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Progress summary

Johan Norberg

Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future

4.5 (40 ratings)
26 mins
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    Hunger is slowly becoming a thing of the past thanks to improved food production.

    In past centuries, life in Europe was a bleak affair. Hungry children roaming from house to house in search of food, beggars dying in the streets – each was a common enough scene in the seventeenth century.

    Famine was ubiquitous. Hunger was part and parcel of human life. It’s only recently that this started to change.

    In the seventeenth century, millions of lives were lost to food scarcity. Take Finland. Historical estimates suggest that around a third of the population died as a result of famine between 1695 and 1697.

    Desperation even drove many to cannibalism. Accounts from the period suggest it occurred in Sweden and again in France in 1662.

    Food shortages persisted into subsequent centuries.

    Average calorie consumption in France and England in the eighteenth century was lower than it currently is in sub-Saharan Africa – the most undernourished region in the world.

    But with technological advances and global trade came a rapid increase in food production. More and more people were freed from hunger.

    When farmers were granted property rights in the nineteenth century, they were given an incentive to produce more food, as they could sell surplus crops for profit. Meanwhile, opening up borders to global trade provided different regions with an opportunity to specialize in particular areas. That made food production much more efficient.

    Scientists and entrepreneurs also played their part. They developed innovations like artificial fertilizer, modern milking machines and combine harvesters.

    The effect was dramatic.

    Take the combine harvester. A single machine can now do as much work in just six minutes as 25 men once did in a day. That’s a whopping 2,500-fold increase in productivity!

    Globally, the results are just as impressive. In 1961, there were 51 countries in which the average person consumed less than 2,000 calories a day. By 2013, there was only one – Zambia.

    Undernourishment has dropped significantly. In 1945, around half the world’s population didn’t have enough to eat. Today, that’s been cut to around 10 percent.

    Defeating chronic hunger is still work in progress. But victory is in sight. That’s a great reason to look forward to the future.

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    What is Progress about?

    Progress (2016) is a broadside against the naysayers and pessimists who argue that things are constantly getting worse. Citing improvements in freedom, equality, health and wealth as evidence, Johan Norberg argues that we’ve made huge strides toward a better world. In fact, our species has never been better off. But that’s not the only gladdening news. If current trends are anything to go by, we’re also in for a rosy future.

    Who should read Progress?

    • Pessimists who think the glass is always half empty
    • Politics nerds who love a good argument
    • Futurologists who want a picture of tomorrow’s world

    About the Author

    Johan Norberg is a Swedish writer, historian and senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. He has written widely on economic topics and is the author of multiple acclaimed titles, including In Defense of Global Capitalism and Financial Fiasco.

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