping, declining support for the humanities, wealth consolidation, secret global trade deals, etc etc).

So maybe we want to think about whether we want to echo and amplify that agenda here on MetaFilter.
posted by R. Schlock at 12:34 PM on December 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


You're like a step and a half away from yelling at kids with lemonade stands, you realize.
posted by Etrigan at 12:36 PM on December 30, 2013 [37 favorites]


Since the Millennium Development Goals were announced in 2000, over 600 million people have been pulled out of extreme poverty.

Surely the article's not suggesting a causal relationship here.
posted by duffell at 12:37 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Surely the article's not suggesting a causal relationship here.

Shhh.

Drink your lemonade.
posted by R. Schlock at 12:38 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


In a dirty puddle somewhere in Africa, there's a Guinea Worm Foundation sending out some very bad news, but most of the Guinea Worms still won't believe it because it's funded by Big Guinea Worm.
posted by Curious Artificer at 12:40 PM on December 30, 2013 [49 favorites]


Shhh. Drink your lemonade.

...oh my god OH MY GOD THIS LEMONADE CURED MY POLIO
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:41 PM on December 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm happy to echo and amplify efforts -- especially successful efforts -- to eradicate diseases, hunger, and poverty regardless of who's paying.

I'm also happy to criticize what else they do with their money. The two are not contradictory.

I also don't like the assumption that when people with whom we disagree politically do good things, they can only do it to make themselves look good. I mean, I'm actually fine with that too, if it results in good things being done, but I don't think it's too pollyanna-ish of me to think that, in addition to having some odious beliefs in other areas, some rich dudes really would like to use their money to help make the world better. People are complicated.
posted by feckless at 12:43 PM on December 30, 2013 [17 favorites]


Shhh. Drink your lemonade.

You know what they say: When Bill gives you lemonade, make lemons, because fuck Bill.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:44 PM on December 30, 2013 [27 favorites]


R. Schlock, are you saying that because of stories like this the NSA scandal and Benghazi (for two examples) get no coverage? Or are you saying that no positive developments should be covered so long as negative news stories are going on?

If it bleeds, it leads. It's not easy to get the news media to cover a positive story if it's not sponsored.
posted by rednikki at 12:52 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not sure if Bill Gates or Americans are responsible for all of the improvements listed in the article.

Anyway, my only contribution to this conversation is from an un-American, and one of the last century's greatest Canadians:

Courage, my friends; 'tis not too late to build a better world.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:55 PM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Man, how much of an asshole does someone have to be before you won't spend their money to eliminate malaria?
posted by KathrynT at 12:56 PM on December 30, 2013 [67 favorites]


i feel like there could be other things that are improving:

Here's one. US gas consumption seems to be dropping:

n 2012, about 133 billion gallons1 (or 3.18 billion barrels) of gasoline where consumed2 in the United States, a daily average of about 365.65 million gallons (or 8.71 million barrels). This was about 6% less than the record high of about 142.35 billion gallons (or 3.39 billion barrels) consumed in 2007.

Maybe better fuel efficiency or maybe less driving. Or maybe 2013 will spike.

No. Being positive about this one!
posted by Colonel Panic at 12:57 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Man, how much of an asshole does someone have to be before you won't spend their money to eliminate malaria?

But Windows ME, though...
posted by empath at 12:59 PM on December 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Positivity is the lemonade of the masses.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:00 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I believe much of Bill Gates's wealth derived from unethical and anti-competitive behavior that would have been stopped if enforcement of anti-trust laws had not been abandoned; I detest the neoliberal globalization project that puts capital before people and the environment; I am skeptical of the philanthropy of the global elites when used to justify the inequality, destruction and oppression of the status quo; I believe that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have decided to spend their wealth on laudable and effective efforts to improve the welfare of some of the world's most vulnerable people. I don't think there are any inherent contradictions in the above statements.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:00 PM on December 30, 2013 [35 favorites]


Ok, empath just reminded me of Windows ME. I retract my above statement.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:02 PM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think there are any inherent contradictions in the above statements.

I don't think there's anyone who will argue any of those (at least, not here). However, the response to "Look, polio rates are way down!" doesn't have to be "Yeah, but it's Bill Gates, who made all his money from unethical bullshit." Sometimes, you can just let good news kinda drift by, y'know?
posted by Etrigan at 1:03 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


In doing so, they're glossing over other trends that are out of step with their particular political interests and those of their technocrat founder (NSA wiretapping, declining support for the humanities, wealth consolidation, secret global trade deals, etc etc).

Ah yes, because I've not seen anything about those subjects at all, on Metafilter or elsewhere on the Internet. Whereas this Guinea Worm thing - on every network, right? Christ. If this is the best the "technocrats" you're shitting yourself over can do to shape the discussion, they might as well just throw in the towel.
posted by AdamCSnider at 1:03 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


All to the good, indeed, yet we have resistant strains of TB, mega-resistant strains of bacteria, and rapid mutating viruses. This, along with large cities and poor health infrastructures, as well as world wide travel, make us ripe for a global pandemic. The food situation looks better, but what happens if--actually more a matter of when--the growing seasons change for the worse and the oceans cease to yield as much due to climate change?

Not sure if Bill Gates or Americans are responsible for all of the improvements listed in the article.


Sure we are. We rule the world, don't we?
posted by BlueHorse at 1:04 PM on December 30, 2013


I have encountered people who believe that Bill Gates, rather than a shrewd and aggressive businessman who has chosen to make the best and most selfless use of his vast wealth, is the linchpin of a global eugenics conspiracy. It's an Alex Jones thing.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:07 PM on December 30, 2013


Miley Cyrus Eradicates Guinea Worm Live on VMA Stage: VIDEO
posted by theodolite at 1:07 PM on December 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


We're also consuming less electricity per household in the US--but we're still increasing greenhouse emissions overall despite the improvement, which again gives lie to the efficacy of the consumer choice/individual responsibility approach to solving global warming. At the individual level, we seem to be making some progress. But the structural issues remain.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:07 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


If it bleeds, it leads. It's not easy to get the news media to cover a positive story if it's not sponsored.

Never understood that mindset. News is our daily To-do list of stuff that needs tending, fixing or otherwise is deviating from the functional. Just take stuff off the list when it is addressed so if anything new needs maintenance and repair, it has a chance to be seen.

Everything else is not news, just self-serving advertising. If you need applause or have a compulsion to be a fanboy/fangirl, go to the theatre and find the appropriate place to seat yourself while the rest who don't have time to stroke egos can get right down to business. Really, things actually working is reward enough...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:09 PM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


[Comment nixed. Seriously, cut it out.]
posted by cortex at 1:14 PM on December 30, 2013


We're also consuming less electricity per household in the US--but we're still increasing greenhouse emissions overall despite the improvement, which again gives lie to the efficacy of the consumer choice/individual responsibility approach to solving global warming.

I support a carbon tax as it happens, but total US greenhouse gas emissions are, I believe, falling, albeit slowly.
posted by dsfan at 1:15 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where is the study that proves that all of these improvements in health, wealth, and longevity are NOT due to climate change? Contrary to the pessimists, I am expecting wonderful things from the warmer planet!
posted by three blind mice at 1:20 PM on December 30, 2013


This just in: it is all bad news. We regret the error.
posted by The Whelk at 1:22 PM on December 30, 2013 [21 favorites]


Here's a thoughtful alternative to cheap astroturfed optimism. Bernie Sanders discussing the progressive agenda for 2014.
posted by R. Schlock at 1:25 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am skeptical of the philanthropy of the global elites when used to justify the inequality, destruction and oppression of the status quo;

The problem with your argument is that it is incorrect. People are living longer than ever before, mostly because of lowered infant mortality. People are living better lives. People are learning to read.

I think the problem Americans have with globalisation is that there are now more educated people all over the world who can do the same things an American worker could do just 10 or 15 years ago. It's as though Americans are pining for the good old days of neocolonialism, where they could sell products and culture and also war to the uneducated masses of the world.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:25 PM on December 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


That settles it! I'm going to go full-hedonism until 2013 is over just to really push this year over-the-top. Weird sex parties, drinking and drugs at work tomorrow, and even maybe not using a turn signal!

Unless Mrs. Glaucon sees this post first and asks me not to.
posted by glaucon at 1:26 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I support a carbon tax as it happens, but total US greenhouse gas emissions are, I believe, falling, albeit slowly.

Because so much of US industry relies on outsourcing, looking at the US greenhouse gas emissions in isolation could be a misleading metric. If we're just relocating or shifting the greenhouse gas burden to other manufacturing centers with new, more greenhouse gas producing production methods, we aren't making any real progress. Given the globalized nature of trade, looking at emissions levels physically located in the US alone as an indicator of overall progress isn't very useful, and it's really only the overall progress that matters.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:26 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


KathrynT: Man, how much of an asshole does someone have to be before you won't spend their money to eliminate malaria?

I seriously considered registering sock puppet accounts just so I could like this comment more than once. Seriously considered.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:26 PM on December 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:27 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


2013 Global Carbon Emissions to Reach Record Level

The US decreased by 3.7%, partially because of the weak economy and partially because of natural gas (frack baby frack).

China and India's increases more than make up for it though.
posted by Foosnark at 1:28 PM on December 30, 2013


That's exactly where my mind went, charlie don't surf.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:29 PM on December 30, 2013


Never understood that mindset. News is our daily To-do list of stuff that needs tending, fixing or otherwise is deviating from the functional.

No, news is our daily dose of whatever the owners of the newspaper/internet site/TV or radio station determines to be the best fit for their own narrative about what needs fixing. Seeing the news as a to-do list is to buy into that narrative.

Bad news has a psychological toll on the recipient. It drains us, overwhelms us with a feeling of futility. We need to hear positive stories. However fucked things are, you have to be an optimist. Pessimism never changed anything for the better.
posted by pipeski at 1:33 PM on December 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


The US decreased by 3.7%, partially because of the weak economy and partially because of natural gas (frack baby frack).

Please quantify "partially."

(Zero's a percent!)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:33 PM on December 30, 2013


expletive deleted--the real problem with you post re: no inherent contradictions is that there are 5 or more "I believe/think/detest"--so there are no inherent contradictions as there are no real facts or data. Opinions and I "believes" can usually be interpreted to avoid inherent conflicts. BTW--I happen to think most of your statements are inherently incorrect but that is because I do not share your beliefs/thoughts or detestation.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:42 PM on December 30, 2013


DOOM DOOM DOOM SUNSHINE DOOM DOOM DOOM !!!!!
posted by blue_beetle at 1:53 PM on December 30, 2013


That sunshine is going to kill us, too.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:55 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


DOOM DOOM DOOM SUNSHINE DOOM DOOM DOOM !!!!!
posted by blue_beetle at 1:56 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I find it beautiful that the explicitly optimistic post is also the most combative post of the day. I love all of you, you cranky fuckers.
posted by Think_Long at 1:57 PM on December 30, 2013 [27 favorites]


Good news? Flagged as being inappropriate for metafilter.

Now go post some videos about cute animals, or something making fun of hipsters and don't do it again.
posted by happyroach at 1:58 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whatever $40 million dollars to eradicate Guinea Worm disease (coming from BillG and the United Arab Emirates, among others) is, it is not "cheap astroturfed optimism".

Which part of this situation are you really criticizing?

1. Rich people (and countries) donate lots of money to a genuinely good cause. We don't know their hearts, but we can guess that there's some normal human (or political) mix of goodwill and wanting to look good.

2. A NGO (like the Carter Center) spends the money, apparently to good effect, and puts out press releases about it, including the source of the money.

3. One of the funders (Gates Foundation) pitches stories about the good work they're doing to a variety of publications in a variety of forms, and one of these ends up in a Mentalfloss listicle.

4. We talk about it on Metafilter. The discussion includes both happiness about the effectiveness of the specific campaign, and skepticism about the other things the funders do in life.

Which step would you want to NOT happen?
posted by feckless at 2:01 PM on December 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm pretty optimistic, if only because the people who have been predicting that THIS is the year we are TRULY FUCKED have been wrong going back several thousand years. We'll muddle through. We always do.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:06 PM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Irks the most that it is 11 not 10.
posted by 0 answers at 2:06 PM on December 30, 2013


The truth is, we don't know whether or not things are getting better overall, and this kind of things doesn't really help us sort that out in any meaningful way. We all know people who read this kind of news and then use it to justify a see-no-evil resistance to problems that are still very much ongoing (like this giant ring of mercury they just discovered around the alberta tar sands).

Optimism that depends on the news cycle to be sustained is almost always going to be a shallow kind of optimism that collapses at the first sign of trouble isn't it?

I'm optimistic about the future, but not because of these few isolated and potentially misleading metrics of progress. I'm optimistic about the future because, despite everything, I still believe humans can accomplish just about anything when we work together in good faith, and history is full of examples of human accomplishments (though they seldom come without great sacrifices and costs) that demonstrate it.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:08 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: Not only is the glass half empty, but I also have grave misgivings about the quality of water contained therein, as well as about the motives of the people who had the temerity to claim it was "half full."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:15 PM on December 30, 2013 [30 favorites]


I think the malaria thing is actually a pretty good example of how philanthrophy can be problematic. The B&MG foundation has been pouring money into vaccine efforts with the aim of total eradication of malaria. My sense from talking to malaria researchers, though, is that an effective vax is actually a real outside long shot, while for the same amount of money we could have made a real dent in malaria just using conventional methods. But "eradication" and "vaccine" are sexier than "95% reduction" and "bed nets." If a vax turns out to work I will happily eat my words, don't get me wrong, but my point is that even the most benevolent of philanthropists can end up letting their egos get in the way of sound policy, which may be a good reason to prefer more democratic means of allocating funds.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:15 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


The truth is, we don't know whether or not things are getting better overall, and this kind of things doesn't really help us sort that out in any meaningful way.

If the facts that on average, humans are less poor, less violent, and live longer and healthier lives than ever before--none of which are in any serious dispute--aren't demonstrative that things are getting better, what would convince you?

And I don't think people see this and say "see-no-evil" at all--I sure as hell don't. I see this and say, "you know that neoliberal globalization?" It seems to work pretty well and we should keep doing it.
posted by dsfan at 2:16 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


One reason why it would be super-nifty to discover an advanced alien race that would be friendly to us is we could say, 'hey, they made it, it's possible for sentient life to survive and evolve.' That and we could be their pets.

I just really want to see some aliens, I guess.
posted by angrycat at 2:16 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love all of you, you cranky fuckers.

I don't. Threads like this sap my interest in the larger Metafilter community and have a definite depressive effect on my interaction here.
posted by fatbird at 2:19 PM on December 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


I suppose I could be capable of believing that Bill Gates' wealth was gained in ways that are, broadly speaking, unethical - and that I am incredibly happy with a lot of how he's used that money to better the world and improve the lives of an awful lot of actual human beings.

But that might require seeing things as complicated and not purely Good or Awful, and that just won't do.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:22 PM on December 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


If the facts that on average, humans are less poor, less violent, and live longer and healthier lives than ever before--none of which are in any serious dispute--aren't demonstrative that things are getting better, what would convince you?

I have worked closely with data far too long to take these summary conclusions at face value. Sorry.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:26 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's worth pointing out that Andrew Carnegie funded public libraries. Which is why I don't use them. Public libraries are tools of the Man, man.
posted by happyroach at 2:27 PM on December 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


But "eradication" and "vaccine" are sexier than "95% reduction" and "bed nets."

Well, it's a good thing B&MG has poured millions into bed nets, then.
posted by Jpfed at 2:27 PM on December 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


But count me among those who also think it's a little silly to make so much of Bill Gates' role. All that matters is whether the results are really real, or only real in the way Florida's reported reading gains after Jeb Bush were.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:29 PM on December 30, 2013


Less enigmatically, Bush and the media widely touted gains in Florida's 4th grade reading performance and those claims were largely repeated uncritically in the media.

But what the media reports ignore, even when they pretend to be rigorously fact checking the claims, is that one of the things Bush's signature reading legislation did was to create a new rule requiring all Florida students to pass a pre-test of their reading skills in the 3rd grade before they could even be promoted to 4th grade, directly taking most kids who wouldn't perform well on the 4th grade test out of the pool of kids tested and immediately leading to (an apparent, but meaningless) improvement in 4th grade reading scores.

As long as our political and social leaders keep playing blatant games with their metrics for political purposes and the media keeps failing to call them on it, there's no point in reading the news.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:37 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


This was nice, thanks.
posted by glasseyes at 2:49 PM on December 30, 2013


Personally, I think the world has enormously improved over the course of my lifetime in ways that I wouldn't have dared to hope for when I was young. Back then, I barely dared to dream that we'd escape nuclear winter and the collapse of high-tech civilization.

There's less war, much less poverty and starvation, less disease and better health care, more respect for human rights and more democracy, much less industrial pollution in the developed world.

The people I've worried about most of my life have not been Americans or Canadians or Germans or Brits or Swedes, but especially Chinese and Indians and South Americans and most especially Africans. (The last I'll get back to in a moment.)

The US plundered much of Latin America and took up a new form of global colonialism right when Europe was abandoning it ... after Europe had plundered Asia and Africa, of course. I really could care fuck-all about American middle-class economic insecurity. Seriously, I generally do care, being as I'm American, but in the grand scheme of things the fact that wages have been stagnant for a generation is like the least important concern on this list. And I especially, totally fucking hate with a passion this sense that all this bad stuff happening to we poor, immiserated Americans has everything to do with the fact that hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians aren't starving in villages anymore. They took our jobs! Fuck yeah! It's about time. They needed them more than we did.

And Africa ... well, Africa is still a gigantic mess that colonialism built out of the most virulent forms of racism and although things have improved there, too, they sure as hell haven't improved as much as they have everywhere else in the developing world. And let's not even talk about AIDS.

Europe is so far from what it was seventy years ago that I don't think people from that time would ever have believed such a thing could ever be possible.

However, like Africa, the plight of women worldwide has not improved even remotely at the same pace as everything else or what I would have hoped for thirty years ago. Mandela's death saw a world mourning a hero who within living memory was thought of as a terrorist by Euro-American leaders and his opponents we now vilify were actively supported, while women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive cars and women in numerous parts of the world are effective property and stoned to death or disfigured for "misbehavior" and sex trafficking exists worldwide, including in Europe and North America. But they're women, right? And that's just how things are.

A couple of notable exceptions, but overall an amazing improvement of peoples' lives worldwide.

Except there's global warming.

Which, as someone said at the very beginning of the thread, very likely will actually reverse every. single. one. of the positive trends I've mentioned and worsen the others. Fewer people starving become more people starving. Less disease becomes more disease. Less war becomes more war. Rising life expectancies and rising standards of living become falling life expectancies and falling standards of living. In the scramble for resources and the panic and the war, less global pollution becomes more global pollution. Ethnic and racial conflict increase, the status of women worsens and education and literacy declines. Europe's harmony becomes discord and a reversion to a struggle for resources and influence and security. Africa actually begins to depopulate as marginally productive land becomes unproductive and disease and war wipe out entire regions.

Latin America also reverts to the colonial and post-colonial norms of strongman autocracy and resource conflicts in conjunction with population migratory conflict.

Regional tensions in the US escalate as much of the urban west becomes unsustainable, perhaps even the federal government collapses.

Meanwhile, all that PU239 and U235 are floating around the world, along with god knows what else, and if full-blown fission or fusion bombs aren't deployed, there will be numerous dirty bombs used here and there by desperate leaders and angry extremists.

So, you know, if it weren't for global warming, things would be great and looking like they'd only keep getting better. As it is, though, this is pretty close to being as good as it's going to get and one way or another, here or there and eventually everywhere, it's all downhill for at least a couple of centuries or so to come.

Enjoy it while it lasts.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:52 PM on December 30, 2013 [20 favorites]


1. people are living longer -- but of you live in America and are under 60 you will probably have a shorter lifespan than your parents because of obesity. If you are under age 50 you will also retire later because governments are raising the retirement age.

2. More people can read-- and they've chosen to read 50 Shades of Gray.

3. Winning the fight against malaria-- which is great because global warming and invasive Mosquitos in the US are creating the conditions for a resurgence. Also Denge Fever. Also Lyme disease is spreading

4. Tuberculous -- antibiotic resistant strains are emerging and we will soon be back to sanitariums and quarantines.

5. Poverty is down -- So is the middle class. Super rich or just getting by.

6. Polio Free India -- Pakistan, Syria not so much.

7. Vaccination -- the world will catch up to our trendy anti-vax movement soon enough.

8. Ethiopia -- do not mention neighbors like Somalia.

9. HIV -- funding for anti-retro viral drugs has come mostly from the US and it is about to be cut. Countries like Kenya will be losing something like 98% of the money for these programs and there is no ability for then to sustain the programs on their own.

10. Hunger -- we just cut food stamps and long term unemployment insurance so hunger gets a comeback in the USA in 2014.

Well at least we're about to eradicate Guinea Worm.
posted by humanfont at 2:56 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


"1. PEOPLE ARE LIVING LONGER"

This has already been mentioned, but it's such an annoyance of mine that I can't restrain myself from putting a line under it: in the developed nations, including the US, people aren't actually living very much longer at all. Maybe a few years, at most. Life expectancy at age 60 hasn't increase very much at all, which is why the whole "it makes sense to raise the retirement age because people live much longer than they used to" is total, unadulterated bullshit.

Live expectancy at birth is where all this improvement in the developed world has come from, and all that improvement is from reductions in infant and early-childhood mortality, not from increased late-life span as everyone thinks. All those heroic and expensive medical measures for the elderly aren't actually lengthening lives much at all, although they sure as hell cost a lot of money.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:07 PM on December 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


Metafilter: learned helplessness in community form.
posted by fatbird at 3:30 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well, it's a good thing B&MG has poured millions into bed nets, then.

Yes, it is a good thing that around a hundredth to a thousandth of the $1bn Gates has earmarked towards vaccine research has been spent on actually effective methods of remediating malaria. I'm not sure why you think this contradicts my point, though.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:48 PM on December 30, 2013


This has already been mentioned, but it's such an annoyance of mine that I can't restrain myself from putting a line under it: in the developed nations, including the US, people aren't actually living very much longer at all. Maybe a few years, at most. Life expectancy at age 60 hasn't increase very much at all, which is why the whole "it makes sense to raise the retirement age because people live much longer than they used to" is total, unadulterated bullshit.

Live expectancy at birth is where all this improvement in the developed world has come from, and all that improvement is from reductions in infant and early-childhood mortality, not from increased late-life span as everyone thinks. All those heroic and expensive medical measures for the elderly aren't actually lengthening lives much at all, although they sure as hell cost a lot of money.


I think that you may be overstating things a little here. Here's life expectancy at birth and at age 65 from the CDC: [PDF]

Comparing 2010 to 1950 (whole US population), life expectancy at birth has increased by 10.5 years. But life expectancy at 65 has increased by 5.2 years; half the gain. Comparing the two endpoints with 1980 halfway between, the overall life expectancy at birth increased by 5.5 years from 1950 to 1980, and 5.0 years from 1980 to 2010. Looking at life expectancy over 65, the gain is skewed in the other direction; 2.5 years more between 1950 and 1980 and 2.7 years more from 1980 to 2010.

You're totally correct that going from life expectancies of 40 or 50 to life expectancies in the 70s and 80s -- like is happening / has happened in the developing world -- are an infant mortality measure. But in developed countries, a big chunk -- perhaps the largest chunk, since infant mortality is not the only killer before 65 and there have also been reductions in infectious disease, crime and motor vehicle accidents -- is due to longer lives for the elderly.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:54 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


The trade-off between eradication and prevention is a hard one. In any given year, you're probably going to get more bang for the buck with prevention. This is especially true when you're close to eradication, since knocking out the last few areas is going to be stupid expensive (since they're likely going to be in very remote areas where people are shooting at each other and hate outsiders). The polio folks are dealing with this right now.

On the other hand, if you can actually kill a disease -- something we've done only once in humans ever -- the payoff is basically forever. It's huge.

And we're close to doing that for polio and guinea worm. And it's at least possible for malaria. Take a look at these charts and tell me that doesn't give you at least a little warm fuzzies for the human race.

The proper answer if to throw lots of money at both.
posted by feckless at 4:01 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've always been a cheerful door-opener for the various religious folks who come visiting, but I'm fairly certain that I've been a frustration to all of them with my relentless optimism.

"When you see that the world's falling into chaos and despair," they'd say, "don't you feel like some kind of change is coming?"

They'd hand me literature, and it was usually a combination of well-curated outrage fuel coupled with some sort of pitch that the world was rapidly spiraling down the drain and all we can do is rush to the Lord or fall down and tear our hair out or—

"Well, the world isn't falling into chaos and despair," I'd answer, and this threw them every time because if there's one thing we all know, it's that the world's getting worse.
"Just look at the last hundred years, in terms of health, human cruelty, the environment, and almost any other metric you want to examine. Things are better on every front, and where they are still bad, they are not going unnoticed like they would have even fifty years ago. Did you know that we're converting former Soviet nuclear weapons into electricity with virtually no carbon footprint?"

Usually, the various religious folks get tired of talking to me, because I am very well versed on the talking points on which they merely have vague talking points, and also because it's just confusing to them that the regular tool of pushing people to get on the self-hating bandwagon, and I'm just not going to do it. We're an incredible, moral, altruistic species that happens to be in its jangling stumbling toddlerhood, but we still march in the right direction.

We just get hung up on confirmation bias and the illusory increase in problems that are really just becoming better documented, and it's such a corrosive, progress-impeding infatuation.

I tangle with friends on such subjects, when they go into the "Monsanto owns Congress, everything is dooooomed" rants or the "Fukushima is going to irradiate the whoooooole world" lamentations or...well, it's endless. It's this sort of panicky sense that we've lost control, as in when the "power companies are killing solar energy" shrillemo flitted around my facebook feed recently. You read the freakout articles a little more closely, and it's not that power companies are killing solar energy—it's that they're going to charge you for the privilege of selling your overcapacity back...so cut the cord and go off the grid if you're serious about solar independence. Sheesh.

I had a major blowout with a teenybopper gay intern not too long ago about how bullying was on the rise and how gay people have never had it so bad and so on...and I just had to be optimistic-old-man-with-a-yard and say "Kid, when I was your age, fucking Reagan was president, every queer in America could be fired for no reason, and whole cities full of us were dropping dead, so spare me your negative Nancy routine, because we're in heaven compared to even just twenty years ago. You want it better? DO SOMETHING."

Once you surrender to that pessimistic imperative, though, what do you have? Everything's getting worse, corporations own the world, rich people are getting richer, so why bother?

If you can't imagine a better future connected to this world that we have right here and now, you can't be anything but an impediment, destined to end up on the wrong side of history. So I keep my smile warm and my litany of triumphs handy, because I know what's wrong with the world, but I'm willing to share and celebrate what's right with it.
posted by sonascope at 4:16 PM on December 30, 2013 [53 favorites]


Metafilter: learned helplessness in community form.

It's not so much learned helplessness as ideologically-based helplessness where not only does there have to be a solution to the problem, it has to be completely morally pure and not have anything possibly compromising about it. Sure, Bill Gates might be spending his money on eradicating and preventing disease, but he was kind of a jerk as a businessman so fuck him, malaria for everyone.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:17 PM on December 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


I just ask religious doorknockers for money. "Listen," I'll say. "I'm having kind of a tough month, and i was wondering if you can help me out with a few dollars". It stuns them; they typically just stare slack-jawed. It's so beautiful.
posted by thelonius at 4:19 PM on December 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


The article doesn't even mention the decline in violent crime in much of the world, but notably North America and Western Europe, over the last thirty years. Basically everyone is convinced that crime is perpetually getting worse and that it's at least as bad as it was in the 70s.

There's a whole bunch of people who have varied psychological and emotional investment in the "everything is going to hell in a handbasket" narrative.

Which is basically wrong about most everything. Except for global warming.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:24 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


As it is, though, this is pretty close to being as good as it's going to get and one way or another, here or there and eventually everywhere, it's all downhill for at least a couple of centuries or so to come.


"Après moi le déluge."

The advantage of saying that things are inevitably going to get worse is it absolves people of any responsibility. After all, if we're domed, there's no need to bother actually taking a stand, right? And if someone posits that some things have gotten better, and that maybe, just maybe more things could get better, well, shut them down with overwhelming examples of how things are utterly inextricably hopeless.

It's no wonder that the Progressives and the Left in general are so demoralized and ineffective, and the movement of the hour is theDark Enlightenment people who want t rewind things to the feudal era. Moral is important to success, but the trendy attitude is that anything other than a grim acceptance of our impending fate is unacceptable.
posted by happyroach at 4:29 PM on December 30, 2013


I guess I just don't accept the premise there's a simple "everything" that we can talk about meaningfully at that level of abstraction as getting "better" or "worse." Some specific things may be getting better or worse, relative to certain specific criteria, but there is no universal "it" that encompasses everybody's priorities and experiences that we can summarly judge in the aggregate as "things are getting better/worse." That smacks of wishful/magical thinking to me.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:37 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Without inflation and chaos you'd just be a boring singularity. Instead you get a short moment to ponder it all before death and annihilation of all you know, knew and could have known.
posted by humanfont at 4:52 PM on December 30, 2013


the movement of the hour is the Dark Enlightenment people

That's like a dozen nerds, half of which are being ironic.
posted by Artw at 5:15 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The advantage of saying that things are inevitably going to get worse is it absolves people of any responsibility. After all, if we're domed, there's no need to bother actually taking a stand, right?"

I agree with this and also that a motivation for it is the attractive patina of a kind of cynical world-weary wisdom.

My pessimism about global warming is that I think there's already enough carbon added to the atmosphere that much of the dire future I described is unavoidable and, even if it weren't, I can't see the political will across enough people in enough varied societies to do anything about it, anyway. This is the last conclusion I want to draw and my outlook otherwise, on both the human race and civilization and whatever else we're talking about, is pretty positive and can-do.

At this point, though, AGW is a box we've built ourselves into that we are not capable of finding a way out of. At least not without spending a significant amount of time paying a huge worldwide price for it that means, one way or another, a lot of suffering. On the longer term, like a couple of centuries down the road, I'm actually more optimistic.

But I can't see avoiding a significant enough rise in sea level and regional climatic change that will be extremely disruptive to the status quo in a very destructive way.

If only we hadn't fucked this one crucial thing up so badly.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:28 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm disappointed that MetaFilter's reaction to this is to whine about Bill Gates instead of talking about how awesome Jimmy Carter is.
posted by straight at 5:49 PM on December 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


If only we hadn't fucked this one crucial thing up so badly.

That crucial thing being agriculture and civilization, presumably. Or was it the whole coming down from the trees thing?
posted by happyroach at 6:08 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is the last conclusion I want to draw and my outlook otherwise, on both the human race and civilization and whatever else we're talking about, is pretty positive and can-do.

When you think things are actually looking up, and going pretty good, except for this one huge thing that's going to wipe out all our gains and then some, then your outlook is not "positive" and "can-do". It's "kill yourself now to beat the rush" nihilism, and it's exactly the sort of doomsaying that makes it seem pointless to highlight positive efforts like reducing problems with guinea worms. "[I]t's all downhill for at least a couple of centuries or so to come" is just the sort of Eeyore-ism that makes one not give a shit about bothering.
posted by fatbird at 6:40 PM on December 30, 2013


Would you have rather been a parent at any earlier point in history? I wouldn't.

I'm profoundly concerned about climate change and its effect on my children's (and everyone's) future, but, on the other hand, half of my children didn't die before the age of 5 due to diseases that are now curable or vaccine-preventable. And at least when I had an undeliverably breach baby, we didn't both die -- they just surgeried that sucker right out of there and I was walking again three days after having my abdomen sliced in half. My kids don't have to go work in factories or mines or on farms or ships at a very young age. That's not the case everywhere, but child protection and education are growing and continue to grow.

It's not a perfect world by a long shot. But I would definitely rather be a parent in 2014 than 1914 (oh, God, to be a mother in 1914), let alone 1814. Which to me suggests the world's probably improving.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:53 PM on December 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


I might be tempted by political and economic trends to think maybe I'd rather have been a parent 30 years ago. But then I remember that I have daughters who are interested in science.
posted by straight at 9:03 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Lol @ the idea that criticising a system in which non-experts get to make questionable decisions about how to attack a problem that imperils millions, simply because they have scads of money, is either somehow being opposed to progress or "whining about Bill Gates."
posted by en forme de poire at 10:14 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


That crucial thing being agriculture and civilization, presumably. Or was it the whole coming down from the trees thing?

Haha, cynicism, it's so easy!
posted by crossoverman at 10:20 PM on December 30, 2013


The really depressing thing about this thread for me is that so many MeFites either don't understand the difference between a "million" and a "billion," or are willing to pretend they don't in order to score cheap rhetorical points. (Oops! I'm being negative again!)
posted by en forme de poire at 10:30 PM on December 30, 2013


(Okay, sorry, when I posted that I was waiting in the baggage claim and was really hungry and tired.)
posted by en forme de poire at 11:07 PM on December 30, 2013


The CFO of the Gates Foundation was there to see my second nephew born before I did. Granted I had an almost 4-hour drive. But these people are not the slimy Wall Street people you might take them for. They really want to take money and translate that into real world medical applications.

I know! Bill Gates is the grossy-gross. But his money is not. Take the wins, thats the idea that the foundation (somewhat) goes on.
posted by efalk at 4:28 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


When you think things are actually looking up, and going pretty good, except for this one huge thing that's going to wipe out all our gains and then some, then your outlook is not "positive" and "can-do". It's "kill yourself now to beat the rush" nihilism

These are not the only two options.

So, just for instance, when the WHO talks about the need for countries to have continual, unbroken vigilance while fighting malaria, and about problems with arteminisin resistance, they are not advising anyone to kill themselves now to beat the rush. On the contrary, they are clearly pointing out two huge obstacles to a situation that is otherwise "actually looking up." It's easy to see how climate changes that make the environment more hospitable to mosquitos, or that interrupt supply chains for insecticidal nets, vaccines and medical care, or that simply take a government's attention away, could wreck that vigilance.

Yes, you can simultaneously be positive about the present (good work on treatment of that disease!) and realistic about the future (at least some of the population, somewhere, is doomed to die of this very disease, and this gives one pause), without resorting to nihilism (we are all doomed so I officially give up on life).
posted by mittens at 4:59 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every problem is looking up as long as we're still working on them. The only thing that makes me worry is excess complacency. We've had far too much of that for far too long, and it's let some major problems get out of hand.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:54 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


The gains in human welfare discussed in the FPP are genuine and substantial. By most any way possible to measure, we live at a high point in progress, and overall, today is almost certainly the best time to be a random person alive somewhere on earth. Things can get better, I want them to get better, and I'm trying to do what I can to make them better. Smug satisfaction with the status quo doesn't get you a better world. Sometimes you have to be angry that it isn't better, no matter how much things have improved.

It's much better to be a woman today than perhaps ever before. Does that mean things are good enough? No. The state of gender equality worldwide is still unacceptable and we have a right to be angry about it.

Guinea worm is about to be eradicated? Good. What about AIDS, TB and malaria? No? Not good enough. Children still die of hunger in a world that makes more than enough food to feed everyone. That's not okay.

I worry that too much of human progress is the result of our faustian dependence on fossil carbon energy. I don't want all the material gains we have made to be imperiled. I hold out hope that it isn't too late, but we have to act. I have no choice but to be mad about it. This isn't nihilism. This is a sense of urgency. I have hope that humanity will collectively make the right choice, but just presuming that everything works out is worse than a resigned pessimism.

You think that things are just going to get better on their own? No, they happen because people get angry and do something about it. What are you doing? What am I doing? Not enough. I will try to do better.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 7:35 AM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I know! Bill Gates is the grossy-gross. But his money is not. Take the wins, thats the idea that the foundation (somewhat) goes on.

What charity and grand works might people, institutions, and governments have done with the billions of dollars of money that Bill Gates stole from them?
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:27 AM on December 31, 2013


I see this and say, "you know that neoliberal globalization?" It seems to work pretty well and we should keep doing it.

And that's exactly the kind of oversimplified and facile conclusion some are hoping people will take from this news, and for those opportunists, it has nothing whatsoever to do with keeping people's spirits up and maintaining enough optimism to face the challenges ahead, but rather, is only an opportunity to advance a point of view.

That's not what I generally look to the news to do for me, either to provide me some kind of emotional comfort when reality's too much of a drag, or to persuade me to a particular point of view (thought I don't mind when reporters are upfront about their own opinions as long as they can still accurately address the facts) and I'd be disappointed to hear that's what others expect it to do.

News in a democracy is supposed to be a utility for getting vital information out to the responsible adults who need the information to make well-informed decisions on matters that effect the well-being of society. It has never quite really worked out that way in practice, but that has long been the general principle behind the special status afforded the press under US law. And it's a reasonable idea.

We should let the news be what it is, good or bad, and not hand-wring over it so much. If one day, the news really did all start being bad, we'd need to be able to face the reality of that news even if it was continually depressing and discouraging. Hopefully we all agree to that at least.

On the other hand, the news media establishment itself could stand to be less focused on sensationalizing stories that don't really provide useful information to the public but rather shame them or encourage them to view their neighbors with unfair suspicion, and rather than dumbing the news down, it could try to elevate the standards of the discourse by really getting into the more difficult nuances of events in ways that stimulate the intelligence of the public and encourage a more thoughtful understanding of news events.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:20 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


What charity and grand works might people, institutions, and governments have done with the billions of dollars of money that Bill Gates stole from them?

Um, what now? Where is this money being stolen from?
posted by Artw at 12:06 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Re: HIV, while I can't readily find evidence, as the Guardian seems to think, that Pope Francis has at some point made positive statements about the use of condoms as a disease preventative, one would hope he'll at least tell the Church's officials to stop telling lies that actually kill people.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:18 PM on December 31, 2013


I see this and say, "you know that neoliberal globalization?" It seems to work pretty well and we should keep doing it.

Stalin and Mao both presided over improvements in health, education and industrial development that are without precedent for societies of their size. Stalin in particular looks good if life expectancy is considered. The pre-revolution life expectancy in Russia was 35. By the time Stalin began consolidating his power, it had fallen to the low 20s. When he died in 1953, the USSR's life expectancy was 65. Post-Soviet Russia has seen life expectancy fall from a high of 70 in 1989 to lows in 1994 and 2005 of 64 and 65 respectively. Currently it sits at 68. This is despite a flood of resource wealth. Does this mean Russia should embrace a return to Stalinism?

There are forces at work in the world other than the magic of free markets. For instance, charities doing the work that the OECD has neglected by refusing to meet the 0.7% GDP direct foreign aid target. Trade liberalization has probably generated some wealth, but to whom does it go? My suspicion is that the neoliberal agenda has only redistributed the spoils of growth that would have happened anyway, and not delivered anything a more balanced approach would. I, for one, still want a fairer world, even if it means I am poorer as a consequence.

I'm not some doctrinaire Marxist. I'm a social democrat who believes mixed economies work best for everyone, and who thinks that free trade and free markets work best when human rights are respected. That means the rights of workers to organize and rights of access to clean water, adequate nutrition, education and health care (including family planning) and for the right of future generations not to inherit the ashes of a world we burned. And I want these rights to come before the rights of the moneyed elite to move their capital to where it is most profitable to them.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:27 PM on December 31, 2013 [9 favorites]


Are you really going to do this, Artw?

Anyone who is not pretending they were hiding under a rock for the last 3 decades is well aware that Microsoft was convicted of antitrust violations in courts in both the US and EU. It is a finding of fact that Microsoft, at Bill Gates' direction, committed criminal acts to enhance their monopoly, so they could charge higher prices for their products, eliminate competition that could have produced lower cost products, and create a barrier to entry for new competitors.

Microsoft customers paid exorbitant prices for OS and application software. Non-Microsoft customers were also impacted, they also paid higher prices for competing products. I recall hearing one assessment that every Windows license is overpriced $35 due to Microsoft's monopoly allowing them to charge premium prices. That is money stolen directly from the IT budgets of individuals, institutions, and governments worldwide.

Bill Gates is a robber baron who made a vast fortune from illegal monopolies. That money came from people like you and me, and the institutions and governments that serve us. We are all poorer because Bill Gates is richer, his exploitation reaches into every pocketbook. And he has used that ill-gotten money to branch out into other fields, like major investments in Big Pharma and oil companies like BP. Gates' BP investment is particularly troublesome, since it exploits African oilfields, creating poverty in the very countries most impacted by AIDS and malaria.

I recall on the old Daily Show, Craig Kilborn joked about how Bill Gates had announced an initiative to eliminate AIDS. He would buy up all competing viruses and use the power of monopoly to drive the AIDS virus to extinction.

Unfortunately, it's no longer a joke. The Gates Foundation, aided by contributions from Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim, and other Robber Barons, now has a virtual monopoly on philanthropy. Some scientists have complained that they cannot receive funding for promising new medical research because they conflict with the interests of the Gates Foundation.

So, to answer my own question, what might WE have done with OUR money that was stolen from us by Bill Gates? Well for starts, we wouldn't have given it to one man to decide how to spend it on his personal interests. We would have had money to allocate to causes of our own choosing. And the recipients of that charity would have been more effective, since they weren't wasting donations on overpriced IT licenses from Microsoft. Bill Gates' current estimated net worth is about $72 Billion. What could we have done with that $72B? A whole hell of a lot. Equally divided between every person on Earth, that's about $10 each. A Polio vaccination costs about $4. A vitamin injection that could prevent irreversible blindness costs just pennies. A mosquito net costs a couple of dollars. We could afford those things on our own, we could afford to GIVE those things on our own, we could have been DOING those things all along, if Bill Gates hadn't stolen that money from us, and sat on it for decades.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:56 PM on December 31, 2013


Oh, so bullshit then.
posted by Artw at 2:00 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh for Christ's sake. Windows was a good product that drove a lot of innovation and made a lot of people a lot of money. The only people that were really hurt by the windows monopoly were other multi millionaires like Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison. Most people pirated windows when windows was a monopoly. I don't think I ever met anyone who actually paid for it.
posted by empath at 2:35 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Really I just wanted to know if it was that or something real or some other conspiracy nonsense, no need to dig into it further.
posted by Artw at 2:41 PM on December 31, 2013


I have worked closely with data far too long to take these summary conclusions at face value. Sorry.

This is classic creationist logic (literally number one!)--arguing that because there's some uncertainty we don't really know anything. There's always uncertainty in data. That doesn't change the basic facts that on a per-person basis worldwide, poverty is way down, violence is way down, and health is much improved, and you haven't even come close to refuting that.

And the idea that media bias is toward being excessively positive ("As long as our political and social leaders keep playing blatant games with their metrics for political purposes and the media keeps failing to call them on it, there's no point in reading the news.") is simply absurd. As an example that Ivan Fyodorovich rightly points out, people are for the most part extremely ignorant of the massive drop in crime rates, because if it doesn't bleed, it doesn't lead. If you shouldn't read the news, it's because they've done a piss-poor job at reporting all the amazing progress humanity has made.

Look at the source data from the FPP. The World Bank. The World Health Organization. UNESCO. I don't believe we have made tremendous progress because the media isn't reporting the "games" people are playing with metrics. I believe we have made tremendous progress because we fucking have.

Trade liberalization has probably generated some wealth, but to whom does it go?

We actually have data on what's happened to the global income distribution over the past couple of decades. Basically, the extremely-poor--the bottom 5%, with a huge concentration in Africa--haven't done well at all, but the global working-class has done extraordinarily well in our era of liberalization--in fact income percentiles from 20-65 have done even better than the global 1%. It turns out to be completely false that the income gains from the current relatively liberal era have only gone to the wealthy.

And I completely agree that free trade isn't solely responsible for this (nor is it what the term "neoliberal" has ever meant). The overwhelming--and I mean really freaking overwhelming--majority of economists believe that it has a meaningfully positive effect on the world. That doesn't mean education, public health, a legal system, etc. don't matter--of course they do, and they are a significant part of the progress that has been made. But if want to sustain progress, it's important to know why we made it, and economic liberalization is a huge part of the story, whether it fits an ideological view or not.
posted by dsfan at 2:43 PM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I didn't say we don't know anything, I just said I can't take the summary conclusions at face value. And for that I get compared to creationists? You've obviously got more emotional stake in this topic than I have if you're already at the point of comparing healthy skepticism borne of experience to abject denial of easily demonstrated facts.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:49 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


And for that I get compared to creationists? You've obviously got more emotional stake in this topic than I have if you're already at the point of comparing healthy skepticism borne of experience to abject denial of easily demonstrated facts.

This was the quote whose conclusions you said you couldn't take at "face value":

If the facts that on average, humans are less poor, less violent, and live longer and healthier lives than ever before--none of which are in any serious dispute--aren't demonstrative that things are getting better, what would convince you?

Which of these specifically do you disagree with--decline in poverty, decline in violence, increase in life expectancy, or increase in health? Do you have any evidence to support it?
posted by dsfan at 2:53 PM on December 31, 2013


So many stole Microsoft software, so it has probably balanced out.
posted by humanfont at 3:20 PM on December 31, 2013


The "humans are less poor" is in dispute. Looking at the regional breakdowns of poverty numbers, you have to wonder how sustainable are the huge drops China and India have seen in poverty--i.e., how tied are they to the western economy's need for cheap goods and services, rather than more permanent domestic growth. Sub-Sarahan Africa's poverty rates may look better, but according to the World Bank, "despite its falling poverty rates, Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world for which the number of poor individuals has risen steadily and dramatically between 1981 and 2010."

In other words, it's just not as simple and clear-cut as the "humans are less poor" headline. There's a nuance there, that bears thinking about.

Far more sobering is to realize that when we're talking about global poverty, anyone who lives on more than $1.25 a day is no longer in extreme poverty. That's what we're being asked to celebrate, right there: Someone living off $1.26 or more a day.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim: "We have made remarkable progress in reducing the number of people living under $1.25 a day in the developing world, but the fact that there are still 1.2 billion people in extreme poverty is a stain on our collective conscience."
posted by mittens at 3:20 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


A conjecture: taking "all possible actions Bill Gates could perform in his remaining lifespan" as some kind of probability space, and Meta-Safe as the set of all possible Bill Gates'-remaining-lifespans that do not inspire moral dudgeon in the Metafilter comments sections, Meta-Safe has measure zero.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 3:23 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


("is in dispute" is poor wording on my part there...it's not in dispute that, say, China's poverty rate has plummeted.)
posted by mittens at 5:33 PM on December 31, 2013


"despite its falling poverty rates, Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world for which the number of poor individuals has risen steadily and dramatically between 1981 and 2010."

When poor people stop starving to death, that tends to happen.
posted by empath at 9:43 PM on December 31, 2013


"Looking at the regional breakdowns of poverty numbers, you have to wonder how sustainable are the huge drops China and India have seen in poverty--i.e., how tied are they to the western economy's need for cheap goods and services, rather than more permanent domestic growth."

That's unquestionably a valid point, but I think that it's pretty clear that China, especially, has been developing quite a huge amount of domestic consumption. China is permanently out of pure export of resources and labor trap.

It's certainly true that China has become dependent upon an unsustainable rate of growth and the mechanisms they use to achieve this. We're just now beginning to see them experiencing the inevitable problems with this. They will experience considerable pain while adjusting to more normal rates of growth.

But that's very much not the same thing as falling back down to where they were thirty years ago. They're solidly on the road to a fully developed economy. Even accounting for AGW (and arguably partly because of it), the latter part of this century will be theirs. They will be the dominant world economic power by then.

India I know less about and am less sure of, but I'm aware that their development has been more uneven and with less expansion of domestic consumption with regard to the industries where their growth has centered. At least that's my impression; I welcome correction. But my impression is that also in their case, they're arguably past the point of falling back to where they were before all this growth began.

Your point about $1.26 isn't as persuasive to me because I think that the developed west has very poor comprehension of just how impoverished so much of the developing world was (and still is). People need to re-watch Slumdog Millionaire and think about what it really means to be that poor. $1.26 a day is a lot of money, a huge improvement in quality of life, by comparison.

This is why I'm so harsh about European and North American middle-class economic insecurity. When I look around me at how even the most frugal and least wasteful among us live, I'm still just floored at how much we take for granted. We are literally throwing away a significant portion of the world's wealth, the resource and labor value involved in much of this disposable stuff to be equivalent, each, to a week's wages for many of the world's poorest. It's a moral calamity, the sort of thing that when, hopefully someday when all the world lives in the kind of comfort we take for granted, they will look back and have a hard time even believing that we could possibly be this selfish. They will judge us as depraved.

"When poor people stop starving to death, that tends to happen."

That's true, and that's a factor in Africa. But there's still starvation there and there are other things that are pushing in the opposite direction, like HIV.

I think it's stark in how Africa has largely, relatively, not seen the gains that we've seen in the rest of the developing world. It is, in a way, a crime. It says a lot about a lot of things, none of them good. The legacy of colonialism, the view of the rest of the world about Africa, many things. It doesn't have to be this way, but it is. The improvement elsewhere that the cynics pretty much long argued weren't possible (that the "third world" was impoverished because of endemic things that weren't really solvable and it's just the way things are) shows that it is possible and it's possible in Africa, too.

It's worth asking people who are skeptical about the wealth generation in the developing world such as we're discussing in China, those who think it's all kind of illusory and will collapse because it's really just a sort of zero-sum situation and the result of what's been lost in the US and elsewhere whether they're not unconsciously holding to these old notions about the developing world, that it must not be real because they just sort of can't really bring themselves to believe that China isn't destined to remain a land of a billion starving peasants.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:01 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Again, I really hope we are making progress in these and a lot of other areas, but I'm skeptical about how consistently and rigorously the metrics get applied to come up with these various summary conclusions. Really big sets of data collected from multiple sources tend to have a lot of subtle irregularities, and often, true apples-to -apples comparisons aren't even possible, depending on how the data was structured and stored.

Also, as I've said, I just don't have the temperament to need reassuring news to maintain a sense of optimism. I also don't know if I can trust how well they've taken things like change in local cost of living, loss of personal liberty and longer work hours into account.

Personally, I think the Gates Foundation is doing well in some areas but faltering in others. It's not Bill Gates fault he isn't as wise as a well-informed crowd, but he isn't. That's why such massive concentrations of wealth even in philanthropic hands can be a problem. Enough money poured into a cause and it becomes a legislative priority. So public policy often follows private money. When there's a lot of money concentrated in only a few hands, it takes only a few hands to change the course of an entire economy and alter the political landscape completely.

But there is good news here. And there is reason to be hopeful for the future. And hey, it's a new year.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:18 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Saul, cosign about being happy that Bill Gates is doing something basically good while having serious reservations about how that type of philanthropy can be undemocratic and lead to a single person having a disproportionate voice in venues like public health.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:47 PM on December 31, 2013


I'm a former malaria researcher. I wasn't in the field long enough to really speak to the technical difficulties, but it's true that at the time (five years ago) a lot of the people I worked with doubted whether a really effective vaccine would ever be developed.

It's *because* of that that I think it's great the Gates Foundation has put so much effort into it. It's a grand and eminently worthy project that might not succeed. We are no longer willing as a country to put government money into work like that. There is no one else to do it.

The new vaccine, RTS,S, is not a oh-my-god-malaria's-over kind of success. But as far as I know it's the first malaria vaccine to have significant efficacy in clinical trials.
posted by gerstle at 9:05 AM on January 1 [9 favorites]


American Enterprise Institute on global poverty.
posted by bukvich at 2:37 PM on January 1


Gak. Don't you have any more credible and impartial sources than that?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:36 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


« Older Former bandmates of singer-songwriter Jason Molina...  |  Recent uploads to photobucket.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments