A Report Card for Humanity: 1900-2050

2014-01-08 Will we be living better in 2050 than our predecessors did in 1900? The discussion over the state of the world, and whether things are getting better or worse, is not new. Scientists and philosophers have debated the topic for centuries. From Malthus to The Limits to Growth, pessimists have built their case for a future blighted by overpopulation, starvation, and depleted resources as optimists have tried to assure them that everything would be OK. The pessimistic view has proven influential, setting the tone of environmental and policy debates.  But rather than cherry-picking anecdotes to fit an overarching narrative, we should find a new way to compare global problems. Together with 21 of the world’s top economists, I have tried to do just that, developing a scorecard spanning 150 years. Our idea was to measure the damage inflicted by 10 important problems—including health, education, air pollution, and climate change—on a comparable scale, without reinforcing one viewpoint or the other. (...)