This is the most auspicious time in history to be a woman. Born not long after the finish of WWII I have seen the end of laws treating woman as a chattel of man. Through the discovery of the birth control pill it became possible for women to be released from the dominion of men by being able to choose whether or not to reproduce. I am free to openly declare my love for another of the same sex without the stigma of social estrangement. The emancipation of women is the most profound change humanity has known. Unleashing the potential of half the human race has been the driving force underlying the advances of the post war era.
I have been fortunate to be born into and lived in western democracies where individual freedoms are still cherished, where I can speak my mind freely without risk of imprisonment, banishment or death and where I enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of most of the world.
It is also the most prolonged period of peace my native and chosen countries have known. It has truly been a time when I could pursue life, liberty and happiness.
If you think I am painting too rosy a picture then consider this article in the Daily Telegraph by Fraser Newton, editor of The Spectator.
With peace comes trade and, ergo, prosperity. Global capitalism has transferred wealth faster than foreign aid ever could.
A study in the current issue of The Lancet shows what all of this means. Global life expectancy now stands at a new high of 71.5 years, up six years since 1990. In India, life expectancy is up seven years for men, and 10 for women. It’s rising faster in the impoverished east of Africa than anywhere else on the planet. In Rwanda and Ethiopia, life expectancy has risen by 15 years.
The World Bank’s rate of extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.25 a day) has more than halved since 1990, mainly thanks to China – where economic growth and the assault on poverty are being unwittingly supported by any parent who put a plastic toy under the tree yesterday.
Britons don’t need to look abroad for signs of progress. The Lancet report showed that, since 1990, life expectancy in Western Europe is up by five years – thanks, mainly, to fewer deaths from cancer and heart disease.
Ministers are now fretting about something else: a “time bomb” created because citizens are living longer and healthier lives than ever; the Queen now needs a team of seven people to send birthday cards to centenarians. Even the winter, one of our biggest killers, is losing its bite. For decades, at least 25,000 pensioners have died of cold-related diseases. A few weeks ago, it emerged that last winter the figure had fallen to 18,200 - the lowest ever recorded. Almost half a century after the moon landing, we’re finally working out how to insulate the homes of the elderly.
Prosperity is bringing benefits without trashing the planet. Since 1990, the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are down, in spite of our economy being about 60 per cent larger – thanks to more efficient technology. Our roads are safer, as well as greener. Traffic deaths are down by two-thirds since 1990, and are lower now than when the Model T Ford was on the road.
Prosperity does bring new problems; obesity, the resulting diabetes and the costs of far longer (and better) end-of-life care. But these are the problems of success.
Just over a century ago, a period of similarly rapid progress was coming to an abrupt end. The Belle Époque was a generation of scientific, medical and artistic advances, which, then, felt unstoppable. John Buchan summed up this mood in his 1913 novel The Power House. “You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilisation from barbarism,” one of his characters says. “I tell you: the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn.” So it was to prove.
Nothing is irreversible. And there will be a great many people for whom life is tough, and looks set to remain so for some time. We still have a lamentably long list of problems to solve. But in the round, there’s no denying it: we are living in the Golden Era. There has never been a better reason for people the world over to wish each other a happy and prosperous new year.