Factfulness (2018) offers readers a wealth of statistics and cold, hard facts that reveal the world to be a far better place than it was just a couple generations ago. But, more than that, author Hans Rosling also offers readers a way to revise their thinking and fight against our instinct to focus on the bad and lose sight of the good.
Here’s a question for you: Over the past 20 years, what has happened to the level of extreme poverty in the world? Has it nearly doubled? Stayed the same? Or been nearly cut in half? If you guessed that it has been nearly halved, you’re one of the few people to answer the question correctly.
In the United States, only five percent of people got it right; in the United Kingdom, only nine percent picked the right answer – and those who got it wrong include some of the brightest experts working today. The reason why so few people have an accurate understanding of the world is due in large part to our natural instincts and what the author calls megamisconceptions.
Some misconceptions are mega because of how deeply they mess up our understanding of the world. One of the big ones is Westerners’ “us-versus-them” mentality – that is, the idea that West and the East are fundamentally different and somehow at odds with each other. This is also referred to as the outdated concept of the “developed world” versus the “developing world.”
When the author gave lectures, he noticed that many students still thought that the East was filled with countries where birth rates are out of control and where religion and culture prevent the creation of a modern or “Western” society. As one of Rosling’s students put it, “They can never live like us.”
But who exactly is “they,” or the “East,” or the “developing world” – is both Japan and Mexico City still part of the East? Are China and India still considered incapable of being home to modern cities?
Back in 1965, if we just looked at the child mortality rate around the world, which is a great test of a nation’s overall health, education and economic systems, 125 countries would fall into the “developing” category of having over five percent of their children die before their fifth birthday. Today, that category only contains 13 countries.
In other words, there is no “West and the rest” anymore.