Chart of the Day: good news!


by Chris Becker
I want to start the (slow) week off with some positivity so we can step back from the news about terrorism, climate change or your local/national sport team losing over the weekend. What’s to be happy about?

Put simply, the world is getting richer and living longer! These charts from Max Roser show the brilliance of modern society, where even the poorest and unhealthiest are doing much better than the West’s predecessors.

First, life expectancy has skyrocketed across time and country, we’re living longer and better (although most of us watch too much TV):


Here’s some cliffnotes to help decipher if not clear:

  • For 1800 (red line) you see that the countries on the left – India and also South Korea – have a life expectancy around 25.
  • On the very right you see that in 1800 no country had a life expectancy above 40 (Belgium had the highest life expectancy with just 40 years).
  • In 1950 the life expectancy of all countries was higher than in 1800 and the richer countries in Europe and North America had life expectancies over 60 years – over the course of modernisation and industrialisation the health of the population improved dramatically.
  • But half of the world’s population – look at India and China – made only little progress. Therefore the world in 1950 was highly unequal in living standards – clearly devided between developed countries and developing countries.
  • Look at the change between 1950 and 2012! Now it is the former developing countries – the countries that were worst off in 1950 – that achieved the fastest progress. While some countries (mostly in Africa) are lacking behind.
  • But many of the former developing countries have caught up and we achieved a dramatic reduction of global health inequality.
  • The world developed from equally poor health in 1800 to great inequality in 1950 and back to more equality today – but equality on a much higher level.

And this shows quite clearly in the distribution of income across the world and time as prosperity takes hold:



Sure, there’s lots of problems out there, but we are collectively getting richer and healthier across almost all metrics.

Keep that in mind next time you complain about house prices or the cost of coffee.

Latest posts by Chris Becker (see all)


  1. reusachtigeMEMBER

    Waiting for someone to call “peak wealth/peak life”… that is the way of this place! 😉

    • …”that is the way of this place!”

      LOL! Fair call!

      I guess those of us that subscribe to the limits to growth theory see it as a ubiquitous problem that will crunch all sorts of different areas of society. They want all hit at once, but there are already some disturbing warning signs. Not only are there disturbing environmental trends, genuine economic growth is very hard to come by.

      Hell, even with centre banks and their shenanigans there isn’t a lot of organic growth happening. Maybe growth’s time is coming to an end?

      • These charts focus on percentages and use a log X axis to mislead.

        The awful truth can only be seen it you look at the absolute numbers of people in each category. For instance, in 1950 the world’s population was roughly 2.5 billion, so roughly 1.2 billion had a life expectancy of under 40 years. Now, with a population of 7.4 billion, about 2.4 billion, or roughly equal to the whole world’s population 62 years previously, are in the bottom third with expectancy less than 67 years.

  2. ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

    Paid $5.40 for a soy chi latte at Perth airport the other day!

    What is this world coming to !



      • I’ve been getting into matcha lately (powdered green tea) which is great warm or cold. In Japan the can machines served black coffee hot or cold too – all we have here is the dairy/sugar laden stuff.

        Nice article & data – wishful me translated the title to house prices nominally halving over the weekend but this report is excellent news too.

      • arescarti42MEMBER

        The thing I found remarkable about vending machines in Japan is that despite the fact that they appear in plague quantities, they almost exclusively only sell drinks (by my observation at least).

        I only saw a couple selling ice cream in Tokyo, and I don’t recall seeing any that sold things like chocolate bars or bags of chips.

      • I mainly saw drinks too, the best being the hot Boss coffees or lemon tea drink to combat the freezing conditions some days. One machine in Shinjuku had beer and cigarettes. Also many of the cafe’s had a touch screen terminal on each table to order food/drinks (thank goodness for pictures). They do a lot of things well there.

      • interested party

        “come on dairy farmers -huge niche there! HUGE!”

        Better talk to China, pal. They call the shots on that one.

      • They used to have a cool icecream vending machine at the Perth Airport viewing deck, fully sugar laden of course, but they made up for that by the fact the machine was a normal chest freezer in a box with an industrial looking robot arm with a suction cup on the end that pulled out the icecream for you.

      • Just need to look a bi harder Arescarti! I subsisted for some time off Japanese vending machines selling heated pot noodle soups!

      • I used to count cigarette vending machines in Japan in a past life … at there peak their were approximately 1.2 million vending machines devoted to cigarettes … they cost about $10,000 per machine … now add that up!

    • Coupla years ago – I messaged a heap of mates,

      “Welcome to Perth, where a $3.50 latte costs, $4.50.”

    • “Paid $5.40 for a soy chi latte at Perth airport the other day!”

      Yeah dude that’s the norm here in bogan central. The mining boom has engendered a bogan new money class that think by paying over the top for 3rd rate coffee mixed with milk purchased from coles, they have somehow ascended to the next level of class and are mixing it with the chardonnay swilling set who titter and ridicule them from behind their wine glasses.

      I tried every coffee place around my work and they all taste like acid mixed in day old milk. The average coffee shop here has no idea what constitutes a good cup of coffee.

      • No wonder you’re angy, permanently confronted with a choice between caffeine withdrawal and a foul taste in the mouth.

      • There are heavily tatted hipsters, Castro I think – in the bottom of Parmelia house on St Georges Tce – who make cracking coffee …. i hope I got that right – those hipsters all look the same …

    • “Paid $5.40 for a soy chi latte…”

      That sentence fragment pains me in so many different ways.

  3. I think the tails are the important bit. I like that the 2000 left-tail is smaller, but that right side makes me think 1820 was more equal than today by a long shot, albeit poorer.

  4. It’s certainly not Bad News, but whether it is actually Good News depends on the criterion for “goodness”.

    There is a wealth of psychological evidence (see some of the discussion here and here) to suggest that human happiness (or at least self-reported happiness) is minimally dependent on material well-being.

    Beyond a minimal level of penury, self-reported happiness appears to depend far more on relative status than on material well-being. This should come as no surprise. It is simply the well-known hierarchy of needs.

    When material well-being is improving rapidly we may expect some hysteresis effect: people will tend to compare their well-being not with others but with their own well-being in the immediately preceding period, and they will feel happier.

    As material improvement slows down we might expect to see the hysteresis effect dissipate. People will revert to comparing themselves with one another. This is perfectly consistent with the discontent now being seen in developed countries.

    If one were to choose average self-reported happiness as the criterion for determining policy, then in developed countries it would point to redistributive policies.

    Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that average self-reported happiness is a self-evidently correct criterion. There is no self-evidently correct criterion. It is a matter of preference, and those preferences need to be aggregated.

    The answer ultimately lies in identifying the logically consistent solution to the problem of preference aggregation in the absence of a priori privileging. That in turn leads to:

    a) a directly democratic choice of governmental system (a system which might or might not be directly democratic depending on the preferences of The People); and

    b) “The People” being defined by a directly democratic Polity Market.

    There are those of us who think this is the area for real advancement in the 21st century.

    • “There is a wealth of psychological evidence (see some of the discussion here and here) to suggest that human happiness (or at least self-reported happiness) is minimally dependent on material well-being.”

      I’m happy to be corrected, but I thought there was a strong correlation between wealth and happiness up to a point, but not so much once you reach a certain level of wealth.

      To be honest I can see how a poor person buying a modest home and car would have a meaningful impact on their life and happiness, but once you’re a multimillion is an extra 250k really going to make a meaningful difference to your life?

      • If you follow the first link which discusses Stevenson and Wolfers’ re-analysis of Easterlin’s data you can see that the relationship between self-reported happiness and wealth is logarithmic.

        Justin Wolfers himself noted the implication here:

        “even if the slope [of the semi-log graph] is three times as steep for rich countries as poor countries (as we estimate), this still means than an extra $100 has about a twenty-times-greater effect on happiness in Burundi than it would in the United States. Comparisons like this make you think that foreign aid may not be such a bad idea.”

        Given that the nation-state boundaries used to analyse the data are arbitrary, such a conclusion may also hold within nation-states.

      • RobW

        I’m going to cut out a lot of the details here, and explain it poorly, due to a poor memory but here is the jist of it.
        Read the book ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ by Jonathan Haidt for the full details.

        If certain criteria are in place a poor African American woman is happier than a rich Caucasian male.

        This woman lives in a community with her family and the people she grew up with.
        She attends church every weekend and is on good relations the people around her.
        She is part of something bigger than herself.

        The rich white male has a high income and all the material goodies.
        He has a nice house, the car of his choice and does not have to worry about the financial future.
        But he has no meaningful relationships.

        Thus, while the woman feels more worried about her well being, she is actually happier (or would fulfilled be a better word) than the man.

    • Stephen, I have considered a withdrawal from the democratic process more likely than the strengthening of.

      Dissolution, discontent, disinterest and in time, removal of legal compulsions to vote liberating citizens from the burdens of the participating in the democratic system.

      A natural order of interested participants will resolve to influence governence.

      • Yeah, those running the place can live in heavily fortified compounds rigging the outcomes they want and those not part of the system can live outside.

        Apartheid era Suid Afrika was just dandy for some

        A natural order of contempt for being exploited will evolve and we can have some genuine revolutionary activity to put an edge on everyones day and provide the backdrop for some decent televisual drama…

      • That’s not a dystopian vision on 3d’s part, it’s the New Conservative’s strategic model of efficiency. Volatility is such a pain in the arse; the plebs should know their place.

      • Stephen I saw you comment before erasure.

        It was my understanding that even in Switzerland voting turnout can vary according to issue from 30-60% average below 50%. Is this correct, if so, still indicates reasonable disinterest (but more direct power in each vote 😉 )

      • Given that most jurisdictions don’t have democratic processes it is difficult to see how citizens could disengage from them.

        Where democratic processes do exist (e.g. Switzerland, some US States) the overwhelming evidence is that they’re being used more and more, not less.

        Moreover, where democratic processes do exist the citizens do not use them to abolish or limit them, even though it is a relatively straightforward matter to call a referendum for that purpose. (In California, for example, there have been three such attempts, all of which have failed.)

        Elitists may hate it but Democracy has a categorical advantage over the corrupt system of elective government: it continuously and directly re-affirms its own legitimacy in terms of popular support.

        Let politicians elsewhere subject themselves to the same test: call a referendum for the introduction of Democracy.

        Then you’ll see some engagement!!

        • Exactly! Why 3d keeps pushing the uber rule scenario is beyond me. It isnt societally efficient, it isnt even in the best interests of the uber set themselves and ultimately just leads to an ever greater array of incentives to overthrow the regime (whatever form it takes) by building up the security costs for those benefiting from it.

          I can only assume he has never really laid eyes on any form of genuine revolutionary fervor (and the sorts of behaviours contained therein). Go back and read some Mao on asymmetric warfare. It is cheap to wage and imposes big costs.

      • It was my understanding that even in Switzerland voting turnout can vary according to issue from 30-60% average below 50%. Is this correct, if so, still indicates reasonable disinterest . . . .

        What it actually demonstrates is Prisoners’ Dilemma. Because each vote has an insignificant effect on the outcome, each rational voter has (leaving aside other motivations) a dominant strategy of not voting. The remarkable thing is that rational people vote at all.

        The solution to this collective action problems is well-known: compulsory voting, or at least compulsory attendance. In Switzerland, voting is (from memory) compulsory only in Schaffhausen canton.

        There are good grounds for arguing that even under Democracy, voting should be compulsory until such time as the People vote to make it non-compulsory.

        Even then, given that the composition of “the people” changes over time, it is a vote which would need to be re-taken every decade or so.

      • p.s. Even with low turnouts, Democracy is still functioning.

        As explained elsewhere, the main advantage of Democracy is that it prevents the adverse selection of psychopathic megalomaniacs as political agents. Were such people to be elected – and to to attempt to pursue their private schemes – the turnout would shoot up to stop them. So they stop trying.

        Thus does Democracy complement and improve elective government. It might even be argued that Democracy makes elective government truly “representative”, thus avoiding the need for more regular referendums.

      • No such animal as “NATURAL ORDER” unless one is evoking esoterica or a derivative of it by authors like Hayck et al.

      • Gunna, I’m not pushing the uber role. It just think it will be the natural order of things over time. And I don’t think there will be a revolution or uprising to challenge the drift.

        As a microcosm look at the U.S. Forty percent under financial stress, nearly fifty million living below the poverty line and not a revolution in sight. The end of the sub prime debacle saw people hand over keys, accept their fate and move down the ladder. To more affordable communities, shared housing, trailer parks, multiple jobs, food stamps, etc. Those that lose work through technology or globalisation will act similarly. Expectations will downscale, access to wifi and cable will fill leisure hours and an unexpected freedom (of sorts) will develop. Gradual easing of restriction on recreational substances will satisfy some seeking self medication or experience and the continuation of more dramatic and real virtual habits will sate curiosity.

        Pas de revolution.

      • Your glass is really half-full of s**t, 3d. The political and corporate interests you align yourself with are actively engaged in ensuring there will be no questioning or action against the status quo and their preferred operating model. But you have been skim reading history and falling asleep at each happy ending. Vous etes Charlie, n’oubliez pas. You’re supposed to reject totalitarian thinking, not welcome it.

      • interested party

        I will go out on a limb here and politely suggest that 3d is pretty close to how things will go down imho.
        To have a fair-dinkum revolution, the masses would need something to aspire to, and with the reality of climate change seeping through peoples consciousness ( Those that stick fingers in the ears and chant ‘it’s not real it’s not real…….la la la la la la, will eventually understand. ), the average person will capitulate and say ‘you know what….f!#k it, why bother.
        I see it in the eyes of our youth…..a sense of futility. They have had the fight knocked out of them.

        Sadly, I agree with 3d.

      • 3d1k,

        Hayck was just a payed propagandist, MPS was just a political think tank established to push an ideologically ridged agenda and AET is just another version of biblical economics.

        Have you seen the what the nutter Ron Paul and his side kick North have been up to, homeschooling, old testament sociopolitical advancement, not to mention Becks 2B theme park, Newts online university, its a gas man….

      • When 3D says “natural order” I believe he means ‘natural’ in the same way he means ‘free’ when he says “free market”.

  5. Lots of data to elicit from that graph.

    I have just finished reading a book by Paul Collier entitled “The Bottom Billion”. He reckons that the Bottom Billion is now the main development game. The top billion are doing fine, the developing 5 billion have the base and momentum to make their own destiny within time but the bottom billion are trapped in poverty for the foreseeable future.

    What are the traps? Usual suspects- civil wars, coups, warlordism, failed states, corruption, crappy governance, crappy policy as well as a bad hand in terms of being land-locked with few natural resources.

    Yep, the top countries have a lot to be thankful for.

    • I think Collier is a bit negative about the less developed world, and when one hears words like ‘exodus’ etc. re refugees and migrants sounds a bit biblical and Malthusian. A recent article of his was all quite plausible till he lurched into the area of identity, values, culture etc.. (something which KRudd warned Australia not to do on refugees).

      This is opposed to statistician, doctor and development expert Prof. Hans Rosling who can explain the data and statistical trends on fertility, population growth etc. and conclude, it’s heading in the right direction, be happy!

      From the BBC Hans Rosling ‘How much do you know about the world?’

      Further, Prof Ian Goldin of Oxford describes the migrationary movements of people as being a plus for human and economic development, because remittances, expertise, links etc. are most effective ways to improve development.

      In the USA, although academic criticisms were ignored by mainstream media re. Ehlrich’s alarmist Malthusian views on population growth aka ‘The Population Bomb,’ it was deemed to be scientifically flawed by demographers in the USA (Ehrlich is not a demographer but an evolutionalary biologist, or something like that), as fertility rates had already started dropping in most of the world (why something so simple yet not understood by media and many in academia)?

      As the MB article above suggests, something more positive is happening, increasing longevity in the western world with prosperity, and the developing world is catching up, in addition to slowing fertility rates……. off top of my head there about 2 billion young people (<15) in the world, in a hundred years there will be about 2 billion….. so maybe we should be focusing more on the ageing population and how to manage it well, with support from relatively fewer young and working age people…..

      • ceteris paribus

        I agree that Collier does lapse into grumpy and negative analysis a bit and I am not too convinced that the first world should be jumping into armed military intervention in failed states without the most careful of consideration.

        But, heavens, a few of the very bottom countries do seem like hellholes from the outside, with very poor prospects in the immediate future.

        The good news, as you point out, is the trend is upwards for the majority.

  6. Nineteen Eighty-four, by George Orwell

    In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motor-car or even an aeroplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which WEALTH, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while POWER remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.

    • ” mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves”

      I really wonder about the role of poverty in this. I don’t see a lot of critical thinking among Australia’s relatively wealthy middle class. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of well off middle class people I know are very intelligent and are far more successful and skilled than me, but most don’t really strike me as critical thinkers. They deserve their success, but they certainly don’t show any signs of thinking about issues of power or engaging in meaningful political debate.

      Hell, I got more insightful political commentary from a drunk on the train last year (who like myself would be considered a bogan) than I have ever got off 99% of my highly successful friends.

      Personally I think it’s more about education and culture. You are either taught these skills by your parents, at uni or from involvement in political or social groups. Few I think are self taught.

      • Intellectuals often lack intelligence too.

        I agree that intelligence has nothing to do with class or education. My grandparents never received much of an education (forced to start work early to support family) but they were certainly intelligent and more aware of what was happening around them than many people today.

  7. Word Origin and History for wealth: n.mid-13c., “happiness,” also “prosperity in abundance of possessions or riches,” from Middle English wele “well-being” (see weal (n.1)) on analogy of health.

    How stressed are Australians?

    Australians are faring slightly better than last year; however, levels of wellbeing are still lower than the first survey in 2011, and stress and distress levels are higher than those reported in 2012 and 2011.

    Stress and distress
    • One in four Australians reported moderate to severe levels of distress this year.
    • The highest levels of stress and distress were reported by young Australians (18-25 and 26-35 year age group).
    • Older Australians, aged 66 and above, continued to report significantly lower levels of stress and distress.

  8. All the beliefs, habits, tastes, emotions, mental attitudes that characterize our time are really designed to sustain the mystique of the ruling elite and prevent the true nature of present-day society from being perceived.

    • option B.

      I dont intend to be wedded to either the Age Pension or the preservation age of my super. I consider both insurance packages only that I do not want to “cash” in.

    • interested party

      Retirement is an obscure word….meaning that to retire is to stop doing what you don’t like. If you spend your life doing what makes you happy…why would you stop????

      I will never retire. Having too much fun….and I don’t have the time anyway.

  9. The figures don’t give a very accurate picture. If you remove infant mortality at one end from the past, and take out the drug addled nursing home almost dead, from the present, life expectancy wasn’t a whole lot different for a healthy person, in the West anyway. Maybe a 10 year difference between 1900 and now.

    • Yes and no.

      The West has also s een a significant decline in male accidental deaths in the 20-30s age group, and middle aged male longevity has increased due to lower tobacco use. But otherwise, agree that infant and early childhood (vaccinations are important here) mortality are where the big gains lie.

    • Yes, it’s easy to forget that people in ancient Greece and China (where we have good historical records) were living well into their 70’s, even 80 wasn’t uncommon.

    • Maybe a 10 year difference between 1900 and now.

      That is ~15% increase. I for one think that is huge increase!

      • That is ~15% increase. I for one think that is huge increase!

        You have obviously not been investing in Sydney property.

  10. “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest”
    – Albert

    The perception that a few people are getting rich at the expense of the rest of us is fuelling a backlash.

    Compound interest is an extremely powerful thing. In a society that is heavily in debt, like ours is today, it is the most important force in the economy.

  11. It always amazed and confused me how everyone is obsessed with their credit rating. It’s almost as if people don’t realize that credit equals debt. Debt is something that people have feared for thousands of years, because historically debt was always associated with another scary term – slavery.

    Debt bondage, indentured servitude, slavery, they all mean the same thing. Yet somehow the establishment has convinced us that the ability to “manage” our slavery is something to be proud of. They even have a rating system for it.

    • Hill Billy 55MEMBER

      I lived in an abbattoir town, with little else other than the old age home and government for employment. The Abbattoir had a history of industrial trouble but a new company took over.

      A couple of years later the new manager was asked how the IR was going? He took the visitor to the window of his office which looked out over the company parking lot. He showed the visitor all the shiny new utes and SUV’s therein, and smirked there were “no problems now”.

      Slavery by any other name!

  12. The perception that the world is getting richer is because debt levels are increasing.

    “Although capitalism is not a Ponzi scheme, credit-based economies, sic capitalism, and Ponzi schemes share the same fatal flaw. Both must constantly expand or they are in danger of collapse.” – Darryl Robert Schoon

    A growing economy requires more money, and money is debt. Exponential debt levels are mathematically impossible after a certain point. This isn’t a conspiracy theory or blind conjecture – it’s Algebra 1.

    Enjoy the good news.

    • Natural Law does not care what we believe.

      You may believe that the creation of debt is making humans richer and healthier but usury is morally and ethically bankrupt. It will end in tears.

      • The debt leverage you speak of is a direst result of the Chicago boys and partners, its not intrinsic to fiat and the history of gold – bimetalism is paved in blood for more that 3 millennium. So as one can plainly see its the human agency that drives the out come and not the object.

        BTW as with “natural order” their is no such thing as “natural law” as both are human concoctions. No humans…. no such animals.

  13. we live longer but our life quality is poor during large portion of that extended time.

    second chart is deceiving because it includes new income but it doesn’t include new costs (e.g. 30 years ago a average middle class family was earning $30k international dollars less but costs were significantly lower – there was no day care costs, uni costs, no huge mortgages, … so now families are earning 30% more but their costs are 50% up. On the other side these costs do not change much in life quality terms for rich people, their homes are few percent of their wealth anyway.

    Same is true for international comparison. Poor people in china and india are earning more but they have many new necessary costs like child care, rents, … 30 years ago when most of them lived in rural areas these costs didn’t exist.

  14. “When I’m in the big city, I never understand the faces of the people, especially the people who want to be successful. They look so worried! So unsatisfied!” Here his eyes closed shut and his hands became lobster claws, pinching and grasping the air in front of him. “In the city you see people grasping, grasping, grasping. Taking, taking, taking. And it must be so hard! To be always grasping-grasping, and taking-taking. But no matter how much they have, they never have enough. They’re still worried. About what they don’t have. They’re always empty.”

  15. Berkeley researchers invited a cross section of the population into their lab and marched them through a series of tasks. Upon leaving the laboratory testing room, the subjects passed a big jar of candy. The richer the person, the more likely he was to reach in and take candy from the jar — and ignore the big sign on the jar that said the candy was for the children who passed through the department.

  16. If you show rich people and poor people pictures of kids with cancer, the poor people’s brains exhibit a great deal more activity than the rich people’s. “As you move up the class ladder,” says Keltner, “you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and to be tightfisted in giving to others. Straightforward economic analyses have trouble making sense of this pattern of results.

    • the true of wealth is freedom (more of it).

      (Un)fortunately majority of rich people eventually fall into stereotyped being rich cliche where for the sake of being member of the wealthy elite they behave in a way that is against their true desires.

      Most of them study something they are not interested in, work too much and usually jobs they do not enjoy, meet (other wealthy) people they don’t like, in free time do many things they don’t really enjoy.

      ultimately very few of wealthy people actually enjoy much of that freedom – true value of wealth