The James Bond of Philanthropy

If you were a billionaire, how much of your wealth would you give away to charity? No doubt most people would donate something, albeit only a fraction of their total wealth. But what about giving nearly every penny you had — and doing so without any credit for your generosity?

As the New York Times reported, 85-year-old Irish American businessman Charles F. Feeney just finished giving away the last of his fortune, after promising five years ago that he would do so by the end of 2016, a commitment few would make let alone follow through on. Continue reading

Ten Great Things That Happened in 2016

It pretty much goes without saying that 2016 has been a rough year for a lot of people and for a multitude reasons, none of which need to be rehashed here. Suffice it to say, I am all the more grateful to have had a largely great year, due in no small part to the support and companionship of loved ones and the good fortune of my life circumstances.

And contrary to popular belief, there was more to 2016 than celebrity deaths and political decay. As Swedish writer and historian Johan Norberg reminds us, the past year has seen plenty of amazing progress in areas as wide ranging as conservation, public healthy, and conflict resolution. Here are just ten examples: Continue reading

The World As 100 People

To better grasp just how much human conditions have improved only over the past two hundred years, consider the following summation, which imagines humanity as just a hundred people.

world-as-100-people-2-centuries-1

Imagine if you were surrounded by abject poverty and misery, but only years later find most people lifted out of deprivation and living comfortable lives; imagine nearly half of all the kids around you dying before their fifth birthday, but over the span of just a couple of years, such tragedies are virtually unheard of.

When you consider that these conditions were the norm for most of our 200,000 year history, and that only in the last two centuries — a relatively small blip in the timescale — have they reversed so rapidly, it is astounding how so many of us fail to realize how incredibly far our species has come.

Learn more about human progress from the source of this infographic.

An Effective Ebola Vaccine Has Been Developed

Following a horrific epidemic in West Africa that claimed the lives of over 11,000 people — the deadliest the world had ever seen — we finally have a breakthrough vaccine against Ebola. As Vox.com reported:

Today, the same researchers — who hail from the World Health Organization, Guinea’s Ministry of Health, Public Health England, and other international partners — have unveiled their final results in the Lancet, and they’re just as remarkable. The vaccine was tested in a trial involving nearly 12,000 people in Guinea and Sierra Leone during 2015 and 2016. Among the 5,837 people who got the vaccine, no Ebola cases were recorded. By comparison, there were 23 Ebola cases in the control group that had not gotten the vaccine.

“This trial, confirming the 100 percent efficacy of the rVSV Ebola vaccine, is a simply remarkable outcome”, Dr. Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, said of the research. “We’ve shown that by working collaboratively, across international borders and sectors, we can develop and test vaccines rapidly and use them to help bring epidemics to an end”.

You can read the published study here. It was one of fifteen clinical trials for an Ebola vaccine conducted around the world in a single year, and is a vindication of what collective action and responsibility by the international community — including the U.N., NGOs, and national governments — can accomplish. It is a shame it took so many deaths spanning a nearly three year period to finally come up with a promising form of prevention, although the vaccine is far from ready to hit the market.  Continue reading

The Rapid and Massive Decline of Global Poverty

While too many people still struggle with deprivation and abject poverty worldwide, it is crucial to acknowledge just how far humanity has come in this regard. Over  at OurWorldInData.org, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser have put together an extensive, data-rich report on world poverty, and the results are outstanding to behold: in less than 200 years, our species has halved the rate of overall poverty while reducing the most extreme forms of it to a fourth of what it once was.

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Poverty has declined not only proportionally, but in absolute numbers: in 1820, the world’s population was just under 1.1 billion, of which more than 1 billion lived in extreme poverty — defined by the World Bank as living on less than $1.90 a day.

As of 2015, there were more than 7.3 billion people on Earth, of which 705 million live in extreme poverty. In other words, despite a seven-fold growth in population, there are fewer poor people now than two centuries ago, when the world was much smaller.world-population-in-extreme-poverty-absolute

The rate of decline in poverty began to accelerate as we approached the 21st century. From 1990 onward, the number of people living in extreme poverty declined by 47 million annually — or 130,000 a day. It is sobering to imagine that as of my writing of this post, tens of thousands of people have climbed out of poverty since the previous morning. (I know it is not evenly distributed day to day, but you get the idea.)

share-in-extreme-poverty-by-world-region

Granted, progress in poverty reduction remains highly uneven: while Asia is no longer home to the most abjectly poor people, Africa has taken its place with the largest number and percentage of people in extreme poverty, at 383 million (although this is far fewer than the over 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty in Asia and the Pacific in 1990). And the Asia-Pacific region is still close behind with 327 million people struggling with dire poverty.

Here’s the breakdown along national lines:

tree-map-of-extreme-poverty-distribution-750x525

Nevertheless, most of the countries still struggling with high rates of poverty have still seen some progress over the years, even if it has been slow and at times sporadic. The gains may be tenuous, but they’re still there, and there are more than enough encouraging examples of previously poor nations making incredible strides over the last several decades (South Korea, Singapore, Ghana, etc.).

Indeed, if we assume that the current rate of poverty decline continues, the number of extremely poor people will decline by more than half by 2030.

 

What a time to be alive, no?

If you’re interested in learning more about the above data, including methodology, data quality, and the definition of terms, click here.

Heartwarming Moments and Stories from the Rio Olympics

The 2016 Olympics in Rio came and went with the usual bevy of political and social troubles — though in fairness, the games have been tainted with controversy and poor sportsmanship since their inception in ancient times. Brazil, like most Olympic hosts, will no doubt continue to endure the economic and political repercussions, and such problems should not be discounted.

But for all those issues, I think it is worth looking at the bad with the good, and thankfully this year’s Olympics had plenty of touching milestones worth appreciating. Consider the following: Continue reading

The Fortunate Optimist

Many will — and indeed have — rightly point out that the only reason I am a fairly optimistic person is that I have lived a comparatively easy and privileged life. But I think that is how it should be — why should I be so grim when I have been so lucky? Why should I squander my good fortune and opportunity when so many others — indeed, the majority of humans who have ever lived and who presently live — have suffered far greater hardship and injustice. I am grateful to even have a basis for hopefulness and enthusiasm, so I cherish and cultivate it accordingly. It is not about being starry-eyed, naive, and willfully ignorant, but trying to keep even the bad in one’s life, and in the world at large, in check however one can.

Of course, this is not to say that people do not have good reasons to be cynical, regardless of their seemingly positive circumstances and experiences, or that pessimists are categorically ungrateful and ignorant. Like almost any person that has ever lived, I have seen and experienced enough to know that there are reasonable grounds to feel hopeless, misanthropic, and even nihilistic — indeed, I struggle regularly with bouts of those feelings as well. But for practical and philosophical reasons, I try to balance it out by valuing whatever flicker of hope I can find (be it in my life or among humanity as a whole).

What are your thoughts?

 

Kicking Off 2016 With A Big Milestone

It is not everyday that a nasty parasitic disease is wiped off the face of the Earth…in fact, this has yet to have ever happened — until this year, when the Carter Center seems poised to complete its decades-long work in eradicating the debilitating guinea worm infection.

Once the scourge of the developing world — affecting nearly 4 million people less than three decades ago — this painful disease has been reduced to less than two dozen cases as of 2015 (which in turn was 83 percent less than in 2014). Continue reading

The World Is Getting Better

In my last post, I made the provocative claim that 2015 — with its rash of terrorist attacks, mass shootings, escalating geopolitical confrontations, droughts, and more — was in fact the best year in human history. And some weeks before, I also shared the latest findings of the Global Development Index, which concluded that nearly all the world’s nations have made gains in education, healthcare, and income.

Now, Vox.com offers over two dozen infographics that reaffirm an increasingly obvious trend: the average human is experiencing unprecedentedly high gains in their standard of living, with improvements in areas ranging from malnutrition to Internet access. The visual data better show just how dramatic human progress has been.

Here are just some of the heartening developments I am highlighting.


absolute-poverty-by-region-0

High economic growth in India and China — which together account for almost one-fifth of the world’s population — as well as in other developing nations has to a massive decline in the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day — from 53 percent over thirty years ago, to 17 percent as of 2011.

Continue reading

When Mexicans Crossed the Border to Help Americans

And not just in terms of working millions of difficult, thankless, and necessary jobs, such as construction, farming, and caregiving. Amid yet another cycle of widespread anti-Mexican sentiment, with public perceptions of the country colored by the drug war and illegal immigration, the Washington Post reminds us that for all the acrimony and difficult historical relations, Mexico is a good neighbor to have.

The Mexican soldiers were on a relief mission to feed tens of thousands of homeless and hungry Americans displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Setting up camp at a former Air Force base outside San Antonio, they distributed potable water, medical supplies and 7,000 hot meals a day for the next three weeks…

…The 45-vehicle convoy crossed the border at Laredo at dawn on Sept. 8 and arrived in San Antonio later that day. The only glitch was that the USDA would not allow the Mexicans to serve the beef they had brought because they couldn’t prove it had been produced in a mad-cow-free facility. Undeterred — and un-insulted — the Mexicans bought their beef locally.

By the time their mission in San Antonio ended Sept. 25, the Mexicans had served 170,000 meals, helped distribute more than 184,000 tons of supplies and conducted more than 500 medical consultations.

Mexican sailors also assisted with clearing downed branches and other storm debris in Biloxi, Miss., where they posed for photos with President George W. Bush, who thanked them for their help.

It is also worth pointing out that Mexico was the only country in the world besides Canada to offer direct military assistance, in addition to private sector donations. The U.S. had declined direct military support from other nations, which says a lot about how much we trust our sole international neighbors.

Moreover, dozens of other countries assisted the U.S. during this severe time of need, from Afghanistan, which donated $100,000 despite its bigger worries, to Russia, which was among the first to respond with heavy jets bearing medical and emergency response supplies.

Many might cynically chalk up the support to political self-interest or diplomatic etiquette, but in most instances there would have been little to gain from helping, often in private, a country then under a highly unpopular leader.

This is a valuable lesson for a society accustomed to viewing foreign nations as threats or ungrateful, aid-hungry parasites. Even some of the world’s poorest nations pledged whatever resources they could to help the world’s hegemon as it reeled from this historic natural disaster. The vast and diverse world outside our borders has its problems, but it is a lot friendlier of a place than most of us realize — even where we least expect it.