OPINION

Living ‘better’ but with more fear

Never before has the human race had it so good and have people had more goods at their disposal. In the 1950s, gross national income (GNI) reached 5.3 billion «international dollars» (a hypothetical unit of currency with the same purchasing power over GNI as a US dollar has in the USA). In 1998, this figure soared to 33.7 billion international dollars. Never before has this income been distributed so well (not necessarily what we consider to be fair but better in relation to the past). Poverty is also at an all-time low (again this is not to say it is negligible but that it has reduced). In 1981, 40.4 percent of the world’s population was living in destitution (on less than a dollar a day). By 2001, this figure had dropped to 21.1 percent. Relative poverty levels also fell: In 1981, half (50.1 percent) of the population was living on less than 50 percent of the average national income; in 2001 this percentage dropped to 28.8 percent. Life expectancy is also longer than ever; between 1970 and 1975 it was 55.6 years in developing countries and 70.3 years in developed countries; between 2000 and 2005 these figures rose to 64.9 years and 77.6 years respectively. Human development indicators also show improvement in literacy levels, better access to clean water and vaccination, etc. There are fewer wars and more people have more freedom than ever before. Of course the above does not constitute an ideal situation. One billion people living in utter poverty now may be an improvement on the 1.5 billion destitute people in 1981 but this does not make it OK. There are certain parts of the planet, such as sub-Saharan Africa, that are not following the general trend toward improvement. But overall people in at a better position than they were in the past. However, they are also more afraid than ever before. These days we fear economic recession while also fretting about the ecological catastrophes that economic development may provoke. We are worried about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and terrorist attacks in cities. We fear global epidemics and immigration flows. Generally people – and especially those living in the Western world – are extremely fearful. Perhaps these fears have stemmed from the fact that the human race has spread out so much that any negative change on a global level will be felt virtually anywhere. The high rate of natural disasters such as tsunamis – a departure from the general trend toward improvement – is attributable to the overpopulation of coastland and excessive numbers of tourists. Rivers always overflowed, but there weren’t always homes to destroy on their banks. These days there is usually a village or small settlement near every stream. We have entered the age of fear. And this will cost us more in the long run than all the changes we fret about.