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The Human Race Is Doing Pretty Well. Just Look At The Data.

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Krithika Varagur, Huffington Post

Marian Tupy founded HumanProgress.org to show how the state of humanity has improved in almost every way over time.

Stories are subjective, but numbers don’t lie, right?

Marian Tupy disagrees. An economist and senior policy analyst at the libertarian CATO Institute in Washington, D.C., Tupy was born in Czechoslovakia, grew up in South Africa and was educated in Scotland. He founded  HumanProgress.org in 2013 on the premise that the media misuse data to paint an overly negative picture of development.

The data-driven site and blog curates date from third parties like the U.N., the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The cherrypicking, so to speak, is powerful. Taken together, the charts and graphs on Human Progress show that humans are doing better in 26 different vectors of wellbeing over the past century — from gender equality and violence to economic freedom.

Among the uncommon variables tracked is “charity”; the site recently published a map on world giving:

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Over the last three years, Tupy has added just one person to his operation, CATO research assistant Chelsea German, as the managing editor. It remains largely a labor of love, and bears the strong editorial stamp of Tupy, who pens several blog posts a week in addition to curating data.

He finds hopeful trends in some unlikely places, like the fact that, despite population increases, lightning kills fewer Americans now because of better public-safety policies and infrastructure.

HumanProgress.org

Good news is not exactly popular in media or in economics, dubbed the “dismal science.” Even the last decade’s promising wave of data-backed policy interventions has fallen short of, well, changing the world, as Michael Hobbes pointedly observed in a New Republic article last year. But in Tupy’s account, there’s a fundamental error  in comparing all progress we’ve made with a utopian future rather than celebrate our progress from the past, which is why he founded his site.

He has good company in the Human Progress advisory board: this year’s economics Nobel laureate Angus Deaton; Steven Pinker, psychologist and author of The Better Angels of Our Nature; and Matt Ridley, the economist and author of The Rational Optimist.

The site’s libertarian underpinnings, though muted, are not absent. The website officially states, “While we think that policies and institutions compatible with freedom and openness are important factors in promoting human progress, we let the evidence speak for itself.”

Still, when Bernie Sanders famously compared the United States to Denmark in the first Democratic debate, it touched off three separate blog posts on Human Progress, which criticized the comparison, analyzed Sanders’s “fixed pie fallacy” and examined how socialist Denmark really is. The fixed pie post concludes that Sanders is “half right” to say, “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” because the poor are becoming nominally richer as well.

I spoke to Tupy on the phone about his project, how to market good news, and why he thinks we should stop comparing the present to the “future perfect.”

You have quite a globetrotting background. How does that inform your work?

Well, I grew up in a communist country, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and there I saw real poverty. The shops were empty, there were queues everywhere, people couldn’t really buy anything, their currency was worthless, and there was no freedom of speech, religion, assembly – anything. The first time I went to the West was in 1989 when the Wall came down, and I went to Vienna, and saw that just across the border from Czechoslovakia was a very prosperous country. So that got me thinking, as a kid,what makes some countries rich and some countries poor?

Then I moved to South Africa when I was 16, with my parents, who are doctors, and there I saw even worse poverty. And from there I moved to Scotland for my PhD at St. Andrew’s, and finally the United States, to work at CATO. So I’ve lived in countries which have varied tremendously in terms of economic outcomes, and I wanted to know more. So my dissertation was about globalization and trade and inequality. And when I looked into the data, I realized that actually even though there are vast differences between countries in the world, the world as a whole is becoming more prosperous, and things are improving everywhere, and the differences between people are actually diminishing.

Full interview