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The (surprisingly upbeat) state of the world

A different perspective on the state of the world: four major areas where mankind's long-term progress is striking.

By Staff writer / December 26, 2011

This is the lead article in a package of stories for the Dec. 26th weekly edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

Photo illustration by John Kehe & Ann Hermes/Staff

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Washington

First, the good news: Bad news does not define the human race.

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Yes, awful things happen in the world. Somewhere militias are settling political scores with AK-47s. Somewhere a tyrant is compiling a list of dissidents to arrest. Somewhere – too many somewheres – children don't get the food and health care they need, and their mothers remain oppressed as the property of men.

But here's something you'd never guess from watching cable news: There is progress in mankind's affairs as well. Consider these indications:

War may be on the decline. Scholars who study the subject say that, today, fewer wars are starting, more are ending, and those that remain are contained within smaller areas. Since the late 1940s annual world battle deaths have fallen by more than 90 percent.

It's not just classical big army clashes that appear to be passé, either. Everything from low-intensity militia conflicts to civil wars and, yes, terrorism is becoming less frequent and less deadly.

"If war is really obsolete, it would be one of the most important developments in the history of the human race," says John Mueller, chair of national security studies at Ohio State University in Columbus and an expert in conflict trends.

Poverty could be shrinking. Eleven years ago the United Nations challenged the world to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Right now it looks as if developing nations will reach that goal. The World Bank says they're already 80 percent of the way there.

The number of people living on less than $1.25 a day is projected to be 883 million in 2015, compared with 1.4 billion in 2005 and 1.8 billion in 1990, according World Bank statistics.

The outlook for developing countries to reduce hunger, enroll children in primary school, and reach a number of related UN-set benchmarks is similarly good.

"Their progress is much better than I expected," says Delfin Go, lead economist at the World Bank's Development Prospects Group.

Globally, women's lot is rising, both in absolute terms and relative to men. In developed countries there's an increased consensus supporting formal legal rights and guarantees of equality for women, says a World Bank report on the subject. In many – but not all – developing countries, more women are literate and their overall education level is catching up to men's levels.

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