This week, we received the sad news that Professor Hans Rosling has passed away due to pancreatic cancer. A brilliant statistician and mesmerizing public speaker, Rosling was widely known for his dazzling data visualizations and compelling lectures on health, poverty, population, religion, inequality, and economic growth.
His lectures were heavily driven by data, and although his conclusions sometimes suffered from an underlying utilitarianism, Rosling’s ultimate contribution was to point us beyond the numbers and data points.
Rosling had an exceptional gift for capturing the economic imagination with wonder and humor, pointing our hearts and heads to the human complexities that most economic planners and professional number-crunchers tend to forget or ignore. He had a special way of bringing complex realities and historical patterns into perspective, always reminding us of the power and mystery of human creativity and ingenuity.
More often than not, he recognized the reality and promise of the unseen and unforeseen, and in doing so, inspired us with an informed optimism, or as Rosling would surely say, a steady “possibilism.”
Thus, in honor of Rosling’s fine work and enduring contribution, here are four of my favorite talks by the late, great Swedish statistician.
On Capitalism and the Explosion of Prosperity
Despite the enormous disparages today, we have seen 200 years of remarkable progress. That hugehistorical gap between the West and the Rest is now closing. We have become an entirely new converging world,and I see a clear trend into the future, with aid, trade, green technology, and peace. It’s fully possible thateveryone can make it to the wealthy-healthy corner.
On Washing Machines and the “Magic” of Industrialization
What’s the magic with them? My mother explained the magic with this machine the very, very first day. She said, “Now Hans, we have loaded the laundry. The machine will make the work. And now we can go to the library.” Because this is the magic: you load the laundry, and what do you get out of the machine? You get books out of the machines, children’s books. And mother got time to read for me. She loved this. I got the “ABC’s” — this is where I started my career as a professor, when my mother had time to read for me. And she also got books for herself. She managed to study English and learn that as a foreign language. And she read so many novels, so many different novels here. And we really, we really loved this machine.
And what we said, my mother and me: “Thank you, industrialization. Thank you, steel mill. Thank you, power station. And thank you, chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books.”
On Myths about the “Third World”
This is the world distribution of income of people. One dollar, 10 dollars or 100 dollars per day. There’s no gap between rich and poor any longer. This is a myth. There’s a little hump here. But there are people all the way…And this shows that the concept of developing countries is extremely doubtful. We think about aid, like these people here giving aid to these people here. But in the middle, we have most of the world population, and they have now 24 percent of the income.
On Population Growth and Why We Shouldn’t Panic
Besides everything else, look at the data. Look at the facts about the world, and you will see where we are today, and how we can move forward with all of these billions on our wonderful planet. The challenges of extreme poverty have been greatly reduced, and it’s for the first time in history within our power to end it for good. The challenge of population growth is, in fact, already been solved. The number of children have already stopped growing. And for the challenge of climate change, we can still avoid the worst…I’ve never called myself an optimist. But I do say I’m a possibilist, and I also say the world is much better than many of you think.
Photo: Neil Phantom, CC by 2.0
Photo (featured image): Gapminder