History Lesson 2: The Year 2014

The year 2014 was a year for great change in many parts of the world. Let’s see what happened in…

The World

This wonderful image by NASA.

Population: 7.13-7.26 billion

Population growth: 130 million

Average life expectancy as of May 2014: 70.9 years

Top 3 causes of death:

  1. Heart disease
  2. Lower respiratory infections (pneumonia)
  3. Stroke

Interesting comparisons:

  • In 2014, the world population grew by 130 people – that’s over 1/4 the total number of people who lived on Earth in the Middle Ages, and over 1/3 of the current population of the United States.
  • Major progress has been made against pneumonia in the past 12 months; in May of 2014, it was the world’s second-largest killer. In July of 2015, however, it does not even appear on the top three causes of death list!Unicef reports that rates of fatal pneumonia in childhood have dropped by nearly half in the past decades, thanks to continued access to expand medical care. But there is still much more to do; many children ever year still die of pneumonia.
  • As was true in 2015, the average human life expectancy in 2014 was about twice of what it has been historically; this can be attributed to advances in medical care, agriculture, and world peace. Among other factors, child mortality has plummeted by orders of magnitude since the advent of antibiotics and vaccines.

The Three Largest Empires

The United States

American children playing violin at the Suzuki institute in 2011.

Annual GDP: $17.4 trillion

GDP per person: $46,600

Population: 319 million

Land area: 9.15 million square kilometers

Average life expectancy: 78.8 years

Infant mortality rate: 6-7 deaths per 1,000 births

Interesting comparisons:

  • The United States has the highest GDP per person of the world’s top three economies; if U.S. gross domestic product were distributed equally among all U.S. citizens, each one would have been paid $46,600 in 2014.
  • Despite having a GDP per person that’s almost 25% higher, the United States had a shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality than Japan. This can probably be attributed to a combination of lack of universal healthcare with unhealthy lifestyle choices on the part of American citizens.
  • The United States’ GDP per person was over 10 times higher than that of China, which, though it’s a close second to U.S. in total gross domestic product, has more than four times as many people.

2014 events:

  • President Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union address focused on environmental protection, job creation, and immigration reform. He stated his hopes that 2014 would be “a year of action.”Critics described his statement that he intended to use executive powers to overrule Congressional decisions blocking action as a grave overreach of the executive branch and destruction of the government’s checks and balances.

    Critics of the critics pointed out that the Republican Congress had semi-openly declared a policy of obstructing any and all legislation supported by Obama during his presidency, leaving the president with little other recourse.

  • The FBI announced in June that it had rescued 168 children, many of whom had never been reported missing, from sex trafficking during a nationwide crackdown.This highlighted the problem of sex trafficking in the U.S. and elsewhere, where underage people may be abducted or else coerced into sex work without even leaving their homes.

    Teachers across the United States were advised on potential signs that a child was being coerced into sex work, including emotional distress and withdrawal, frequent unexplained absences from school, and the sudden unexplained appearance of expensive items in the possession of otherwise low-income students.

  • Mass protests broke out over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri – making him one of several high-profile cases of unarmed black people being killed by American police, and one of nearly 400 American citizens fatally shot by police in each year.As has been typical of mass protests historically, these eventually developed into riots including looting and violence once residents realized that law enforcement was ineffective in the protest zone. Controversy arose over the portrayal in some American media of all protesters as violent offenders.

    This incident also raised awareness of police brutality in America, where it is almost impossible to tell how many citizens are killed by police each year due to fuzzy and inconsistent definitions of “justifiable killings” in self-defense vs. willful homicide by officers.


Photograph of a Chinese family having a picnic in a Beijing park by Daniel Case licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share and Share Alike.

Annual GDP: $10.4 trillion

GDP per person: $3,870

Population: 1.39 billion

Land area: 9.60 million square kilometers

Average life expectancy: 75.2 years

Infant mortality rate: 14-15 deaths per 1,000 births

Interesting comparisons:

  • Although China is the world’s second-largest economy, it has the shortest life expectancy of any of the top three, and nearly twice the infant mortality of the next-largest contender.

2014 events:

  • An environmental survey showed that nearly 1/5 of China’s soil was contaminated with substances toxic to humans, such as arsenic, nickel, and lead. This seemed to validate concerns that China’s rapid industrialization in pursuit of economic growth may be doing long-term damage to its people’s health.The finding was particularly concerning because heavy metals such a lead are known to impair cognitive development and result in decreased IQs in children. In the United States, high soil lead levels are strongly correlated with learning disabilities and school drop-out rates.

    Because of the potentially explosive public health ramifications, the results of the environmental survey had been classified as a state secret for a time before being released to the public.

  • In May, 34 people were killed by explosive-laden trucks in the Xinjiang province, making it the deadliest single attack in the history of the Xinjiang conflict between the Chinese government and some residents of the far-west province.Xinjiang separatists refer to the far northwest province as “Eastern Turkestan” and say that it is not rightfully part of China, but rather that it was assimilated under Soviet rule and has been occupied ever since.

    The separatists are members of the Turkic-originated Uyghur ethnic group, supported by Turkic Islamic militant organizations who see the separatist movement as a way to expand their own sphere of influence.

  • In November, Chinese president Xi Jinping reached an agreement with U.S. president Barack Obama to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The deal, which was the first time China has agreed to limit their carbon emissions, came on the heels of rising concerns about the effects of air pollution on Chinese health.Included in the deal was the rather bold commitment to cap greenhouse gas emissions and take 20% of China’s energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. In exchange, the U.S. promised to cut its own greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2025, and lift tariffs on certain technological items from China.

    China and the United States together account for 45% of the Earth’s man-made greenhouse gas emissions, making this agreement a true landmark for human development on the planet – if, that is, it is adhered to by their successors in the coming decades.


This photograph of Japanese citizens by Nihonjoe licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share and Share Alike.

This photograph of Japanese citizens by Nihonjoe licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share and Share Alike.

Annual GDP: 4.6 trillion

GDP per person: $37,600

Population: 127 million

Land area: 378,000 square kilometers

Average life expectancy: 87 years

Infant mortality rate: 2-3 deaths per 1,000 births

Interesting comparisons:

  • Japan is one of the world’s three largest economies, despite being geographically confined to a fairly small chain of islands. This stems from the “economic miracle” Japan underwent following World War II.After WWII, Japan and the United States collaborated to ensure Japan’s success as a capitalist economy, due to the U.S. fear that if capitalism in Japan failed, it could ally itself with the U.S.’s communist foe.

    But arguably even more important than U.S. support was Japanese Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda, who began Japan’s policy of encouraging banks to make loans to industrial conglomerates to assist in their development. Ikeda also took other measures, like relaxing anti-monopoly legislation and introducing import taxes.

  • Japan also has one of the world’s longest life expectancies, with Japanese women living longer than any other group. This is probable due in part to genetics and in part to a diet which is traditionally very low in fat and sugar.In Japan, high sodium is more of a health concern for most people than fat- and sugar-related diseases like heart disease, which is a leading cause of death worldwide, or diabetes, which is a major cause of morbidity in the United States.

2014 events:

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democrat party (keep in mind that “liberal” in other countries means favoring economic freedom; almost the exact opposite of what it means in the U.S.) won big in the 2014 election, maintaining its “supermajority” which gives it a near-monopoly on Japanese government.This came despite the fact that the Japanese economy had shrunk for two consecutive quarters under “Abenomics,” which had involved essentially doubling the country’s consumption tax from 5% to 10%.

    The U.S. White House praised the re-election, saying they looked to Abe as a reliable partner on issues such as global disaster relief and response, the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and the planned Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership.

  • A record snowfall killed 19 people, from causes including buildings collapsing under the weight of the snow, and motorists freezing to death while attempting to walk home from stranded cars.Prime Minister Abe immediately instituted a task force to attempt to prevent further deaths from hypothermia, and open roadways to rural communities which were in many cases totally cut off from urban centers.

    Japan averages about 262 inches of snowfall annually; the 2014 storm dumped 59 inches, or nearly 6 feet, of snow on the country within a matter of hours.

  • The Ministry of Health and Labour reported the first outbreak of dengue fever in the country since 1945; 153 people in the Tokyo Metropolitan area showed dengue-like symptoms.Genetic analysis showed that all 153 people appeared to have been infected by the same strain of the virus carried by the first patient.

    Dengue fever, a tropical illness transmitted to humans by mosquitos, was once a major cause of death in tropical areas; it has been controlled largely through use of insecticides to kill mosquitoes, and encouraging personal protection to prevent mosquito bites.

A woman sleeps on the bus to the airport after being rescued from months of captivity by Boko Haram militants.


  • The Brookings Africa Growth Initiative called for the continent’s nations to make employment of youth a priority in the coming years. Africa has one of the fastest-growing youth populations on the planet, with an estimated 14 million entering the workforce in 2014 alone.Africa’s long-standing lack of development means that most of these new workers have little formal education, and as such are restricted to contributing to Africa’s economy through unskilled labor.

    Even for skilled laborers, the African economy often suffers from a mismatch between the availability of jobs, the need for productivity from human resources, and the large numbers of youth entering the workforce each year.

  • The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa called for particular attention to be paid to the industrial sector, which is seen to be more reliable and sustainable than Africa’s current strengths of exporting raw materials and providing services.The UNECA report found that government policy was often required to encourage industrial development, as the current short-term markets do not necessarily encourage the kind of growth that will be sustainable in the future.

    The report voiced the need for stronger institutions to support industrial growth, like the banks of Japan which contributed to the Japanese economic miracle. It stated that creating policies to encourage industry without creating the necessary institutions to support it is often not enough.

  • Up to 2,000 people may have been killed in an attack by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Boko Haram, whose name translates to “Western education is forbidden,” gained global fame after kidnapping over 200 schoolgirls and forcing them to be “wives” for their soldiers this same year.Boko Haram was started by Muslim preacher Mohammed Marwa, born in 1927. Extreme even by the standards of the most conservative Muslim cleric, he nonetheless struck a chord with some inhabitants of northern Nigeria, which had experienced religious and economic differences with Nigeria’s southern coastal cities for hundreds of years.

    Nigeria’s north had long been populated by Muslims from northern Africa who invaded in 1000 AD; its south had been populated by followers of native African religions, who subsequently mostly converted to Christianity during the colonial era. Nigeria’s south also reaped the fruits of commerce with Europeans, while the Muslims in the north, lacking coastal access, did not.

The Middle East

Syrian refugees on a bus in Turkey after fleeing the violence in their home country.

  • In Iraq, American hopes of turning the country into a peaceful democratic state following their 2003 invasion and ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein continue to fade.American military – now cast in the role of “advisors” to an Iraqi military severely damaged by early years of Bush-era policy disbanding many Iraqi troops – have largely retreated to Shiia-ruled Baghdad, while Sunni militants control a large swath of territory, calling it the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

    Some would argue this outcome was predictable in a region long afflicted by poverty and largely untouched by modern education; a combination which often breeds extreme scapegoating of powers that are more economically well-off.

  • In Syria, president Bashar al-Assad has also lost large swaths of territory to ISIS. Previously a stable nation, Syria was first destabilized by anti-government protests sparked b Assad’s often-repressive policies; Islamic militants from across the border in neighboring Iraq soon joined the fight, brewing a massive army.As in Egypt, Islamic militants seem to have at least in part hijacked what was originally a secular pro-human-rights movement. When government control was weakened by the protesters, the militants moved in, claiming to be the true champions of the people.

    It is possible that they were technically correct – though wealthy, secular cities tend to be the birthplaces of effective anti-government protest in the Middle East, many countries are composed predominantly of poor subsistence farmers with little to no education outside of that provided by their local, often conservative mosques.

  • In Egypt, former military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected president with 96% of the vote. He was the first president to be democratically elected since the removal of Mohammed Morsi by al-Sisi’s military force in 2013.Morsi, a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, had been voted in following former long-time president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster by popular peaceful protest. Although the forces which ousted Mubarak were secular liberals, most Egyptian citizens who turned out to the polls supported the Muslim Brotherhood party.

    Al-Sisi’s election marks the beginning of a new era for Egypt, which is effectively now trying democracy for the third time in the past half-century; the first attempt resulted in a president with a mixed human rights record who silenced political dissent; the second resulted in Morsi, who was arguably even more brutal in suppressing dissent.


Although the overthrow of the corrupt pro-Russian president of Ukraine involved some fiery face-offs between student protesters and government forces, no one was killed.

Although the overthrow of the corrupt pro-Russian president of Ukraine involved some fiery face-offs between student protesters and government forces, including creative use of Molotov cocktails to melt tank treads, no one was killed.

  • Russia challenged a 70-year-long agreement among European nations that borders could not be changed by force when it sent military troops into Ukraine, claiming it was simply “liberating” a region that wished to rejoin Russia.This move came after a peaceful student-led popular uprising overthrew president Viktor Yanukovych, who was accused of corruption and using violence against protesters.

    After Yanukovych lost power to the people’s revolution, Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed concern for the safety and desires of the ethnic Russians living in Ukraine – deeply unsettling other European nations by moving his military in to “annex” Crimea.

  • The European Union continued to struggle with stubborn unemployment in the wake of the U.S.-triggered Great Recession, and the failure to repay money borrowed from a few member states, most notably including Greece.The region has found itself in the difficult situation typical of most modern recessions. Cutting back on government spending means less money in the people’s pockets to spend to stimulate the economy; but continuing to spend government money when you’re not seeing tax revenue from commerce is unsustainable.

    The president of the European Bank attempted to alleviate the problem by drastically reducing interest rates on loans for even the most troubled European economies; but this does not seem to have been enough to spur the desired job creation.

  • The European Union also continues to struggle with how to handle a high demand to immigrate there from troubled regions. In 2014, over 200,000 migrants arrived on boats in Italy; over 3,000 died in the Mediterranean attempting to reach it.Germany received nearly 200,000 applications for political asylum; and Sweden struggled with whether to maintain its decision to have an open-door policy to refugees from war-torn Syria.

    In the midst of all of this, Europeans who fear that immigrants are dangerous and immigrants alleging racist treatment and economic inequality have both sparked protests, with nationalistic, pro-ethnically European movements gaining major political clout in some European states.


Girls attending Ashaqan Arefan school in Afghanistan in 2002. By Sally Hodgson (U.S. Department of State) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

  • India’s Narendra Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister, following what was possibly the largest democratic election in world history; more voters in India, the world’s largest democracy with a population of 1.2 billion, voted than ever before.Modi, a Hindu nationalist who presided over the nation’s worst communal riots in decades and an anti-Muslim slaughter that left nearly 2,000 Muslims dead, has been criticized as leaving behind Gandhi’s principles to promote the interests of India’s majority.

    He was elected on campaign promises to build 100 Smart Cities, strengthen India’s economy, and promote transparency in government.

  • In Indonesia, former governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, was elected president. His image that of an outsider who planned to take on the corrupt, moneyed political elite, he has been likened by some to U.S. president Bill Clinton.

    Popular among young voters and the urban middle class, Widodo promised to cut spending and balance the budget by cutting government fuel subsidies, which cost the country $23 billion annually. He also promised to crack down on corruption and waste, and prioritize education, healthcare, and transportation infrastructure.

    With a population of 250 million, the south Asian country made up of thousands of islands is the world’s largest majority Muslim state.

  • In Afghanistan, peace may finally be on the horizon – although Taliban attacks continue, the 2014 elections proceeded relatively without violence, and Taliban attacks failed to do major damage or bring new territory under Taliban control.

    A survey of Afghan citizens showed that unemployment was their biggest concern, at both the national and local levels. At the national level, citizens’ next-biggest concerns were insecurity and corruption; at the local level, poor access to electricity and roads were of more concern than insecurity.

    The survey also showed that 55% of Afghans believe their country is currently moving in the right direction, and 73% believe that efforts to reconcile warring groups within the country will help to stabilize it.

North America

$205 Million drug money seized by the Mexican Police and the Drug Enforcement Administration in Mexico city — largest single drug cash seizure in history (this particular bust occurred in 2007).

  • A Canadian research study of interactions between seven U.S. men who became militant jihadists sought to find causes to address to prevent the spread of jihadi ideology.

    The study found that some of the American-born jihadis focused on politics in their social media posts, while others focused on religion; but all spent a great deal of time seeking information about religion early in their jihadi conversions.

    The findings re-enforce the importance of religion to the jihadi ideology, which has sometimes been thought to stem more from politics or poverty than religious ideology.

  • In the United States, new provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act took effect. Among other provisions, private American insurance companies can no longer discriminate by gender or pre-existing condition when ensuring people; they also cannot refuse to cover people because they are participating in clinical research.

    Tax credits for the lower and middle classes have been introduced to offset the cost of healthcare, and the tax credit for small businesses that provide healthcare to employees has been increased to 50% of the total cost of the employee healthcare.

    Medicaid coverage has also expanded to cover Americans who earn less than 133% of the poverty line; the previous maximum income one could earn while remaining on Medicaid was much lower.

  • Mexico was ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt nations by the annual corruption perceptions index. This came as no surprise, as the year continued the recent trend of being peppered by mass kidnappings and killings, some of which were found to have direct ties to the Mexican government.

    In one case, former mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, was found to have ordered police to attack, abduct, and kill 43 students because he feared that a protest they had planned would interfere with his re-election big.

    This echoes 2015 news in which another mass killing of young people was perpetrated by police under orders – this time with claims that the victims were members of a drug gang.

South America

Left to right: President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, President Dillma Roussef of Brazil, President Xi Jinping of China, and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa at the 2014 BRICS summit in Brazil. Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share and Share Alike by Kremlin.Ru.

  • Brazil hosted the 2014 meeting of the BRICS group – a grouping emerging economies including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. In addition to Brazil’s president Dilma Roussef, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, India’s Narendra Modi, China’s Xi Jinping, and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma were in attendance.

    The group created a $100 billion New Development Bank, citing disappointment with the International Monetary Fund and seemingly setting the NDB up as a competitor to the IMF. The NDB will be headquartered in Shanghai, with all five BRICS nations represented among its inaugural administrative leadership.

    BRICS has been referred to by many economists as “the next G7.” The G7 has long been a summit of finance officials from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Japan meeting regularly to discuss economic issues and make joint plans for success.

  • Bolivia again elected Evo Morales as president of their nation. The first Bolivian of native descent to serve as president, Morales has served 2 terms, which have seen staggering 25% drops in poverty and 43% drops in extreme poverty.

    The election for a third term was seen as the Bolivian people’s endorsement of Morales’ policies, which have included nationalizing Bolivia’s oil industry to put 82% of its profits towards public service, and withdrawing from the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes over concerns that its rulings favored corporations.

    Some of Morales’ staggering success has perhaps been due to his profound tackling of issues at the cultural level as well as the legal and economic levels; he has encouraged Bolivians to make their economic decisions based on a philosophy of “living well,” and drawn heavily upon indigenous traditions of communal living.

  • Haiti continued to suffer the after-effects of a string of natural and political disasters, including a deadly cholera epidemic. In the wake of these catastrophes, Human Rights Watch cited the nation for violence against women and inhumane prison conditions.

    The nation’s last election was due in 2011, but still had not been delivered in 2014, underscoring a question as to whether Haiti can be counted as an effective democracy. Many voters remained unrepresented in the Senate following disputes over election law.

    At last count in June 2013, over a quarter of a million people were still living in what were essentially refugee camps set up on the island in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake. No clear solution to the problem seems to be in sight.


This photograph of an indigenous man of Papua, new Guinea and his son by Taro Taylor, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share and Share Alike.

  • In Australia, the premier of New South Wales introduced the “one punch law,” which would mandate an 8-year prison sentence for perpetrators of fatal single-punch attacks.

    This came as part of efforts to curb alcohol-related violence in Sydney following an increase in brutal assaults in Sydney’s nightclubs, including two fatalities resulting from single-punch assaults involving alcohol.

    The law also expanded laws requiring alcohol-serving establishments to lock out new patrons at 1:30am, put a freeze on the granting of new liquor licenses, and mandated the statewide closure of stores selling alcohol at 10pm.

  • New Zealand’s general election saw a plurality of 47% of the vote go to the center-right party, let by incumbent Prime Minister John Key. Key has come under criticism for seemingly excessive spending on luxuries for government officials and spying on foreign nationals during his tenure, but has retained relative popularity.

    Key has spoken out in favor of the privatization, to some degree, of healthcare and education; and in favor of giving tax breaks to employers to encourage employment.

    Key has stated that he believes in global warming, and that government action is necessary to curb it. He has committed to reducing New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50% within 50 years.

  • Papua New Guinea received a scathing review from the World Report on human rights for 2014. Findings showed that while the country’s natural resources continued to produce strong economic growth, that growth was not translating into an increased standard of living for citizens due to “consistently poor governance.”

    The report stated that a culture of violence remains endemic in Papua New Guinea, with violence against women being a series problem, and gruesome mob murders of alleged sorcerers continuing to occur.

    In addition, it was reported that physical and sexual abuse of detainees – including children – by police and military officials was found to be “widespread” within the country.


This image has been released under a free license by the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR). Creative Commons 3.0, Germany.

  • The United States White House proposed to extend the International Space Station’s mission until 2024 – four years longer than the U.S. had originally agreed to fund the mission. The White House began urging its ISS allies to follow suit.

    However, the implementation of that is looking tricky, as the European Union committed to cutting space station expenditures by 30% in the next year, and the American Congress funded the National Aeronautics and Space Agency at $600 million less than the President had requested for the program.

    It is hoped that the growth of the private space industry combined with contracting out to private entities by governments might help to offset the costs of space exploration development.

  • Europe’s Rosetta probe became the first man-made object to land on a comet, yielding a great deal of new information about the makeup and behavior of comets.

    Among surprises discovered by Rosetta was the rapid breakdown of water and carbon dioxide in the comet’s atmosphere by electrons – which could have implications for the conclusions astronomers draw from chemical analyses of the atmosphere’s of other planets.

    Rosetta also confirmed some expected, but nonetheless exciting discoveries – such as the presence of water ice within the comet.

  • The first fully Indian-built rocket was used to launch a geosynchronous satellite – marking another milestone in space exploration autonomy for the world’s largest democracy.

    The rocket featured a homegrown design, necessitated by the refusal of the governments of the United States and Russia to share their own blueprints for creating the components with India.

    The launched satellite was for commercial communications, not science – but it is another step in the direction of India’s exploring the stars.

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