The idea that the world is going to hell has been hard-wired into the psyche of most political leaders throughout recorded history. Archbishop Wulfstan of York declared in 1014 that “the world is in a rush and is now getting close to its end”. Similar prophecies exist now: that the environment is being despoiled, climate chaos is claiming an ever-increasing number of lives, the rich world is leaving the poor to rot and our energy supplies are soon to be exhausted.
As countries grow richer, they grow healthier. Life expectancy keeps setting new records, for both the rich and the poor world, as developments in medicine advance rapidly. Malaria deaths peaked in 2004 and even Aids deaths peaked five years ago. Anthony Fauci, America’s leading authority on the disease, said last month that there could be an “Aids-free generation” in the reasonable future. “We have no excuse, scientifically, to say we cannot do it,” he told an Aids conference in Washington. Such a statement would have been unimaginable just a decade ago. Aids remains the world’s most lethal contagious disease, responsible for almost two million deaths each year. But medicine is catching up with it. We can now dare to believe that Aids will go the way of smallpox.
The Queen was too polite to spell it out: don’t listen too hard to the politicians. It will just depress you. They do their best, and sometimes even help things, but play a minor role in the development of nations. A country is not shaped by manifestos or five-year plans, but by the courage and ingenuity of its people. And the Olympics, a glorious festival of human achievement, is far closer to what’s really happening out there.