In the mid twentieth-century, half the world still lived in extreme poverty. Today, even corrected for inflation, just 9% of people live like that. Average lifespan is increasing globally by about five hours a day. Child mortality, the greatest measure of misery I can think of, is plummeting on all continents. Global inequality is falling as people in poor countries get rich faster than people in rich countries. The average person is wealthier, healthier, cleverer, cleaner, safer, kinder, freer and even happier than ever before: that’s what the data say.
These unprecedented trends are mostly not caused by better government, the accumulation of more capital, the exploitation of more resources, or some kind of magic, but by one simple thing: innovation. The creation of new products, practices and services that do useful things for us, making us more productive as we work for each other in the global marketplace: that is the big theme of the last two centuries, and it continues today. So what is innovation and how do we get hold of it?