Author: Gregg Easterbrook
In The Progress Paradox, Gregg Easterbrook draws upon three decades of wide-ranging research and thinking to make the persuasive argument that almost all aspects of Western life have vastly improved in the past century – and yet today, most people feel less happy than in previous generations.He reports that American life expectancy has dramatically increased in a century, from 47 to 77 years. Our great-great-grandparents all knew someone who died of some disease we never fear; as recently as 1952, polio killed 3,300 Americans. Our largest public health problems arise from unlimited supplies of affordable food.
The typical American has twice the purchasing power his mother orfather had in 1960. A third of America's families own at least three cars. In 2001 Americans spent $25 billion -- more than North Korea's GDP -- on recreational watercraft.
Factor out immigration -- a huge benefit to the immigrants -- and statistical evidence of widening income inequality disappears. The statistic that household incomes are only moderately higher than 25 years ago is misleading:Households today average fewer people, so real dollar incomes in middle-class households are about 50 percent higher today. Poverty is down. In 1960 22 percent of Americans lived in poverty; by 2001, the figure had dropped to 11.7 percent. Although Easterbrook adds, the current situation, in which one person in eight lives in privation in a country as wealthy as the Unites States, should be seen as anational shame. He has equally harsh words for what he sees as a number of truly unacceptable situations in our world today, from the lack of universal health care, to business leaders who steal from shareholders and employees, to the deplorable state of hopelessness many live in around the world
But back to the good news. Since 1970 the number of cars has increased 68 percent and the number ofmiles driven has increased even more, yet smog has declined by a third and traffic fatalities have declined from 52,627 to 42,815 last year. In 2003 we spent much wealth on things unavailable in 1953 -- a cleaner environment, reduced mortality through new medical marvels ($5.2 billion a year just for artificial knees, which did not exist a generation ago), the ability to fly anywhere or talk toanyone anywhere. The incidence of heart disease, stroke and cancer, when adjusted for population growth, is declining.
The national crime rate increased slightly in 2001 following nine consecutive years of reduction, the longest-ever U.S. drop in crime.
America soon will be the first society in which a majority of adults are college graduates.
So why do people report a sense that things aregetting steadily worse and that even fear that catastrophe is imminent? Why do we not live in state of gratitude that we (anyone living at middle class standards or above) now live better than 99.4 percent of the humans beings who have ever existed?
Easterbrook presents a few rationales. One is the unsettled nature of progress. Progress causes some problems to be truly solved, like polio thanks tovaccines. But often as not, problems exist in a chain of cause and effect. One problem is solved, and a new one crops up. We can now travel anywhere in the world but we’re dealing with the resulting problems of energy consumption and its environmental impact.
The author also contends we have an active preference for bad news. He observes that news organizations love the word “crisis” and use it asoften as possible. Also, in the United States, highly speculative bad news is often given considerable play while confirmed good news is barely reported. The media creates an impression of a country getting worse by obsessive focus on smaller and smaller risks. Easterbrook says “Today we have the knowledge necessary to detect small risks, the leisure in which to notice them, and the wherewithal...