Despite COVID, still best time ever to be alive

  • Saturday, November 28, 2020 1:30am
  • Opinion

As challenging as 2020 has been, we still should be thankful that it has been the best year in human history to be alive.

Consider: In 1920, according to the book “Enlightenment Now,” the average person spent 11.5 hours each week doing laundry. By 2014, he or she was completing laundry in less than an hour and a half. Or, in my case, five minutes — which is how long it takes me to drop off my laundry at the laundry-cleaning shop.

Right now, humans are living longer, more- productive lives than ever before.

“For 99.9 percent of our species’ existence, a newborn baby could expect to live on average to about the age of 30,” reports Tom Chivers for BuzzFeed. “According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, that age dropped even lower in classical times, to perhaps 28 for ancient Greece and Rome. And as late as the start of the 20th century, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it was still just 31.”

But today, Chivers says, the global average life expectancy is 71.5 years, according to a study in The Lancet. And life expectancy will keep increasing. According to the World Future Society, we are in the early phases of a super longevity revolution. Thanks to advances in nanotechnology and cell and gene manipulation, scientists may eventually learn how to keep humans alive for 120 to 500 years.

I hope I don’t live that long, though. I have zero desire to participate in one more presidential election, let alone several dozen.

COVID-19 has disrupted global markets, but the fact is that free markets and capitalism have been leading millions of people out of poverty — and will continue to do so as the world eventually returns to normal. As poverty decreases, the global population enjoys a continually improving quality of life.

In 2017, Bill Gates reported global improvement across several indicators: Childhood deaths fell from 12 million in 1990 to 5 million in 2017. More than 90 percent of children were attending primary school. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty declined from one-third in 1990 to one-tenth 27 years later.

Today, the average American family is living better than the world’s wealthiest lived just 100 years ago. Cafe Hayek says the lifestyle of today’s typical middle-class American is better than billionaire John D. Rockefeller’s 100 years ago. As rich as Rockefeller was, he didn’t have air conditioning, sophisticated medicine, safe and fast travel, limitless dining and entertainment options, and many other wonderful things that we have. Of course, Rockefeller didn’t have social media or talking heads on 24/7 cable news, so his lifestyle was not without its benefits.

This year has been no picnic. Many people are without work and are suffering as they face an uncertain future. We have our problems, to be sure and have plenty of work ahead of us. Then again, technological innovation is in the process of unleashing marvels — and, hopefully, much-needed economic growth — that will benefit us all.

This Thanksgiving, in addition to toasting the good health of my family and friends, I’ll toast the many blessings and opportunities that abound but are harder to see during this most peculiar year.

Tom Purcell, the author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Purcell at

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