The Four Horsemen

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He was given a great sword. Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand. Hades followed along behind him. You'll get this book and many others when you join Bible Gateway Plus. Learn more. Starting your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus is easy. The next step is to choose a monthly or yearly subscription, and then enter your payment information. You can cancel anytime during the trial period.

To subscribe at our regular subscription rate, click the button below. To manage your subscription, visit your Bible Gateway account settings. Upgrade, and get the most out of your new account. Try it free for 30 days. Famines caused by drought, floods, pests, and conflict have collapsed whole civilizations and killed hundreds of millions of people over the course of human history. In the 20th century, the biggest famines were caused by communist regimes in the Soviet Union and mainland China. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's famines killed up to 10 million people; China's despot, Mao Zedong, starved 45 million between and In the 21st century, war and political violence are still major causes of hunger around the world.

Outbreaks of conflict in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria are largely responsible for the recent uptick in the rate of global undernourishment. In other words, famines have disappeared outside of war zones. Much progress has been made, and the specter of famine no longer haunts the vast majority of humankind.

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Prior to its eradication in , smallpox was one of humanity's oldest and most devastating scourges. The disease, which can be traced all the way back to pharaonic Egypt, was highly contagious. A French medical textbook estimated that 95 percent of the population contracted smallpox at some point during their lives. In the 20th century alone, the disease is thought to have killed between and million people.

The smallpox mortality rate among adults was between 20 and 60 percent. Among infants, it was 80 percent. That helps explain why life expectancy remained between 25 and 30 years for so long. Edward Jenner, an English country doctor, noted that milkmaids never got smallpox. He hypothesized that the milkmaids' exposure to cowpox protected them from the disease.

In , Jenner inserted cowpox pus from the hand of a milkmaid into the arm of a young boy. Jenner later exposed the boy to smallpox, but the boy remained healthy. The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines prevented at least 10 million deaths between and alone. Many millions more lives were protected from illness. As of , global vaccination coverage remains at 85 percent, with no significant changes during the past few years. That said, an additional 1. Improved sanitation and medicine account for many of the other wins against pestilence.

Before the 19th century, people didn't know about the germ theory of disease. Consequently, most people did not pay much attention to the water they drank. The results were often catastrophic, since contaminated water spreads infectious diseases, including diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, polio, and cholera. From to , access to improved water sources rose from 76 percent of the world's population to 91 percent.

Put differently, , people gained access to clean water each day over that time period. And thanks to constantly improving medicines and pesticides, malaria incidence rates decreased by 37 percent globally and malaria mortality rates decreased by 60 percent globally between and Your chances of being killed by your fellow human beings have also been dropping significantly. Lethal interpersonal violence was once pervasive. Extensive records show that the annual homicide rate in 15th century England hovered around 24 per , residents, while Dutch homicide rates are estimated as being between 30 and 60 per , residents.

Fourteenth century Florence experienced the highest known annual homicide rate: per , The estimated homicide rates in 16th century Rome range from 30 to 80 per , Today, the intentional homicide rate in all of those countries is around 1 per , The Cambridge criminologist Manuel Eisner notes that "almost half of all homicides worldwide occurred in just 23 countries that account for 10 per cent of the global population.

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Nonetheless, the global homicide rate is falling: According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, it has dropped from 6. That's a reduction of 17 percent during a remarkably short period of 26 years, or 0. Another way to measure the general decline in violence is the global battle death rate per , people. Researchers at the Peace Research Institute Oslo have documented a steep post—World War II decline in the rate at which soldiers and civilians are killed in combat.

The rate of battle deaths per , people reached a peak of 23 in By , that had fallen by about 95 percent. Some smart people acknowledge that considerable social, economic, and environmental progress has been made but worry that the progress will not necessarily continue.


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He adds, "For people to feel deeply uneasy about the world we inhabit now, despite all these indicators pointing up, seems to me reasonable, given the relative instability of the evidence of this progress, and the [unpredictability] that overhangs it. Everything really is pretty fragile.

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Runciman is not alone. The worry that civilization is just about to go over the edge of a precipice has a long history. After all, many earlier civilizations and regimes have collapsed, including the Babylonian, Roman, Tang, Mayan, and, more recently, Ottoman and Soviet empires.

Yet there are good reasons for optimism. Before then, they argue, most societies were organized around "extractive" institutions—political and economic systems that funnel resources from the masses to the elites. In the 18th century, some countries—including Britain and many of its colonies—shifted from more extractive to more inclusive institutions.

Inclusive institutions are similar to one another in their respect for individual liberty. They include democratic politics, strong private property rights, the rule of law, enforcement of contracts, freedom of movement, and a free press.

Inclusive institutions are the bases of the technological and entrepreneurial innovations that produced a historically unprecedented rise in living standards in those countries that embraced them, including the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia. While uneven and occasionally reversed, the spread of inclusive institutions to more and more countries is responsible for what the University of Illinois at Chicago economist Deirdre Nansen McCloskey calls the "Great Enrichment," which has boosted average incomes to fold in those countries where they have taken hold.

The most striking examples of social disintegration—Roman, Tang, Soviet—occurred in extractive regimes.

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