My Mazamet

Life at № 42 by E.M. Coutinho

Thoughts on The Best News You Don’t Know

Source: The Best News You Don’t Know, Kristof for the NYT, 22/09/16

“As world leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly this week, all the evidence suggests that we are at an inflection point for the ages. The number of people living in extreme poverty ($1.90 per person per day) has tumbled by half in two decades, and the number of small children dying has dropped by a similar proportion — that’s six million lives a year saved by vaccines, breast-feeding promotion, pneumonia medicine and diarrhea treatments!

Historians may conclude that the most important thing going on in the world in the early 21st century was a stunning decline in human suffering.

O.K., you’re thinking that I’ve finally cracked up after spending too much time in desperate places. So a few data points:

■ As recently as 1981, when I was finishing college, 44 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. Now the share is believed to be less than 10 percent and falling. “This is the best story in the world today,” says Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank.

■ For the entire history of the human species until the 1960’s, a majority of adults were illiterate. Now 85 percent of adults worldwide are literate and the share is rising.

■ Although inequality has risen in America, the global trend is more encouraging: Internationally, inequality is on the decline because of gains by the poor in places like China and India.

Cynics scoff that if more children’s lives are saved, they will just grow up to have more babies and cause new famines and cycles of poverty. Not so! In fact, when parents are assured that their children will survive, they choose to have fewer of them. As girls are educated and contraception becomes available, birthrates tumble — just as they did in the West. Indian women now average just 2.4 births, Indonesian women 2.5, and Mexican women just 2.2.”

And that my friends, is not all. 

I’m not sure what happens to the sense of perspective of the human being in the developed world, but it’s not good. I would literally not be able to list the amount of people I know who live lives of extraordinary comfort, convenience, safety and good health who simply cannot stop complaining. In a certain sector of the expat population in Southern Spain it was endemic (I sometimes see it in France too):

“Everything in this country is a disaster. In the summer it’s too hot, in the winter it rains!”

“The real estate agent told us we were going to have 300 days of sunshine per year, not 310, not 290, we were tricked!”

“Can you believe I walked into a shop the other day and the attendant didn’t speak English? Outrageous.”

“Everything back home worked so well. Builders were never late in finishing their work. Problems with bills, a phone line or the internet? They simply didn’t exist at all. There were no con-men or thieves either.”

Ah, the fantasy of the glories of yesteryear and “home”. When I listen to things like that I wonder what magical countries these people come from. Or if I spent my youth on another planet. Born in the late 70’s, my childhood was dominated by the Reagan/Thatcher years. In Spain those were the transition years (following the death of General Franco) and in Brazil those were still full-blown military regime years. As in closed off from the world, no foreign imports, no elections, astronomic inflation. France had Mitterrand from 81 to 95. That covers the 5 countries of my life.

It was a strange time in what had been, for the most part, an exceptional century. The advances in human and workers rights had been extraordinary. The creation of French Social Security, the NHS, Kennedy’s equal pay for women act, the civil rights movement, Kinsey. Cooperation between EU countries after centuries of war. Stonewall. Amazing.

And suddenly it was as if the developed world thought enough was enough. And an era of ego-centrism was born. The devil child of Thatcher and Reagan.



Everything changed. Television went from creating shows like All in the Family in the US or Love Thy Neighbour in the UK straight to Dallas, Dynasty and Wall Street (and “celebrities” like Trump himself.) And suddenly society was obsessed by having and buying- and it had to be the biggest and the best. And better than everyone else’s. I contend that the background of extraordinary luxury people were exposed to regularly in the 80’s (remember Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?) is what set the stage for the dissatisfaction we see from the public at large today (ie Brexit/Trump/UKIP). They don’t miss the times when they drove a Jag, spent their holidays on a yacht or got huge bonuses at the end of the year. That never happened. They miss the time when they thought that was a possibility for them and people like them- even though it may never have been. 

Life is verifiably better now than it was 30 years ago.

People who 30 years ago would have never gone near an aeroplane can now visit Thailand or Malaysia or Belize. We can speak to people on the other side of the world, while seeing them, for free. We don’t need to use wite-out or liquid paper anymore! We don’t have to fiddle with television antennas. We have mobile phones. We smoke less! We’re learning to eat healthier foods. Smallpox was eradicated. Polio is virtually eradicated. We’re on the way with Malaria. People have access to birth control in Brazil! And people can jump up and down pointing at rising inequality in the developed world, the fact of the matter is I challenge any of them to show how we’re worse off today.

26 comments on “Thoughts on The Best News You Don’t Know

  1. Dwight
    October 4, 2016

    Thank you for reminding me of these positives. I read your post right after trolling through depressing stories in major newspapers this morning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. makagutu
    October 4, 2016

    This is going to be interesting. I will watch from the sidelines

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hariod Brawn
    October 4, 2016

    And the price of all this good fortune? What Sheldon Wolin called Inverted Totalitarianism.


    • Hogwash. What I didn’t mention was we’ve also never been so free. Free to be LGBT, free to embrace alternative ways of living and seeing the world. Free.
      That film makes the same mistake most ideologues make today which is to look at issues and the world through a magnifying glass. That obviously misses what was there before. You think monarchies weren’t the ultimate corporation states? Countries were the private corporations of royals and nobles. There was exploitation by elites then as there is now, we just change the name of the players. But still, with all that, life is still light years better than it was when women had no property rights and gay men were thrown in prison for being gay.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hariod Brawn
      October 4, 2016

      Well, given the overwhelming scientific consensus on AGW, the recent near collapse of the world’s financial system (coming again soon), and the global epidemic of mental health issues, I could choose to heed a Pulitzer prize winner (Hedges), as well as one of the most original and influential American political theorists of the past fifty years, Emeritus Professor of Politics at Princeton University, no less (Wolin). Or I could choose to agree with you, Pink, in which case we’d both be wrong. 😛

      Seriously, I knew that video would rub you up the wrong way (read the book!), and of course humankind has progressed societally over the last 40,000 years since we acquired language and communicative skills – I should damn well hope so if we’re supposedly evolving here on this planet. But you sound like a Meliorist with a teleological bent, and so I think it’s you that have their head in the clouds as regards where we’re headed. 😛


      • Wolin and Co. are free to think they’ve invented the wheel. The problem is the world doesn’t start in the 20th century in the post war era. Every single thing described in that film and attributed to corporations or intellectuals, or war mongers- were, surprise surprise: already true before the war!
        Long, long before the war. Nothing in the film is even remotely new or news. It’s the story and history of aristocracy. We’ve simply changed how we refer to aristocrats. Setting titles aside created the illusion of equality.
        Jump to minute 23:40 in the video. He could be describing Roman times. He could be describing an episode related to the Medici’s in the 1600’s. He could be describing the Napoleonic era.
        Inventing a new name for it maketh not a genius. If he got a Pulitzer prize, they should have taken it back from him for this.


      • Hariod Brawn
        October 4, 2016

        Chris Hedges didn’t make the video, Pink, his book merely inspired it. Like I said, it’s the book that’s really required for a fuller understanding, but the video at least gives a sense of what it’s about, and it’s nice of you to have watched it. 🙂 No one’s saying history began in 1939 – that was the catalyst for the media being absorbed into, and used as a tool of, the political sphere, and hence the signalling of the end of the Liberal class as was. Nowadays, we think people like Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton are liberal minded – QED. I think it’s fair enough of you to mention the aristocracy, and past tyrannical oligarchies, but what’s your point – that in fact nothing has changed? o_O


      • Yes! I say nothing has changed as relating to societal organization elite/plebs. In the grander sense the system is the same. In the past society was agricultural and landowners were the “corporations”. Now their children own the modern corporations. The Marlborough’s got Blenheim, the future Gates’ will inherit Microsoft.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hariod Brawn
        October 4, 2016

        I’m glad you came ’round to my way of thinking. 😛

        I used to play cricket at Blenheim Palace at the weekends. The bloke who owned the place used to stand on the outfield at deep mid-wicket and drive golf balls over our heads at 90 m.p.h. as we played. Quite intimidating. There was some covenant in the inherited title deeds that allowed villagers to play cricket in the palace gardens of a Sunday, and he wasn’t best pleased. I went to speak to him about it once; he scowled and said “who are you?” “I am Hariod of Woodstock, sire, breeder of goats, here to represent the village folk beneath your thunderous balls!” Twat.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Now promise you’ll send the maker of that video a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hariod Brawn
        October 4, 2016

        I don’t know, you bloody aristocrats with your fancy mirrors for princes.

        But anyway, yes, I promise sire Pink.

        *doffs a tattered flat cap and backs away as a humble supplicant should*

        Liked by 1 person

      • LOL 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  4. kjennings952
    October 4, 2016

    One set of challenges solved, another set arises. Today I will choose to be thankful for the good news.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sirius Bizinus
    October 4, 2016

    I know two words that can undo all of this positive thinking:

    “Trump wins.”

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Linn
    October 4, 2016

    Thank you for writing this. I find it ridiculous to see all the complaints in the comment sections of the local newspapers every day.
    According to most people on the internet, the government is killing us through vaccines and controlling our minds through “dangerous chemicals”, they’re giving all “our” money to muslims that will outbreed us and introduce beheadings and stoning, they’re hiding the truth about flat earth/illuminati/aliens/muslim overlords/Elvis etc.

    The main reason for all the conspiracies and grumbling is simply that people have nothing else to do nowadays. When you’re busy trying to survive, you don’t have the time to complain.
    When you live in luxury you’re desperate for something to break the monotony of everyday life. People who have never encountered the horrors of polio will therefore spend their time making up conspiracy theories about vaccines.
    People that have never seen war, will fantasise about a muslim invasion and being part of some brave resistance group.
    And people that have never seen their children die from easily preventable diseases, will complain to the local newspaper when the doctor made them wait a few minutes before giving them a sick leave for their common cold.

    Since someone mentioned Trump, I will have to add that I’ve often been frightened by the slogan “Make America great again”. What time period do these people want to return to? Apartheid? The civil war?

    Liked by 1 person

    • “What time period do these people want to return to? Apartheid? The civil war?”

      That’s the frightening question. I had never realized how little it seems the general public knows/understands of history. Life was incredibly tough for most Europeans and Americans just a few decades back. How can we have forgotten that so quickly?


  7. kjennings952
    October 5, 2016

    Most Americans think suffering is no access to Wifi


  8. acflory
    October 5, 2016

    Sorry, Hariod, I agree with Pinky this time – humanity is better off as a whole. How do I know? Because I was in a class with a Somali lady today and she a) quite matter-of-factly admitted that she had experienced female circumcison as a child [before coming to Australia] but that…b) she refused to allow it to happen to her two daughters. And attitudes are changing in her homeland as well.

    From a woman’s perspective, I have never had it so good. Is this all I aspire to? No way…but sometimes we need to stop and see the good things in life, not just the bad. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Consider this: one of my grandmothers lived in a world where for much of her life she wasn’t allowed to pay for something with a check unless her husband’s signature was also on it! She could not work, unless her husband co-signed her work contract…


      • acflory
        October 5, 2016

        Ugh. My grandmother was a business woman back when most women stayed home knitting or something. But my own mother who would have been a fabulous business woman always stayed home because she married in the 50’s. 😦 Honestly? I know I’ve lived a charmed life.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linn
        October 5, 2016

        My mother remembers a time when her older female patients (she works as a nurse) referred to themselves as “Mrs business manager Jon Olsen” and the like.
        They had not only taken their husband’s last name, they had deleted their own identity and taken on his.
        My mom always found it depressing.

        Not to mention how my mom was told that she couldn’t become a doctor by the school counselor, because the high school classes she would have to take to get into medical school were only meant for boys. She doesn’t regret becoming a nurse instead, but she does regret not standing up against that counselor. (My mom is only just past 60 so this happened not that many years ago).
        She’s happy that her daughter gets the opportunities she never got, and she’s proud that medical school now has a female majority. The majority of doctors at the hospital where I work are women also (including surgeons).

        I read a story recently about the first female gastric surgeon in Norway. She grew up in Pakistan at a time where no girls were allowed to go to school. There was one teacher that secretely allowed her to be in class, but told everyone else that she was only visiting her brother.
        When her parents went to Norway they didn’t even bother bringing her with them, they only wanted to take her brothers. After a while, they felt regret however, and let her come to Norway, where she got an education and became the first female gastric surgeon.
        That story brought tears to my eyes.


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This entry was posted on October 4, 2016 by in activism and tagged , , .
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