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"For the first 25 years after my birth in 1923 everything seemed to be going wrong for suffering humanity, and for the next 40 years most things have gone unbelievably right. Perhaps I had an odd adolescence. My father was British consul in Moscow in 1935-38. I had summer holidays from school there at the height of Stalin's purges. Russian members of the embassy staff, including fellow teenagers like some of the maids, were disappearing, probably to be shot.

On either side of Moscow in 1935-38 my father had posts in Nazi-dominated Europe. Because the family's interests were literary, many of our friends were Jews. The same terror stalked.

Then when I left school in 1941 my first job was a public-sector one, with public-sector productivity, as a teenager supposed to throw bombs about as an RAF navigator, creating a slum in the heart of the continent. By the time I got there, the Russians were coming in from the other side. All the politicians, including Churchill and Roosevelt, told us these were fine liberating democrats. And of course I knew from those school summer holidays so briefly before that those were astonishing lies. That has given me one advantage in my 40 years as a newspaperman. I have never since then believed a word either politicians or public relations officers have said.

Then back from war's mess the supposedly more intellectual atmosphere of Cambridge University in 1945. More intellectual, my left foot. Much of Cambridge's intellectual atmosphere then was of sub-polytechnic Marxism. Some people at that time, from my own university and out of genuine idealism, were giving the secret of how to make the atom bomb to Marshal Stalin - a Stalin whose suitability to be told how to destroy the world did not seem well advertised in 1948 by his desire to execute his doctors, because they did not make him feel better on the increasingly frequent occasions when he went to bed mad, roaring drunk.

That was our 1948. I don't know what I expected for the next 40 years. When I joined the Economist in 1949 it seemed unlikely that the world would last long. But here we stand, 40 memory-sodden years on, and what have we done?

What we have done - largely because the poorest two-thirds of people are living much longer - is approximately to octuple real gross world product. During the brief civilian working lives of us returning soldiers from the second world war, we have added seven times as much to the world's producing power as was added during all the previous millennia of homo sapien's existence. That may help to explain why some of us sound and write rather tired.

It does not explain why anybody in the next generation, to whom we gladly vacate our posts, can dare to sound pessimistic.