The last 200 years or so have been, by far, the best in human history. Though pockmarked by tragedy, the story, on the whole, is one of relentless triumph: triumph over disease, over poverty, and over early death.
"Before the Industrial Revolution, life expectancy was about 30 years," says Don Bordreaux in a lecture for Marginal Revolution University. "Today in the United States, we expect to live to be about 80. Before the Industrial Revolution, one in four kids would die before the age of five. Today, in developed countries, it's more like one in 200."
What's easy to forget, though, is that prior to the Industrial Revolution, human lives weren't constantly improving. Living standard stagnated for decades and centuries. Mass starvation and disease often wiped out improvements in an instant. This is, Bordreaux says, the hockey stick of human prosperity; so named because if you graphed the living standards of the human race over time, they would mostly be flat until the exponential advances of the past 200 years.