Nicholas Kristof: Why 2018 was the best year in human history

O.K., every other day of the year I promise to tell you why you should despair about genocide in Myanmar, starvation in Yemen, separation of children from parents at the border and so on. But today I want to encourage you: Take a nanosecond to celebrate a backdrop of human progress.
People often assume that because I cover war, poverty, hunger and genocide, I must be perennially morose, the Eeyore of journalists. But I’m actually upbeat because I’ve witnessed such progress in my reporting career. When I was in university in the early 1980s, 44 percent of people on Earth lived in extreme poverty; now fewer than 10 percent do. When I was a kid, a majority of humans had always been illiterate; now fewer than 15 percent are. Every day, another 305,000 people get access to clean drinking water.
One factoid I didn’t have space for in my column is that in the 1950s, two-thirds of parents worldwide suffered the loss of at least one child. That’s just about the most terrible thing that can happen to anyone, and it was very common. Now it’s very rare (only 4 percent of children worldwide die by the age of five).
Of course, far too many kids still die, far too many people still live in poverty, and we see ongoing outrages in this country and abroad. But I think it’s important to acknowledge the progress for fear that people conclude that global challenges are hopeless and simply give up.
I should note that while I have seen great progress in the world in recent decades, I haven’t seen that in the U.S. Simply the fact that life expectancy has fallen and that suicides are at a 30-year high should caution us that something is fundamentally wrong. That’s also the topic that my wife, Sheryl, and I are writing a book about, so we’ve spent plenty of time in the last year with the down and out. Stay tuned.