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‘A More Promising View Of History’

Good morning – and here is the news.

Smallpox has been eradicated and polio is almost gone.

If you’re a woman in sub-Saharan Africa you’ll probably live till you’re 57 – sixteen years more than your grandmother, who might have made it to 41.

Actually, none of that is really the news because it didn’t happen an hour ago or even yesterday.

It didn’t happen with the sickening thud of a bomb blast or the flash of a camera as a public figure is caught where he shouldn’t be.
This is not 24hour rolling news but another sort that we rarely notice until, some time later – years, decades, centuries – someone decides to call it history.

My mum was one of 12 children – but one of her brothers died young, after contracting polio.

That wasn’t unusual 70 years ago. Children no longer contract polio in the UK – but no-one calls it news.
It’s history.

As recently as the 1980’s polio paralysed 350,000 people around the world every year – last year there were only 372 cases recorded. Anywhere.

In the C19th, my grandfather’s grandfather was one of 22 children.

These days most of us would think that a little too many.

About twenty – too many.

Our families have one, two or three kids.

But that’s not news – that’s just life.

In fact, it’s what happens imperceptibly as countries develop. As parents don’t lose their kids to disease – so family sizes drop.
Journalism is sometimes called the first draft of history but first drafts don’t always tell the whole story.

In a world of 24/7 news, as we consume another day of tragic conflict or witness the apparent impotence of politicians to broker peace… we can miss a bigger picture.

A more distant news cycle with a greater circumference.

The arc of the moral universe is long, as Martin Luther King put it, and it bends towards justice.

King believed in a bigger picture – his perspective came from a mountaintop where, in the distance, he thought he could make out a promised land. Some people thought he was just dreaming.

Stand back a little, adjust your view and some days you might capture the feint outline of a more promising image of history.

This week, in the annual letter of his philanthropic foundation, the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, made a prediction about the world’s poorest people.

‘By almost any measure,’ he said, ‘The world is better than it has ever been – by 2035 there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.’
It sounds unlikely – or maybe Gates can see the outline of that long arc of justice.
Drawing on the latest research, from child mortality to economic growth, Bill Gates predicts that in 20 years poverty, as we think of it today, will be history.

Even if he’s right… it still might not make the news.