Capitalism needs a PR team…

…maybe capitalism needs a PR team?

…maybe capitalism needs a PR team?

The world looks pretty gloomy at the moment. ISIS are on the rise across the Middle East and North Africa. The European economy is as sluggish as it has ever been. Ebola savaged whole villages and townships.

You can hardly get away from it. When Russel Brand isn’t warning of the Government’s apparent plan to drag our living standards back to the Victorian times, Paul Mason is heralding a new “post-capitalist” era – a necessity because, as we all know, “the poor are getting poorer while the rich get richer”. Tragic charity videos of starving Ethiopian children stare out from our television screens, experts inform us that an “epidemic” calls as we all simultaneously eat too much and too little, and the internet breaks when some dickhead dentist mows down a lion.

Crikey, what luck that Jeremy Corbyn is here! Maybe it is for the best that we do now reconsider this whole freedom “neoliberal” thing… [Hint: it’s not]

The media and our attention span more broadly have always had a strong negativity bias. The truth, thankfully, is that far from human society breaking down into every chaos imaginable, there has never been a better time to be alive. And it’s getting better every day.

It’s almost heretical to be warmed by the fact that extreme poverty worldwide has halved since 1990. While we self-flagellate in guilt over how well off we are in the developed West, we ignore that the absolute poverty rate in East Asia has fallen from close to 80% to nearer 5% in the last three decades alone. China has singlehandedly lifted over 600 million people out of poverty since its economic liberalisations began.


graph 1


Poverty is still very much real for many people, but there is no getting away from the astonishing developments that are bettering the lives of billions at an ever faster rate. Child mortality rates too have halved since 1990, and maternal deaths during childbirth have also dropped 45%. Growth in life expectancy has been highest in the lowest income countries. While millions suffered from diseases like Guinea worm infections in the late 1980s, many were effectively eradicated worldwide by the early 1990s. Despite what we hear about the likes of ISIS and Boko Haram on the news, Steven Pinker of Harvard University has shown that current war and political violence related deaths globally have plummeted over the past century.


graph 2


Despite these austere times, the story is hardly apocalyptic in developed countries either. We’ve all heard about the rise in food bank usage, but what Owen Jones won’t tell you is that the percentage of total household income spent in places like the UK and US on food has fallen from nearly 20% in 1960 to less than 10% now. The number of un-sheltered homeless people in the US has fallen by 32% since 2007. As hectic as our lives may seem, we are working considerably less and spending more time on leisure activities as well. Your average European would work approximately 65 hours a week in the late 1800s, but barely 40 hours now, if not less. Still complaining?

And we haven’t even got onto the technological innovations that have allowed us all to live longer, healthier, smarter and more wholesome lives. While previously only the super-rich could afford the luxury of a foreign holiday, now average income Brits can globe trot too.

It’s all too easy to get downtrodden on bad news. There seems to be plenty of it at the moment. But we are doing ourselves a disservice. We’re actually pretty awesome. Free enterprise and free trade are working far better than they are given credit for. If only someone told us that once it a while…

…maybe capitalism needs a PR team?

(PS. Still depressed about the world? Watch “How is the world getting better? Charles Kenny explains” on YouTube: Follow Max Roser (@MaxCRoser) of the OurWorldInData project on twitter too for more uplifting data visualisations)

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