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The case for life is better than ever

Bill Gates.
Bill Gates. Photo: Yana Paskova / Getty Images

Bill Gates and Steven Pinker made the case for being optimistic about the direction of the world — in ending wars, in philanthropy, in reducing poverty — in an interview with the New York Times' Philip Galanes.

Why it matters: The overall attitude about the way things are going is seemingly negative, but Gates said the "techniques we use as a society...as imperfect as they are, are working by lots of key measures."

What to be optimistic about:

  • Reducing global poverty. Global poverty has been reduced from 90% to 10% over the last 200 years, Pinker says. But at the same time, there are still 700 million people living in extreme poverty; "They're the same fact, and you have to be able to describe them to yourself both ways."
  • Learning from #MeToo. We're more aware of what has been happening for years, but "five years from now this outrage will have been a factor in making things better than five years ago," Gates said.
  • Ending war between countries. Pinker said war between countries is something he's optimistic about solving: "There are only 192 countries. They could agree not to declare war on each other. I think we're on the way."
  • Eliminating disease. Gates said the idea of disease elimination "runs against people's general pessimistic outlook," and he believes that by 2025, it will be reduced to "very tough places, like equatorial Africa."

Pinker said: "We have no right to expect perfection. We should appreciate how much better off we are and try to improve our institutions guided by what works and what doesn’t."

Read the full NYT interview here.