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A Touch Better

Scott Galloway@profgalloway

Published on July 22, 2022

Of all media channels, I find writing books the most difficult — and rewarding. (A decent metaphor for anything.) I believe each of us has a camera in our brain that observes everything we do and registers if we’re adding value. Sweating, caring, concentrating all report to a central authority that secretes the right chemicals to extend, or end, our time on Earth based on how much/little value we’re adding. I work out a lot to fool my brain into believing I’m hunting or building housing and write to stay in mental shape. So I’ve committed to writing a book every 18 months until … I start the march to the next thing. The last sentence is disingenuous: I don’t believe there is a “next thing.”

Anyway, my next book, Adrift: America in 100 Charts, comes out September 20. It’s a narrative told through (wait for it) charts. The data presented in the charts isn’t neutral or infallible, but it can be clarifying and might even create common ground.

Between now and the release, I’ll share a few excerpts from Adrift, because they’re good, and I hope they’ll encourage you to buy a copy. Which you can do here. The first excerpt is from Chapter 2, “The World We Made.” In this section, I step back and recognize the extraordinary virtues of our age. I was on Michael Smerconish last week, following Steven Pinker. Professor Pinker believes, despite all the negative news, the trend line is upward. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see the headline: “Things a Touch Better Today, Globally.” This chapter takes an optimistic stance (not easy for me), as Steven does, and acknowledges that despite our myriad challenges, the world is becoming a better place.

The World We Made

The ascent of the American economy after World War II, coupled with the advances of technology, brought unprecedented prosperity not just to the U.S., but to the human race. It’s tempting to let the costs of that prosperity obscure it, but a sober accounting of America and the world today would be incomplete without recognizing our enormous gains.

The world is significantly wealthier, freer, healthier, and better educated than it was forty years ago. In 1980, over 40% of humanity lived in extreme poverty. Today, less than 10% does. In 1980, 44% of humanity had no democratic rights. Today, it is less than 25%. A child born in 1980 had a life expectancy of 63 years. A child born today should live a decade longer. In 1980, 30% of people fifteen years and older had no formal education. By 2015, that share had been cut in half.

These were global gains, but America lay at the heart of them. U.S. innovation in everything from transport to advertising supercharged the consumer culture of the postwar era into an upward dance between demand and manufacturing agility.

The billions lifted from poverty since 1980 were largely in Asia, and their means of ascent was making consumer goods for U.S. and European markets. Those same economies are today converting to knowledge work and middle-class lifestyles, in substantial part on the foundation of digital technologies developed in the former orange groves of the Bay Area.

We tend to focus on things that did occur, but we shouldn’t overlook crises that were averted. The demise of the Soviet Union posed an apocalyptic risk. By 1989, the Soviets commanded 39,000 nuclear warheads and the world’s largest standing army. Managing the sudden collapse of one of history’s largest empires could have gone very, very badly. At one point, the Soviet government sold twenty naval combat ships for cases of Pepsi. But postwar institutions crafted and nurtured by the Western nations held firm.

For better or worse (it’s both), the headline change is increased global connectivity. The term “globalization” has been loaded up with the anxieties of our era, but it represents a profound change in the human condition beyond the concerns of the moment. Never before has human knowledge been so widespread, nor have creators, from artists to manufacturers, had access to such a breadth of markets—and competitors.

Productivity Revolution

Modern civilization rests on a foundation of unprecedented, once even unimaginable productivity. The rebuilding of Western Europe and the conversion of the U.S. wartime economy after World War II doubled the globe’s annual economic output in less than a decade. By 1960, the world was producing twenty times as much as it had in the early nineteenth century.

Then, as the relatively easy gains from the postwar boom wound down, the real miracle happened. From 1980 to 2004, the world’s economic output doubled again, from $35 trillion to $70 trillion. In just twenty-four years, a single generation, as much economic potency had come online as had taken the human species its entire history to accumulate. Today, the world generates roughly as much output in a month as it did in the year 1950.

Billions of People Work Their Way Out of Poverty

In less than forty years, billions of people have improved their lot and escaped extreme poverty. That’s a low bar—$1.90 per day, which is subsistence living even in low-cost economies—but it’s still a change for the better unlike anything in history.

The rolling back of poverty has been particularly remarkable in China. In 1990, 750 million Chinese lived below the international poverty line. Today, it’s less than 10 million. Most of these people still have low incomes, but the economic engine they’re a part of continues to churn. In 2019, there were 100 million households in China with wealth of more than $110,000.

The modern world order has ample flaws, but sometimes the scale of our achievement is so vast, it becomes a static backdrop we lose sight of.

Health Is Wealth

Thanks to substantial improvements in health care, sanitation, education, and economic opportunity, people all over the world are living longer. Infant mortality has been cut by two-thirds since 1990; disease and war claim fewer lives. This is the ultimate measure of prosperity and human accomplishment: more life.

More life, I like that. Next week I’ll return to everything that’s wrong.

Half-full/empty is a matter of perspective. My night was ruined by my boys, who don’t listen and only speak to me when they need something. However, that also suggests we’ve raised confident boys who no longer need us, and indicates their parents are able to give them things our parents couldn’t for us. My evening’s ruin is a function of how wonderful the base line has become. People who need and love me, and let me need and love them back.

Life is so rich,

P.S. Sign up for a free Section4 account, and you can watch the first lesson of every single sprint we offer (including both of mine). You can end your day at least 2% smarter — sign up now.



  1. Drake says:

    I will pick up a copy. Reminds me of another cool email newsletter I get from The Visual Capitalist. Cannot wait!

  2. Ravi says:

    Incredible progress and there is no denying that. Could we have done better? Is the arc of history at an inflexion point away from justice and progress?

  3. John Makins says:

    Excellent perspective –I’ve been trying to say this for years and most people these days can only see the bad in the world.

  4. Ty says:

    I sent a comment a few days ago. Wondering if you received it?

  5. Len says:

    Have you read Factfulness by Hans Groesling? That was my introduction to the facts versus our biased perceptions of the world.

  6. Gabriel says:

    I like this quote…”Instead of trying to give your kids everything you didn’t have, focus on teaching them everything you didn’t know.”

  7. Robert Smalley says:

    Like the majority of commentators you dance around the issues. This achieves attention and income, all well and good for you bur detrimental for society. We are being destroyed from within, we are standing back and not calling it out sufficiently to manage this contagion. Commentators like you have the voice but fear and profit are the inhibitors.

  8. David Robinson says:

    Great gains indeed for the U.S.
    But what of the “Big Two”?:
    1. The “systems” (yes, plural) of health care and their astronomical monetary costs for the patient (Medicaid exception), (plus, #1 cause of personal bankruptcy in U.S. is medical debt) and being one of the very few developed nations without a NHS.
    2. Extreme gun addicted culture in U.S.

  9. Paul Maggio says:

    Although you may lean toward the pessimistic view and see what is wrong as your first instinct (at least in your writings/podcasts), to see you so clearly and succinctly outline the positive progress of our world by zooming out a bit and taking more of a macro view should make everyone realize that while there are issues that need to be addressed ASAP, we are trending in the right direction. Thank you

  10. Ralf says:

    The GDP curve looks impressive but one needs to wonder how much of it is just fuelled by debt? (at expense of future generations). Same thinking applies to (man made, hydrocrabon related) climate change – we are better off now but at the expense of future generations. PS: I do like the idea of the book.

    • Aj says:

      100%. Not all of today’s anxiety is fueled by a perceived negative trend line. A lot of it is frustration at the general ignorance of the real costs of these positive trend lines.

  11. James Hanson says:

    “Stuff” is great we all love “stuff” and when new “stuff” comes out we want it and then throw out our old “stuff”. and when we get richer we buy even more “stuff”.

    This is the flip of growth unwanted “stuff”

  12. GregoryH says:

    And imagine of those GDP gains in the US had been distributed across the population as increased wages. Imagine what American household wealth numbers would look like. In 2020, the median was $120k ,and the average was $747k. It would be nice to see those two numbers alot closer together.

  13. David Haber says:

    We’re not just extending longevity, but vitality. My grandparents in their early 60s were less vigorous than most older adults in their early 80s today. I’m two years away from my 80s and when I move into my new home next month, next to a park, I look forward to enjoying playing on the basketball court.

  14. David Hibbits says:

    My recollection is that apricots were traded for silicon in the Valley, not oranges.

  15. John Andrews says:

    Great post Scott. Too often we are weighed down by the muck. In the great wisdom of Ferriss Bueller, ‘life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it.” The addendum is, some stuff sucks, but mostly, life is pretty good.

  16. bill says:

    Scott, what’s the bill for all of this from a climate change perspective? Something to touch on in the book?

  17. Harry Shearer says:

    Discovered you (!) on CNN+. Yes, I was the one. Anyway, you cite in your honor roll of American postwar achievements “innovations in…advertising.” Sir, you should know better than most that almost all modern advertising is mendacious. We have become, over the last century, so inured to the torrent of lies and semi-lies from the ad faucet that direct lying by our political leaders doesn’t even amuse us; it just is. I worked for Y&R as a youth, and that’s where I started to realize how damaging a cultural force American postwar advertising was becoming. Tim Wu’s “The Attention Merchants” focused me on just how much of our brains the ad industry has colonized, and how it keeps seeking to colonize more. The only failure at the industry’s constant attempt at ubiquity was the space above urinals in public men’s rooms. In this century, “creating needs” will soon come to be seem as–to put it mildly–non-essential.

  18. Hamza says:

    I hope there’s a chapter about rights, freedom, political or other. I feel like we are descending into chartered territories of extreme, divisive, cult-like systems.

  19. Kieran says:

    Scott, the charts don’t appear to take inflation into account? If they do you should say so – and loud, if they don’t I respectfully suggest you adjust for inflation. The picture will still be good – today is much better than the good old days – and one counter argument will be removed.

  20. John Mishasek says:

    Adults should try to remind themselves (no matter how old an adult one might be) that many of us acted like complete turds to our parents despite what we saw on TV. Maybe that is the next generation’s way of escaping the nest or den. My regret is not understanding that process and reversing course sooner to listen and learn and seeing the value in their life experiences.

  21. Jim says:

    Suggestion…. on certain charts, like Global GDP growth, believe log would be preferable

  22. Jim says:

    Thanks for providing the macro picture Scott! And to the first commentator: yes, in fact, violence across humanity has declined over the centuries and millennia. There is much work to be done. But it is important to acknowledge the great strides women and men and America have made in improving the world. Endless hand-wringing and crisis proclamations are disconnected from reality.

  23. Sandy Laube says:

    If you’ve read Steven Pinker’s book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” it’s pretty clear that he believes we are in a far, far better place today as a species. He’s not wrong.

    We might not be the society we wish we were, but we’re a long way from heads on spikes lining the road to the capitol. The guillotine erected on Jan 6 was a direct threat that internal rot that, if not dealt with, will only get worse.

    We are living in a truly breathtaking time; innovators around the world can collaborate in real time with the same technology that discontents can use to mount insurrections and revolutions.

    I’m stealing this from someone else, but all methods of spreading ideas from the printing press to radio, to TV, to the Internet allows for both the best and the worst in human nature to be amplified.

  24. Geo says:

    The first chart, y-axis should be on a log scale. Given it’s reflecting a long time period where compounding growth effects are present.

  25. Peter says:

    Hey Scott, when looking at the adverse to this “significantly wealthier, freer, healthier, and better educated world” we live in; have violent crimes gone down as much as our wealth has increased? Are suicides and mental health issues at decade lows? How about homelessness? This freer world we live in must be contributing to plummeting death rates for the unborn? What has this “progress” we are patting ourselves on the back for cost society?

    • Kieran says:

      Peter, violence per head of population has dramatically declined. In the bad old days there was practically no mental health treatments. There were lots of women who died in childbirth, or who had to give birth to unwanted children thet they couldn’t feed. Progress is good – the Taliban are wrong!

      • Peter says:

        What you call progress I call barbarian: women aborting unwanted children because they can’t feed them.

        We clearly have an opposite view of societal progress.

        • Peter Helene says:

          Very perspicacious analysis of where we are thank you Scott but I, and many of your followers, would appreciate your analysis of what’s to come in the next decade having particular regard to your major omission, namely world debt which has amassed since WWII and never been or likely to be repaid

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