More than 3 billion people live on less than US$2.50 a day and more than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, subsisting on under $1.25 a day; 805 million people do not have enough to eat and 22,000 children die each day because of poverty. More than 750 million people lack adequate access to clean drinking water, and poor hand hygiene kills an estimated 842,000 people every year globally, according dosomething.org, validated by the United Nations Development Program and other UN entities. These facts should lead us to question whether this world is truly progressing.
However, the late Swedish academic Hans Rosling, co-author of Factfulness, has maintained that the world is getting better. I agree, but only in numeric terms (by comparing today’s socioeconomic conditions with those of past years). Should we be satisfied with this numeric progress or must we, in light of the world’s proficiency today, challenge ourselves and wonder whether we are efficiently applying the knowledge that we have acquired? The evolutionary path we choose to take to improve our lot can be either relative or absolute.
When considering our current knowledge and technology in the context of world reality, we observe a huge deficiency (reflected in numerous wars and high rates of poverty and illness) that should not exist in view of today’s enlightenment. Contemporary world challenges are associated more with poorly applied policies than with any scarcity of resources – they are a product of countries that work to serve their national interests rather than advancing human beings’ basic needs and morality.
The true challenge that the world is facing today is that although we know the remedies for our defects, we are incapable of genuinely tackling them. Wealthy states and people are trying to make this world a better place by bestowing generous humanitarian efforts and funds. However, such funds won’t treat the root causes of any problems unless we change nations’ policies. What is the purpose of the steady scientific progress the world has achieved if we are unable to apply what we know today to all universal citizens equally?
Government bureaucrats manage the most challenging socioeconomic issues, such as poverty, water security and climate change, and interest groups influence major political decisions, worldwide. Meanwhile, the most meaningful international entity, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), is regulated by a system that over-empowers its five permanent members, who veto any resolution that might jeopardize their own power.
The United States, the world’s largest economy and the most dominant political power, is polarized by the phenomenon of the Democratic and Republican parties working to strengthen their own positions, rather than to address universal challenges. Meanwhile, observing the public policies of my country, Egypt, has made me realize that being a developing nation is a choice, not a destiny. My country and many other nations work on favoring their rulers’ interests over sound government decisions.
According to a US News & World Report survey, the countries whose citizens care most about human rights, the environment, gender equality, religious freedom, respect of property rights and trustworthy and well-distributed political power are Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Canada and Sweden. The most powerful nations are the United States, Russia, China, Germany and France, in that order. With the exception of Germany, the most powerful nations are also the permanent members of the UNSC.
A few decades ago, social, political, economic and gender inequality was common in advanced nations; at that time, white Westerners perceived themselves as superior to black Africans, and women were not treated equally to men. Rule of law used to favor elite citizens over ordinary people and, in some of these nations, slavery was legal. The world might become better if we empower those nations that truly lead by example and excel at observing citizens’ rights at the expense of the most powerful nations.
In today’s world, we are still confronting many primitive challenges that we don’t want to acknowledge or address. The world’s principal flaw is still the human factor that has progressed rapidly over recent decades, but is using this empowerment to serve its narrow interests, leaving the world to suffer from maltreatment.
Factfulness is a superb, optimistic book; reading it should prompt us to expend more energy to make this world a better place by formulating sensible and constructive policies.