I think it is fair to say that Anno Domini MMXX has not turned out the way that many of us hoped or expected. Those who spent many hours in pandemic-induced isolation binge-watching The Crown will recall Queen Elizabeth’s famous reference to the year of the Windsor Castle fire as her annus horribilis. With typical British understatement, she said that “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.” How apposite with regard to the year that’s about to expire.
 
Throughout the world, close to two million people have perished from COVID-19 and millions more mourn the loss of their loved ones. The former includes a Human Progress Advisory Board Member Professor Deepak Lal, a great economist and gentleman, who was always gracious and full of encouragement. We also lost Professor Walter Williams, whose writings taught me the little I know about economics.
 
Speaking of which, the global economy took a nasty blow, with unemployment suddenly rising, budget deficits exploding and debt ballooning. Beyond the macroeconomic shocks, some of the hard-won gains in our struggle against poverty, hunger and other indicators of human well-being are sure to be lost. And, of course, the long-term effects of the pandemic on politics and economics worldwide are yet to be determined.
 
Amidst all the gloom, it is important to keep in mind that human progress is not a smooth upward curve. Rather, it is a jagged one. Western Europe, for example, experienced tremendous economic, political, technological, scientific, and medical advances during the century that separated the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815) and 1914, only to descend into the barbarism of World War I and World War II. Yet, Europe rebounded, just as it did when the Dark Age that followed the fall of Rome gave way to the light of the Renaissance. 
 
Setbacks, in other words, are to be expected. That, alas, is the fate of a species inhabiting a universe that tends toward entropy. To quote the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, “Progress is not magic. Progress is not perfection … It doesn’t mean that everyone is maximally happy. It doesn’t mean that everything gets better for everyone everywhere all the time and always … that would be a miracle.”
 
That being said, let’s briefly consider the things that did not happen. The novel coronavirus, while serious, was much less deadly than it could have been. It targeted the old and the sick, which is bad enough, but generally spared the young. The healthcare systems did not collapse and close to 60 million people have recovered from the illness. Social order, by and large, endured. Technology kept many of us productive, connected to our friends and family, and (semi-)sane.
 
The COVID-19 damage, in other words, was mitigated by the stock of human knowledge and by our past accomplishments. And that brings me to medical science … Humanity has suffered from deadly diseases for millennia without fully knowing what they were, how they were transmitte