Everything was hellish before 1800

The biggest fact in the world that needs to be explained is how and why we have become so rich, compared to how the human race had lived for ever  before the last few centuries.


This graph portrays the economic progress in the last two hundred years as measured by life expectancy, GDP per capita, percentage not living in extreme poverty, energy consumption, war-making capacity, and percentage of people living in democracy.

These are the facts. Why, then, when things are getting better so fast, are we beset by concerns for global warming, climate catastrophes, income disparities, and every form of oppression, including completely imaginary ones? Why the atmosphere of general cultural pessimism?

The question that Deirdre McCloskey asked herself in her book Bourgeois Dignity was why the economics profession was unable to answer this question satisfactorily: why have things gotten better? her answer was that there occurred in western Europe and change in the deal: innovation came to be allowed, indeed encouraged, and you got to keep the economic value of your innovation. Hence the change int he human condition proceeded from a change in ideas. Not from trade, especially not from slavery, not from exploration, not from ripping off the ecology, but from allowing innovation.

You do not have to accept this explanation, but if you read McCloskey you will have difficulty in accepting another.