An article in the Christmas issue of The Spectator make a surprising and bold claim:
It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. That sounds like an extravagant claim, but it is borne out by evidence. Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age.
To listen to politicians is to be given the opposite impression — of a dangerous, cruel world where things are bad and getting worse. This, in a way, is the politicians’ job: to highlight problems and to try their best to offer solutions. But the great advances of mankind come about not from statesmen, but from ordinary people. Governments across the world appear stuck in what Michael Lind, on page 30, describes as an era of ‘turboparalysis’ — all motion, no progress. But outside government, progress has been nothing short of spectacular.
While it’s tempting to dismiss the article as the typical hyperbolic contrarianism magazines and websites tend to churn out to pump up pageviews, I think there may be something to the claim.
Global poverty is down. Energy is abundant. Fewer people are dying from AIDS, malaria, war, and the cold of winter. And even in the aftermath of a global recession, most people in the West have accesses to medicines, luxuries, and amenities (e.g., air-conditioning) that our grandparents could only dream about.
Focusing solely on the material can admittedly distort the underlying rot of our culture. There were enough intractable problems and disturbing trends in 2012 to make any sane observer lose a year’s worth of sleep. But like the poor, cultural and spiritual decline seems to always be with us. We shouldn’t let that stand in the way of acknowledging the benefits that economic prosperity and technological innovation can have on the human condition.
As we say when reciting the Doxology, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow / Praise him, all creatures here below.” Whether 2012 was the best year ever is debatable, but we certainly should be thankful for a year in which blessings flowed on mankind in abundance.