An article at Our World in Data describes how these charts illustrate history.
A recent survey asked “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?”. In Sweden 10% thought things are getting better, in the US they were only 6%, and in Germany only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better.
What is the evidence that we need to consider when answering this question? The question is about how the world has changed and so we must take a historical perspective. And the question is about the world as a whole and the answer must therefore consider everybody. The answer must consider the history of global living conditions – a history of everyone.
To see where we are coming from we must go far back in time. 30 or even 50 years are not enough. When you only consider what the world looked during our life time it is easy to make the mistake of thinking of the world as relatively static – the rich, healthy and educated parts of the world here and the poor, uneducated, sick regions there – and to falsely conclude that it always was like that and that it always will be like that.
Take a longer perspective and it becomes very clear that the world is not static at all. The countries that are rich today were very poor just very recently and were in fact worse off than the poor countries today.
To avoid portraying the world in a static way – the North always much richer than the South – we have to start 200 years ago before the time when living conditions really changed dramatically.
There’s much more at the link, including larger versions of the individual charts above.
I think this is a very valuable series of charts, particularly when speaking to younger people today who’ve never known what it was like to be poor, or not to have some of the conveniences they take for granted. That applies even in the First World. I can recall my mother using a relatively primitive washing machine, with a mangle on top to press water out of laundry; but those older than I will recall a time when there were no washing machines at all, and everything had to be laundered by hand. Today’s automatic appliances were unheard-of. Another example: how many of you recall a long drive in your car in which you confidently expected to have at least one puncture along the way (if not more than one), and tire life was measured in the low five figures, if not four figures? Today’s tires, almost puncture-proof and rated for many tens of thousands of miles, were a pipe-dream back then. Want another? How about polio? When I was growing up, I knew children who were paralyzed or deformed as a result of polio. Some were confined to iron lungs. I was born just in time to benefit from Dr. Salk’s polio vaccine. They just missed it.
Those charts, and the accompanying article, are very informative. Recommended reading.