January/February 2014

The Launch of HumanProgress.org

A growing body of evidence points to dramatic improvements in human well-being. In recent decades these improvements have been especially striking in the developing world, but unfortunately there is often a wide gap between reality and public perception. A realistic look at the state of humanity must, in addition to recognizing persistent problems, acknowledge positive long-term developments.

With the launch of HumanProgress.org, the Cato Institute hopes to correct those misperceptions by stimulating an intelligent debate on the drivers of this global advancement. HumanProgress.org offers over 500 data sets of human development indicators from a variety of sources, allowing visitors to compare indicators with one another, create and share graphics, and calculate differences in human well-being between different countries over time. The website is a project of the Cato Institute, with major support from the John Templeton Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, and the Brinson Foundation.

The goal, then, is not to paint a rosy picture of the state of humanity, but an accurate one. “A realistic account of the world should focus on long term trends, comparing living standards between two or more generations,” editor Marian Tupy says. “Crucially, it should compare the imperfect present with a much more imperfect past, rather than with an imagined utopia in the future.”

The website provides the tools necessary to inform users about the many ways in which the world has become a better place. All of its wide-ranging data comes from third parties, including the World Bank, the OECD, the Eurostat, and the United Nations. By putting together this comprehensive data in an accessible way, the website provides a useful resource for scholars, journalists, students, and the general public.

In the end, the hope is that HumanProgress.org will lead to a greater appreciation of the improving state of the world. While Cato’s scholars argue that policies and institutions compatible with freedom and openness are important factors in promoting human progress, this website lets the evidence speak for itself.