It all started tens of thousands of years ago, when Homo sapiens set out from Africa. Our ancestors were not far from it. “Human life was dangerous, brutal and brief. A quarter of newborns died of cold, hunger and various diseases before their first birthday, women often died in childbirth and life expectancy hardly exceeded forty. Famine and death were constantly on the lookout for them.
But since the beginning of the 19th century, with the industrial revolution, transformations have experienced a surprising acceleration.
“Life expectancy has more than doubled and per capita income has increased twenty-fold in the most developed regions of the world, and fourteen-fold globally.”
What happened to make it so? asks the author. And why, for the last 200 years, has wealth been so poorly distributed in the world? Like great thinkers like Plato, Hegel and Marx, but in a different way, the author tries to answer these questions.
The powerful human brain
As our species has evolved through time and space, the human brain has tripled in size over the past six million years. This has allowed us to reach high levels of knowledge and to distinguish ourselves from other living species, says the researcher. But then, why, if our brain is so powerful – it represents only 2% of body weight, but consumes 20% of its energy – does it take humans longer to develop, to walk, to reach the material autonomy than other animals? Our little ones may be defenceless, says the author, “but their brains are endowed with unique learning abilities, including the ability to grasp and retain behavioral norms – culture – that enabled their ancestors to survive and will help their descendants to prosper”.
It is thanks to our brains that we have been able to get ahead of other species, transforming materials and material resources for our benefit. Thus, mastering fire has facilitated our diet and allowed us to devote less time to chewing and digesting food, freeing “in the skull the space previously occupied by the bones and muscles of the jaw
Then, thanks to global warming, we went from nomadic to sedentary. Then, from hunter-gatherers, we became farmers. Little by little, Homo sapiens thus became the dominant species on planet Earth. A new era was dawning.
With the multiplication of exchanges and commerce, cultures diversified. A certain prosperity reigns, leading to an increase in populations. The author establishes a link between this demographic increase and economic decline: more mouths to feed does not mean greater general well-being. On the other hand, this situation can lead to an increase in technical progress, inventions and innovations.
The industrial revolution will accelerate the course of history. All sectors of human activity were transformed. Education in the first place, because all these innovations required an increasingly specialized workforce. These advances – just think of running water, electricity, food refrigeration, penicillin and vaccines, communications, etc. – had an influence on the increase in life expectancy.
On the mystery of inequalities
But his explanations concerning the mystery of inequalities are not hardly convincing.
At no time does he examine the ravages of colonialism and slavery in developing countries, major suppliers of raw materials. And “entrepreneurial freedom” is not a panacea for poverty and discrimination. I want proof of this in the situation in the United States, a country of triumphant capitalism, where there are the greatest disparities between the haves and the less haves, and where racial discrimination still persists, to mention only these two scourges.