Why good news matters

Roger Partridge
Insights Newsletter
19 October, 2018

In the media they say if it bleeds it leads. That may be so, but last Friday I took the unusual step of writing a column about some good news.

According to the Brookings Institute, a global tipping point has just been reached. For the first time in history, more than half the world’s population is living in households with enough discretionary income to be considered “middle class” or “rich.” What is more, over the last two decades, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has almost halved.

The column generated an unexpected flood of positive feedback. Readers seemed both surprised and relieved to read some good news among the media’s daily diet of gloom.

Of course, positive feedback from readers is always welcome. But that is not why it is important to write about what is going well with the world.

As Harvard University psychology professor Steven Pinker warns, there are dangers in the media’s indiscriminate pessimism.

One is that it leads to fatalism. If the world is going to hell in a handcart, why bother? If there really is a poverty trap, if intergenerational welfare dependency is a fact of life, is there any point searching for solutions?

Another danger is the risk of radicalism. If the system is broken, and our institutions are beyond reform, then why not smash them and start again?

Succumbing to these views could be easy. And when all our news is bad, it is inevitable that some people will have a sceptical perspective on human progress.

Yet, as I noted in my column, the facts are otherwise. Today humanity is wealthier, healthier, better fed, more peaceful, safer, freer, more equal, more intelligent, more literate, and happier than ever before.

Of course, that does not mean there is no work left to do – either globally or in New Zealand. Indeed, in several critical areas, our own policy settings are failing our least well-off – especially in education and housing.

But at the Initiative we are unrelentingly optimistic that solutions to these problems can be found. And, fortunately, the history of human progress is on our side. We just need to spread the good news.

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