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2017: The Greatest Year in History

We’re used to thinking of the New York Times as the bearer of bad news, both domestically and internationally. To paraphrase their slogan, “All the Bad News Fit to Print.” That’s why an article in the Sunday Times was surprising. The writer says that 2017 was the “best year in human history.”

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We all know that the world is going to hell. . .But you’d be wrong. In fact, 2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity.

A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell. . .

Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water. . .

As recently as the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 15 percent are illiterate, and fewer than 10 percent live in extreme poverty. In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone. After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.

Just since 1990, the lives of more than 100 million children have been saved by vaccinations, diarrhea treatment, breast-feeding promotion and other simple steps.

That’s quite a list of things to be thankful for. Yet, we tend to think everything is getting worse, and long for a “simpler time.”

President Trump rode this gloom to the White House. The idea “Make America Great Again” professes a nostalgia for a lost Eden. But really? If that was, say, the 1950s, the U.S. also had segregation, polio and bans on interracial marriage, gay sex and birth control. Most of the world lived under dictatorships, two-thirds of parents had a child die before age 5, and it was a time of nuclear standoffs, of pea soup smog, of frequent wars, of stifling limits on women and of the worst famine in history.

What moment in history would you prefer to live in?

We know what era Roy Moore wanted to live in. He recently said America hasn’t been “great” since the time of slavery. . .

The Washington Post also has a reputation for reporting bad news, yet that paper also looks fondly back at 2017, with 17 good things that happened.

1. Both the world and U.S. economies continued to grow, continuing one of the most sustained economic expansions ever in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. . .

2. With the help of thousands of U.S. troops, the “caliphate” of the Islamic State was defeated and destroyed. . .

3. Women who had been harassed and assaulted in the workplace stood up and spoke up — and, in many cases, were listened to and believed. . .

4. Speaking of which . . . Roy Moore, Republican candidate in the hyper-Republican state of Alabama, lost a special election for the U.S. Senate. He deserved to lose for many reasons, but none more compelling than the allegations against him of preying on teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Women bravely spoke up — and they, too, were heard.

5. Britain’s Prince Harry is engaged to Meghan Markle. She is divorced, biracial and American — any one of which would have been enough to rule her out for the British royal family not long ago. . .

6. This month, Australia became the 25th country to achieve marriage equality, with both houses of the legislature voting overwhelmingly in its favor following a voluntary mail survey that showed clear public support. . .

7. Ratko Mladic, “the Butcher of Bosnia,” was found guilty of genocide and sentenced to life in prison. . .

8. In the United States, too, the courts played a heartening role, showing their independence and willingness to stand up to the Trump administration. . .

9. Mattel unveiled a sporty, hijab-wearing Barbie, modeled on Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. . .the first Muslim American woman to win an Olympic medal. . .

10. Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria caused terrible devastation across the Caribbean, in Florida and in Texas — but also inspired amazing acts of heroism, generosity and neighborliness.

11. French independent centrist Emmanuel Macron resoundingly defeated the far-right, anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen for president in May. . .

12. The teen pregnancy rate continued to fall, as reported in June of this year. . .

13. Democracy was under pressure in the world, but it continued to hold its own in many places — and reasserted itself in some infertile ground. . .

14. Women in Saudi Arabia were granted permission to drive starting in June. . .

15. The Affordable Care Act. . .survived. . .and millions of Americans returned to Obamacare exchanges to buy insurance for the coming year. . .

16. Progress was made on the long-sought and elusive goal of gene therapy. . .

17. Under the steady leadership of Paul J. Wiedefeld, Metrorail service in the capital area actually improved a tick or two.

Meanwhile, Future Crunch gives us 99 reasons why 2017 was a good year. They begin with medical advances, such as a cheap, new vaccine for cholera, cancer deaths have dropped by 25% in the US since 1991, Zika all but disappeared, the battle against tropical diseases is working, blindness-causing Trachoma was eliminated in several countries, AIDS deaths are down by half since 2005, the UK announced a 20% drop in dementia over the past two decades, leprosy is now easily treatable, and between 2000 and 2016 the measles vaccine has save more than 20 millionlives.

In other areas, Chile set aside 11 million acres for national park, China invested more than $100 billion to fight pollution, a state in India set a record for reforestation, while a province in Pakistan planted a billion trees in two years, Indonesia pledged a billion dollars to help clean up plastics in the oceans, and the ozone hole shrank to its smallest size since 1988.

The article has scores of other good news, if you’re interested.

And finally, Vox offers nine reasons we should be thankful for 2017.

1. Less famine
2. Fewer war deaths
3. Fewer deaths from natural disasters
4. Progress against pestilence
5. Greater life expectancy
6. More democracy
7. More rights for women and sexual minorities
8. Fewer people living on $2 a day
9. Greener energy

How about you? Are you grateful for 2017, or just glad it’s over?

Goethe Behr :Goethe Behr is a Contributing Editor and Moderator at Election Central. He started out posting during the 2008 election, became more active during 2012, and very active in 2016. He has been a political junkie since the 1950s and enjoys adding a historical perspective.

View Comments (10)

  • There is no doubt that these things are important advances, they point to the fact that human civilization is still progressing. The world, over all, is becoming a better place to live. Bear in mind though, the rest of the world is not dealing with a narcissistic, painfully ignorant, wannabe dictator as their "leader". In the light of the progress in the areas you have noted, 2017 was a good year. If we can defeat some of the hateful Republicans in Congress, such as Paul Ryan, who are just interested in looting the nation for the benefit of the rich, and remove Trump from office ( and hopefully into a jail cell) then 2018 will truly be a year to celebrate.

    • Yes, I can't think of anything more celebratory in 2018 than putting the President in jail and nullifying the results of a national election. Unity and togetherness can be the only result of such a move.

      • Yup, to heck with the US economy. Just so Nate gets his way. Grow Up Nate. Your party got beat/fired.

      • Your viewpoint would possibly make more sense if the "winner" of that national election had not 1) lost the popular vote by three million votes, 2) continually used the office of the presidency for personal profit, 3) depended on the help of Vladimir Putin to win that election, 4) unabashedly chose his rich friends, his family, and himself on the tax "reform", 5)is strongly suspected of amassing much, if not most of his fortune laundering money, primarily for Russian oligarchs, 6) stands accused of sexually assaulting more women than others who are being forced out of their jobs, 7) who has continually embarrassed us in front of all world leaders except the strongmen, like Putin, whom he idolizes, 8) who lies to the American people on a daily basis.
        By the way, your reputation for unbiased presentation of the facts is a little frayed by your reply. But that's ok, you don't have to read many of your posts to know that both of you are lifelong Republicans and closer Trump supporters.

        • Oh, and by the way, I forgot to say that I hope that in the course of this investigation they find criminal activity severe enough to put him and all the children but the youngest son in jail for life, and cost them all the entire Trump fortune.

          • Trump should be very worried about the Mueller investigation. I don' t think he has to worry about Russia, but these investigations can look into other things. After all, Ken Starr was asked to investigate a trivial real estate deal, but in six years, went from one thing to another, until he finally found a blue dress.

            Trump is famous for, and among his supporters, celebrated for breaking the rules. I can't believe he threw around so many millions of dollars for so many years, without breaking banking rules--a federal offense. The crime doesn't have to do with his presidency--Whitewater didn't.