The Core Tenets of Progress Studies

I founded this website partly to help give structure to an emerging field of Progress studies. What is Progress Studies, or more importantly, what do people who study progress tend to believe?

Today Progress Studies is more of an idea than a reality. It consists of a very loose grouping of people who are interested in the concept of progress and think that it is important. We come from a wide variety of fields including digital technology, history, economics and politics. Many of us enjoy reading about progress. A few of us also write about progress, whether in the form of a book or a blog.

If Progress Studies is going to move past this phase and become a real field of inquiry, we must start to compile what beliefs that we currently hold in common and what key questions related to progress need to be answered.

The series of essays that will be published on this website will try to ask and hopefully answer key questions related to progress. Below is a first step towards defining a few widely-held beliefs within the field:

  1. The past few decades and centuries have been a time of great material progress.
  2. This progress is in dramatic contrast to most of human history.
  3. This progress has benefitted the vast majority of mankind. While there are clearly many nations and sub-national minorities who have not enjoyed the benefits of progress, they are becoming proportionately fewer with each decade.
  4. This progress has disproportionately benefitted the poor and the dispossessed. All societies, including those of today, have had rich and powerful people. Only a few have had wide-spread prosperity.
  5. This progress originated in Europe some time in the past.
    Some progress thinkers say it started with the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Others say that it started in Medieval or Early Modern Europe. Others say that it started with Ancient Greece and Rome.
  6. It has gradually spread to most of the globe.
  7. Progress is associated with many very good trends. Some of these trends are seen by progress thinkers as the result of progress. Other trends are seen as a cause of progress. Many are seen as both cause and result.
    • Increased per capital GDP
    • Declining poverty
    • Greater scientific understanding of natural phenomenon
    • Longer life expectancy
    • Lower rates of infant mortality
    • Lower rates of tropical diseases and malaria
    • Higher rates of urbanization
    • Improved size and quality of housing
    • Greater daily supply of calories from food
    • Lower levels of hunger and famine
    • Increased literacy
    • Increase levels of education
    • Improved sanitation and cleaner drinking water
    • Wider access to electricity and other forms of energy
    • Increased freedom
    • Greater levels of opportunities for women
    • Increased democratic governance
    • Lower levels of slavery and forced labor
    • Fewer deaths due to international wars and civil wars
    • Increased levels of self-reported happiness
    • Dozens of other things that do not come immediately to mind…
  8. Not all trends associated with progress are good, but the vast majority are.
  9. Progress is not utopia or an absence of problems.

The above is hardly an exhaustive list of what those who study progress believe, but it is a good place to start. I am sure that some progress thinkers would object to individual items on this list, but few would object to most of them. Currently, there are far more issues that progress thinker disagree about (or at least have not systematically discussed them as a group).

My hope is that those who contribute essays to this site in the future will increase the number of points that we agree upon and make the field more relevant to everyday people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Michael Magoon is the author of the “From Poverty to Progress” series of books. The first book in the series is already published with many more to follow.

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