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OUR OPINION: Why 'the long-term outlook is bright'

Fewer wars. Less want. And an endless parade of seemingly magical inventions, including a real-life invisibility cloak and a wand that puts out fires ...

Fewer wars. Less want. And an endless parade of seemingly magical inventions, including a real-life invisibility cloak and a wand that puts out fires ...

True, it's probably not the dawn of a Golden Age, as George Will agrees in his column in today's Herald.

But humanity has been a whole lot worse off than it is in 2011. And if today's headlines leave you wondering what on Earth there is to be grateful for, all you have to do is look at this era and its place in the sweep of human history.

You'll recognize soon enough that the key worldwide indicators continue to improve.

For example:

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** Fewer wars. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has a new book making this claim; and once you get past the shock of his thesis, you'll see that Pinker's claim holds up.

"Believe it or not, the world of the past was much worse," Pinker writes.

"Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species.

"The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth. It has not brought violence down to zero, and it is not guaranteed to continue. But it is a persistent historical development, visible on scales from millennia to years, from the waging of wars to the spanking of children."

Pinker goes on to document the trend in terms of crime, war and violence of all kinds.

"For all the tribulations in our lives, for all the troubles that remain in the world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment that we can savor," he concludes.

"And it's an impetus to cherish the forces of civilization and enlightenment that made it possible."

** Less want. True, "there isn't that much good news around in the short term," said Linda Yueh, a broadcaster, Oxford University economist and author, at a recent global-trends conference.

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But the long-term outlook is bright. Think of it: "For the very first time, half of the world's population will be entering the middle classes," she said, referring especially to the fast-growing economies of India and China.

That gigantic gain in net prosperity over the coming decades promises good things for countries around the world, including the U.S.

In fact, a hard look the evidence clearly leads to this conclusion: "Economic growth prospects have never been as good as this," she said.

And if you're worried that this growth will cause problems of its own ...

** That's where innovation comes in -- the human trait that makes microchips out of sand, one of the most common substances on Earth, and thus enables the ongoing digital revolution.

An invisibility cloak? Believe it: "Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas have hijacked one of nature's most intriguing phenomena -- the mirage -- to make an invisibility cloak," Wired.com reports.

"It can hide objects from view, works best underwater and even has a near-instant on/off switch." Search "invisibility cloak" at youtube.com and see for yourself.

As for the firefighting wand, one of Time magazine's Top 50 inventions of 2011: It does not do magic, Time reports.

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"It does, however, create an electric field, which produces a flow of charged particles that can subdue a flame." And it's one more reason to let a sprinkle of wonder spice up your happy Thanksgiving today.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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