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India, a Story of Progress

Blog Post | Economics

India, a Story of Progress

The world should take note of which principles brought freedom and prosperity to India.

The 76-year story of modern India is one of the greatest stories of progress in history. At the time of its independence in 1947, it was a mostly agricultural economy of 340 million people with a literacy rate of only 12 percent and a life expectancy of only 32 years. Today, it has the fifth-largest economy by nominal gross domestic product (GDP) and third largest by purchasing power parity. In his book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” Steven Pinker highlights six key areas of progress: life, health, wealth, safety, literacy, and sustenance. In every one of these metrics, life in India has significantly improved over the years.

Self-Sufficiency Is Self-Destructive

Since independence in 1947, India suffered the consequences of socialist ideals. In a quest for self-sufficiency, the government played a heavy role in the economy. Under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, India pursued Soviet-style “Five Year Plans,” intending to turn India into an industrialized economy. From 1947 to 1991, the government owned most key industries, including steel, coal, telecommunications, banking, and heavy industry. India’s economy was closed to foreign competition, with high tariffs and restrictions to foreign investment. For example, the import tariff for cars was around 125 percent in 1960. The policy of import substitution aimed to produce goods domestically instead of importing them from abroad. In reality, massive waste and inefficiency resulted, as Indian businesses were protected from international competition.

Furthermore, India’s private sector was heavily constrained. Overregulation and corruption stifled the business environment, and subsidies and price controls disincentivized production, leading to market distortions and fiscal deficits. The government required industrial licenses for the establishment, expansion, or modernization of industries, causing bureaucratic barriers and corruption. This environment tended to harm small businesses at the expense of large corporations, as large corporations could better cope with the complex bureaucracy. The period was often referred to as the License Raj, comparing the extent of control of the industrial licenses to that of direct rule by the British Empire before Indian independence.

Sustenance, Health, and Life

In his 2016 book, “Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future,” Johan Norberg showed how these problems impacted daily life. When Norman Borlaug invented new high-yield wheat, India was facing a threat of mass starvation. Despite that, Indian state monopolies lobbied against both food and fertilizer imports. Fortunately, Borlaug was able to bring through his innovations. In 1965, yields in India rose by 70 percent.

From 1948 to 2018, the number of calories per person increased by two-thirds, growing from 1,570 to 2,533. For reference, the recommended healthy number of calories per person is 2,000 for a woman and 2,500 for a man. The average Indian now no longer suffers from undernourishment.

This achievement is even more remarkable when one considers the growth of the Indian population, which added a billion new citizens between 1948 and 2018. As well as having a greater population, Indians began living longer, with life expectancy more than doubling between 1947 and 2022. Furthermore, fewer children were dying—infant mortality fell dramatically between 1960 and 2022. Many children previously suffered from malnutrition. Parents could now watch their children grow up and have children of their own.

Wealth, Safety, and Literacy

However, problems in India remained. The License Raj continued to strangle the Indian economy in the name of protectionism. In 1978, the economist Raj Krishna coined the term the “Hindu rate of growth” to refer to slow economic growth of around 4 percent per year, which was prevalent in India from the 1950s to the 1980s. But Krishna was incorrect. The slow rate of growth had nothing to do with Hinduism or factors unique to India. Instead, India’s growth was low, because of the restrictive policies of the socialist government. As soon as India removed the restrictions to competition and commerce, it began reaching growth rates of between 6 percent and 9 percent each year.

The economic liberalization of India was prompted by an economic crisis in 1990. India, having borrowed heavily from international lenders to finance infrastructure projects, was facing a balance of payments crisis and had only two weeks until it would default on its debt. A new government under Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao abolished the License Raj, removing restrictions for most industries and foreign investment into Indian companies. Restrictions on foreign technology and imports were scrapped, as were subsidies to fertilizer and sugar. India flung open its doors to the world, embracing competition in both imports and exports. Indian companies now faced foreign competition in the domestic market but also had the entire world market to sell to.

New industries sprung up, with India developing competitive industries in telecommunications, software, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, research and development, and professional services.

The result was a dramatic increase in the standard of living for ordinary Indians. The economy flourished as foreign investment flooded in. The innovating spirit of ordinary Indians was unleashed. Between 1993 and 2021, access to electricity went from 50 percent of the population to 99.6 percent. The literacy rate improved from 48.2 percent to 74.4 percent. This is even more remarkable considering that India added extra 600 million people during that period.

Having access to a microwave, refrigeration, and electric lighting are all amenities that we take for granted, but these conveniences are relatively recent for the average Indian. A virtuous cycle of more educated, well-fed citizens creates greater innovation and prosperity. It is also correlated with less violence, with the homicide rate falling by 48 percent between 1991 and 2020.

Absolute poverty also has been falling. In 1987, half of the Indian population lived in extreme poverty. By 2019, this figure had fallen to 10 percent. Granted, there are still issues in India. Millions of people live in slums, and poverty remains a problem. However, it is worth appreciating just how far India has come.

As the Indian economist Gurcharan Das says about his country’s progress in the documentary “India Awakes,” “The principles that brought so much prosperity and freedom to the West are being affirmed in a country that is in the East.”

These principles are that of a market economy, openness to innovation, and a favorable attitude to commerce.

Life, health, education, and sustenance have all measurably improved. Violence and poverty have declined. Progress has occurred, and the world should take note.

Blog Post | Economic Growth

The Human Meaning of Economic Growth

Misunderstandings of the relationship between wealth and flourishing have obscured the anti-​human implications of slowing growth rates.

Summary: Economic growth has been a driving force behind the dramatic improvements in human wellbeing over the past few centuries. This growth has resulted from the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and capitalism. Criticisms of growth stem in large part from misunderstandings of the relationship between economics and human values.

Why is the world as prosperous a place as it is? And why isn’t it much more prosperous? These questions are broad enough to admit countless answers, but as good an answer as any is the economic growth rate.

You might have heard that economic growth is overrated, that it’s a fine idea, but unsustainable, or even that it’s entirely counterproductive because it puts profits above people and the economy above the planet. These narratives have been widespread in recent years. They’re also based on a fundamental misconception of the nature of wealth and what a growing economy means for humanity.

Properly conceived, wealth is the actualization of human values in the real world. Economic growth is the upward trajectory of human achievement. The forms of prosperity that most of humanity strives for, such as health, knowledge, pleasure, safety, professional and personal freedom, and so many others, were vastly scarcer throughout most of human history—and would be orders of magnitude more abundant today if economic policies had been slightly different. That is the power of economic growth, and it is within our power to influence the world of future generations for better or worse.

The History of Economic Growth

Virtually everywhere and always throughout human history, economic growth was nonexistent. While pockets of momentary economic progress took place in certain instances, the overall trend was one of perpetual stagnation. But just a few hundred years ago, with the advent of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and capitalism, that all began to change.

When the conceptual tools of science became widely applied to create the technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution, they brought an unprecedented optimism about the capacity for investment in new discoveries and inventions to reliably uncover useful knowledge of the natural world. This change inspired the broad transformation of mere wealth (resources hidden away in vaults and treasure chests) into capital (resources invested in new inventions and discoveries).

By the time Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx wrote their Communist Manifesto in 1848, the optimism of investment had already transformed Western Europe. As Engels and Marx saw it, “The bourgeoisie [capitalist class], during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-​navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?”

Marx and Engels misunderstand the complex reasons for increased productivity (attributing it to untapped “social labour”) but the quotation is significant because, despite their sympathy for state centralization of the economy, they could not ignore the success of capitalism.

While no year before 1700 saw a gross world product of more than $643 billion (in international inflation-​adjusted 2011 dollars), by 1820 global GDP reached 1 trillion. By 1940 the number had passed 7 trillion, and by 2015 it had passed 108 trillion.

Contrary to the popular misconception that capitalism has made the rich richer and the poor poorer, this new wealth contributed to growing the economies of every world region while outpacing population growth. While the world’s extreme poor have become wealthier so too have all other economic classes.

What’s So Great about Growth?

A growing economy isn’t about stacks of paper money getting taller, or digits being added to the spreadsheets of bank ledgers. These things may be indicators of growth, but the growth itself is composed of goods and services becoming more abundant. Farms and factories producing more and better consumption goods; engineers creating better machines and materials; clean water reaching more communities; sick people receiving better healthcare; scientists running more experiments, poets writing more poems, education becoming more broadly accessible; and for whatever other forms of value people choose to exchange their savings and labor.

Gross domestic product or GDP (called gross world product or world GDP when applied at the global level) is an imperfect but useful and widely employed measure of economic growth, and its reflection in the real world takes such forms as rising life expectancy, nutrition, literacy, safety from natural disaster, and virtually every other measure of human flourishing. This is because, at the most fundamental level, “economic growth” means the transformation and rearrangement of the physical environment into more useful forms that people value more.

Before the year 1820, human life expectancy had always been approximately 30-35 years. But with the great decline in poverty and rise of capital investment in technology and medicine, global life expectancy has roughly doubled in every geographic region in the last century. Similar trends have occurred in global nourishmentinfant survivalliteracy, access to clean water, and countless other crucial indicators of wellbeing. While these trends are bound to take the occasional momentary downturn because of life’s uncertainties and hardships, the unidirectional accumulation of technological and scientific knowledge since the Age of Enlightenment gives the forward march of progress an asymmetric advantage. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns resulted in a brief and tragic decline in life expectancy, but the number has since risen to an all-​time high of 73.36 years as of 2023.

What is the direct causal connection between economic growth and these improvements to human wellbeing? Consider the example of deaths by natural disaster, which have fallen in the last century from about 26.5 per 100,000 people to 0.51 per 100,000 people. More wealth means buildings can be constructed from stronger materials and better climate controls. And when those protections aren’t enough, a wealthier community can afford better infrastructure such as roads and vehicles to efficiently get sick or injured people to the hospital. When those injured end up in the hospital, a wealthier society’s medical facilities will be equipped with more advanced equipment, cleaner sanitation, and better-​trained doctors that will provide higher quality medical attention. These are just a few examples of how wealth allows humans to transform their world into a more hospitable place to live and face the inevitable challenges of life.

The benefits of economic growth go far beyond the maximization of health and safety for their own sake. If what you value in life is the contemplation of great art, the exaltation of your favorite deity, or time spent with your loved ones, wealth is what awards you the freedom to sustainably pursue those values rather than tilling the fields for 16 hours per day and dying in your 30s. Wealth is what provides you access to an ever-​improving share of the world’s culture by increasing the abundance and accessibility of printed, recorded, and digital materials. Wealth is what provides you with the leisure time and transportation technology to travel the world and experience distant wonders, remote holy sites, and people whose personal or professional significance to you would otherwise dwell beyond your reach.

As the Harvard University cognitive scientist Steven Pinker demonstrates in his popular book Enlightenment Now, “Though it’s easy to sneer at national income as a shallow and materialistic measure, it correlates with every indicator of human flourishing, as we will repeatedly see in the chapters to come.”

The Long-​Term Future of Growth

Human psychology is ill-​equipped to comprehend large numbers, especially as they relate to the profound numerical implications of exponentiation. If it sounds insignificant when politicians and journalists refer to a 1 percent or 2 percent increase or decrease in the annual growth rate, then like most people, you’re being deceived by a quirk of human intuition. While small changes to the economic growth rate may not have noticeable effects in the short term, their long- term implications are absolutely astonishing.

Economist Tyler Cowen has pointed out in a Foreign Affairs article, “In the medium to long term, even small changes in growth rates have significant consequences for living standards. An economy that grows at one percent doubles its average income approximately every 70 years, whereas an economy that grows at three percent doubles its average income about every 23 years—which, over time, makes a big difference in people’s lives.” In his book Stubborn Attachments, Cowen offers a thought experiment to illustrate the real-​world implications of such “small changes” to the growth rate: “Redo U.S. history, but assume the country’s economy had grown one percentage point less each year between 1870 and 1990. In that scenario, the United States of 1990 would be no richer than the Mexico of 1990.”

Cowen gave the negative scenario in which the growth rate was 1 percent slower. US Citizens would have drastically shorter lifespans, less education, less healthcare, less safety from violence, more susceptibility to disease and natural disaster, fewer career choices, and so on. Now imagine the opposite scenario, in which US economic policy had just 1 additional percentage point of growth each year. The average American today would in all probability be living much longer, having much nicer housing, choosing from far more career opportunities, and enjoying more advanced technology.

Just imagine your income doubling, and what you could do for yourself, your family, or the charity of your choice with all that extra wealth. Something along those lines could have happened to most Americans. But instead, growth has been significantly slowed in the United States because taxes and regulations have constantly disincentivized and disallowed new innovations.

At the margins, many dying of preventable diseases could have been cured, many who spiraled into homelessness could have accessed the employment opportunities or mental health treatment they needed, and so on. While economic fortune seems like a luxury to those who already enjoy material comfort, there are always many at the margin for whom the health of the economy is the difference between life and death.

These are among the reasons that Harvard University economist Gregory Mankiw concludes in his commonly used college textbookMacroeconomics, that, “Long-​run economic growth is the single most important determinant of the economic well-​being of a nation’s citizens. Everything else that macroeconomists study — unemployment, inflation, trade deficits, and so on — pales in comparison.”

When we think of the future our children or grandchildren will live in, depending on our choices between even slightly more or less restrictive economic policies today, we could be plausibly looking at a future of widespread and affordable space travel, life-​changing education and remote work opportunities in the metaverse, new sustainable energy innovations, a biotechnological revolution in the human capacity for medical and psychological flourishing, genome projects and conservation investments to revive extinct and protect endangered species, and countless other improvements to the human condition. Or we could be looking at a drawn-​out stagnation in poverty alleviation, technological advancement, and environmental progress. The difference may well hinge on what looks today like a tiny change in the rate of compounding growth.

At the broadest level, more wealth in the hands of the human species represents a greater capacity of humans to chart their course through life and into the future in accordance with their values. Like all profound and far-​reaching forms of change, economic growth has a wide range of consequences, some intended and others unintended, many desirable and many others undesirable. But it is not a random process. It is directed by the choices of individuals, and allocated by their drive to devote more resources and more investment into those things they view as worthwhile. Ever since the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution, the investment in human values has been on balance a positive sum game, in which one group’s gains do not have to come in the form of another group’s losses. This is demonstrated by the upward trends in human flourishing since the global rise in exponential economic growth. Indeed, it is intrinsic to the fundamental difference between a growing and a shrinking or stagnant economy: In a growing economy, everyone can win.

This article was published at Libertarianism.org on 11/17/2023.

Blog Post | Science & Education

AI in the Classroom Can Make Higher Education Much More Accessible

For some school subjects, artificial intelligence can transform the landscape of tutoring accessibility.

Summary: ChatGPT4 has demonstrated superiority in various student exams, revealing its potential to support academic learning and improve educational outcomes, particularly in test preparation. With its accessibility and affordability compared to traditional tutoring services, AI tutoring can help address the increasing demand for academic support, especially as universities begin to reinstate standardized testing requirements.

In 2023, OpenAI shook the foundation of the education system by releasing ChatGPT4. The previous model of ChatGPT had already disrupted classrooms K–12 and beyond by offering a free academic tool capable of writing essays and answering exam questions. Teachers struggled with the idea that widely accessible artificial intelligence (AI) technology could meet the demands of most traditional classroom work and academic skills. GPT3.5 was far from perfect, though, and lacked creativity, nuance, and reliability. However, reports showed that GPT4 could score better than 90 percent of participants on the bar exam, LSAT, SAT reading and writing and math, and several Advanced Placement (AP) exams. This showed a significant improvement from GPT3.5, which struggled to score as well as 50 percent of participants.

This marked a major shift in the role of AI, from it being an easy way out of busy work to a tool that could improve your chances of getting into college. The US Department of Education published a report noting several areas where AI could support teacher instruction and student learning. Among the top examples was intelligent tutoring systems. Early models of these systems showed that an AI tutor could not only recognize when a student was right or wrong in a mathematical problem but also identify the steps a student took and guide them through an explanation of the process.

The role of tutoring in education has grown in significance as more and more high school students have gone to college. Private tutoring is now a booming industry. Often you can find tutors charging anywhere up to $80 for test preparation with no shortage of eager parents willing to pay for their services. Tutoring has been a go-to solution for students to improve their grades outside the classroom. But more importantly, it has been a solution to improve their chances of getting into college, with many private tutoring services focusing on AP and SAT exams. This connection between college admission success and private tutoring costs has been a problem for parents who cannot afford the costs.

ChatGPT4 is available for $20 a month. Although the program itself can be used to answer questions and provide academic support, dedicated education websites have begun incorporating AI tutors to help with test prep. Khan Academy provides free courses on AP content and SAT exams and offers an AI-powered tutor for these subjects at $4 a month. Duolingo, a popular language learning app that offers university-recognized language exams, offers Duolingo Max at $14 a month. These tutoring services are accessible at your fingertips at any time. There is no need to schedule video conferencing calls, do background checks on tutors, or pay extra costs. Quality individualized academic support is available at a moment’s notice.

The availability of AI tutoring services is occurring at a crucial moment in education. As students become accustomed to post-pandemic life, student achievement across the nation still has not returned to where it once was. Despite that, many universities have begun reversing test-optional policies that had allowed students to avoid taking standardized tests such as the SAT. The demand for tutoring has skyrocketed as many new high school seniors struggle to meet the old standards of college admissions. Many school tutoring programs have not been able to provide the support students need, and private tutoring costs are only increasing.

AI has the potential to provide cheap and effective tutoring for these exams while being easily accessible. A Harvard computer science course has been able to incorporate ChatGPT to great success, using it to provide continuous and customized technical support and allowing professors to focus more on pedagogy. As technology improves, students will have more support for academic pursuits, opening an easier path to higher education but also allowing students to more easily explore academic interests beyond rigid classroom instruction.

Blog Post | Science & Technology

AI Is a Great Equalizer That Will Change the World

A positive revolution from AI is already unfolding in the global East and South.

Summary: Concerns over potential negative impacts of AI have dominated headlines, particularly regarding its threat to employment. However, a closer examination reveals AI’s immense potential to revolutionize equal and high quality access to necessities such as education and healthcare, particularly in regions with limited access to resources. From India’s agricultural advancements to Kenya’s educational support, AI initiatives are already transforming lives and addressing societal needs.

The latest technology panic is over artificial intelligence (AI). The media is focused on the negatives of AI, making many assumptions about how AI will doom us all. One concern is that AI tools will replace workers and cause mass unemployment. This is likely overblown—although some jobs will be lost to AI, if history is any guide, new jobs will be created. Furthermore, AI’s ability to replace skilled labor is also one of its greatest potential benefits.

Think of all the regions of the world where children lack access to education, where schoolteachers are scarce and opportunities for adult learning are scant.

Think of the preventable diseases that are untreated due to a lack of information, the dearth of health care providers, and how many lives could be improved and saved by overcoming these challenges.

In many ways, AI will be a revolutionary equalizer for poorer countries where education and health care have historically faced many challenges. In fact, a positive revolution from AI is already unfolding in the global East and South.

Improving Equality through Education and Health Care

In India, agricultural technology startup Saagu Baagu is already improving lives. This initiative allows farmers to increase crop yield through AI-based solutions. A chatbot provides farmers with the information they need to farm more effectively (e.g., through mapping the maturity stages of their crops and testing soil so that AI can make recommendations on which fertilizers to use depending on the type of soil). Saagu Baagu has been successful in the trial region and is now being expanded. This AI initiative is likely to revolutionize agriculture globally.

Combining large language models with speech-recognition software is helping Indian farmers in other ways. For example, Indian global impact initiative Karya is working on helping rural Indians, who speak many different languages, to overcome language barriers. Karya is collecting data on tuberculosis, which is a mostly curable and preventable disease that kills roughly 200,000 Indians every year. By collecting voice recordings of 10 different dialects of Kannada, an AI speech model is being trained to communicate with local people. Tuberculosis carries much stigma in India, so people are often reluctant to ask for help. AI will allow Indians to reduce the spread of the disease and give them access to reliable information.

In Kenya, where students are leading in AI use, the technology is aiding the spread of information by allowing pupils to ask a chatbot questions about their homework.

Throughout the world, there are many challenges pertaining to health care, including increasing costs and staff shortages. As developed economies now have rapidly growing elderly populations and shrinking workforces, the problem is set to worsen. In Japan, AI is helping with the aging population issue, where a shortage of care workers is remedied by using robots to patrol care homes to monitor patients and alert care workers when something is wrong. These bots use AI to detect abnormalities, assist in infection countermeasures by disinfecting commonly touched places, provide conversation, and carry people from wheelchairs to beds and bathing areas, which means less physical exertion and fewer injuries for staff members.

In Brazil, researchers used AI models capable of predicting HER2 subtype breast cancer in imaging scans of 311 women and the patients’ response to treatment. In addition, AI can also help make health resource allocations more efficient and support tasks such as preparing for public health crises, such as pandemics. At the individual level, the use of this technology in wearables, such as smartwatches, can encourage patient adherence to treatments, help prevent illnesses, and collect data more frequently.

Biometric data gathered from wearable devices could also be a game-changer. This technology can detect cancers early, monitor infectious diseases and general health issues, and give patients more agency over their health where access to health care is limited or expensive.

Education and health care in the West could also benefit from AI. In the United States, text synthesis machines could help to address the lack of teachers in K–12 education and the inaccessibility of health care for low-income people.

Predicting the Future

AI is already playing a role in helping humanity tackle natural disasters (e.g., by predicting how many earthquake aftershocks will strike and their strength). These models, which have been trained on large data sets of seismic events, have been found to estimate the number of aftershocks better than conventional (non-AI) models do.

Forecasting models can also help to predict other natural disasters like severe storms, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Machine learning uses algorithms to reduce the time required to make forecasts and increase model accuracy, which again is superior to the non-AI models that are used for this purpose. These improvements could have a massive impact on people in poor countries, who currently lack access to reliable forecasts and tend to be employed in agriculture, which is highly dependent on the weather.

A Case for Optimism

Much of the fear regarding AI in the West concerns the rapid speed at which it is being implemented, but for many countries, this speed is a boon.

Take the mobile phone. In 2000, only 4 percent of people in developing countries had access to mobile phones. By 2015, 94 percent of the population had such access, including in sub-Saharan Africa.

The benefits were enormous, as billions gained access to online banking, educational opportunities, and more reliable communication. One study found that almost 1 in 10 Kenyan families living in extreme poverty were able to lift their incomes above the poverty line by using the banking app M-Pesa. In rural Peru, household consumption rose by 11 percent with access to phones, while extreme poverty fell 5.4 percent. Some 24 percent of people in developing countries now use the mobile internet for educational purposes, compared with only 12 percent in the richest countries. In lower-income countries, access to mobile phones and apps is life-changing.

AI, which only requires access to a mobile phone to use, is likely to spread even faster in the countries that need the technology the most.

This is what we should be talking about: not a technology panic but a technology revolution for greater equality in well-being.

Blog Post | Education & Literacy

How to Combat Gloom and Pessimism

Given the inhospitable world we have evolved in, humans have learned to prioritize the bad news.

Summary: Optimism flourishes more in rapidly growing countries, fueled by the promise of improvements in living standards, a phenomenon less evident in relatively developed nations like the US. Human nature, predisposed to focus on negative news, collides with media outlets’ profit-driven emphasis on sensationalism, perpetuating a cycle of pessimism. Understanding our negativity bias and learning probabilistic reasoning skills can help navigate the deluge of alarming headlines, while seeking out sources of positive news can provide a more balanced perspective.

Surveys show that optimism is highest in rapidly growing countries that are catching up with the developed world. High growth rates allow the citizens of those nations to experience massive year-on-year increases in standards of living – something that, in the absence of an AI-led revolution in productivity, is unlikely to occur in already developed countries. Slow and steady progress, such as the one currently underway in the United States, does not seem sufficient to inspire widespread optimism about the future.

The problem of incrementalism is compounded by the interaction between human nature and the media. Given the inhospitable world we have evolved in, humans have learned to prioritize the bad news. Consequently, the media has embraced the “if it bleeds, it leads” business model. Worse still, growing competition between television, newspapers, and websites has significantly increased negative content over time. The inclusion of an additional negative word in a headline, for example, leads to 2.3 percent more clicks, according to a recent study.

Unfortunately, most people are unaware of our innate negativity bias. It may be helpful to include the understanding of basic human psychology in high-school curricula. While we may not be able to purge the negativity bias from our brains, understanding how and why we react to a ceaseless barrage of terrifying headlines in certain ways may help us gain a proper perspective on the world around us.

Another way to get around the apocalyptic headlines and focus on the largely positive trendlines is to develop a more sophisticated understanding of statistical probabilities. While evidence suggests that humans have an innate capacity for probabilistic reasoning, the formal application of Bayesian inference – which is to say, adjustment of our beliefs or guesses about something as we learn more information – is a learned skill. Infants and untrained adults show abilities that align with Bayesian principles on a basic level, indicating an intuitive understanding of probability and uncertainty. However, the precise and formal application of Bayesian reasoning requires education, especially in complex scenarios.

Finally, humans can choose what kind of information to consume. Knowing that traditional media does not offer a realistic picture of the world, people can sign up for services – such as the Human Progress weekly newsletter – that collate the positive happenings ignored by mainstream media outlets.