A Vote of Confidence
January 6, 2015 4 Comments
Dan Hannan has a reminder for us. It’s always been better for our kids here than it was for us, and we’ve always figured it would be worse. You and I tend to think so, so did John Winthrop, and so has every generation between him and us.
And every generation has better, usually much better. Sure we’ve had hiccups along the way, wars and pestilence come to mind but, in general, it’s always gotten better.
How do you think 2015 will be for you? If you’re typical, you’ll be pessimistic; and, if you’re typical, you’ll be wrong. Only 21 percent of Americans agree with the proposition that “life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us” — 76 percent disagree.
Well, barring some unforeseeable calamity — what Nassim Taleb would call a “black swan,” or Donald Rumsfeld an “unknown unknown” — the 76 percent are mistaken. The next generation of Americans will lead healthier, happier, more fulfilled lives than the present one.
That sentence could have been written at any time since the Mayflower landed. It would always have been true (for the settlers, at any rate; it was a different story for the indigenous tribes). And it would always have prompted skepticism. No doubt, had opinion polls existed at the time, 76 percent of Puritan emigres, their faces grim and thunderous over their lace ruffs, would have prophesied damnation. And I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if 76 percent of Americans in 1776 weren’t hanging their white-wigged heads in despair at the debt level (or whatever the fashionable panic of the day was).
Anxiety about some imminent catastrophe seems to be hardwired into our genome. We are killing the planet! Our borrowing is unsustainable! Immigration will overwhelm us! The world is frying! We’re overdue for an ice age! We’re overdue for an epidemic! We’re overdue for an asteroid strike!
Every civilization has separately evolved its own End of Days scenario: Ragnarok or Judgment Day or apocalypse or Armageddon. The eschatology varies, but the idea that life as we know it will come to an end doesn’t. Here, to pluck an example more or less at random, is the Zoroastrian version:
At the end of the tenth hundredth winter, the sun is more unseen and more spotted; the year, month, and day are shorter; and the earth is more barren; and the crop will not yield the seed. And a dark cloud makes the whole sky night, and it will rain more noxious things than water.
Which is, more or less, what the eco-extremists tell us today. Seventy months have passed since the heir to the British throne assured us that we had less than 100 months to save the world. Do you imagine that when the 100 months are up, Prince Charles will say: “I was wrong: maybe life is getting better after all”? Of course not: The whole point of looming disaster is that it’s always just around the corner.
And yet, stubbornly, most people in most places at most times keep getting richer. It has been happening for thousands of years, driven by specialization and exchange, and accelerating enormously since the 17th century — nowhere more so than in societies built on free competition, of which the United States is the foremost example.
Do read the rest, for all that I tend to be one of the doomsayers, I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s correct. As long as we pay attention, we have little to fear from anyone or anything. after all, we come a long way from Massachusetts Bay and Jamestown. And we’ve dragged much of the world along behind us. Quite a proud record, really.