Is the Glass Really Two-Thirds Empty?

Michael Barone writes, in U.S. News, that times are good; in some respects, remarkably good:

[W]e are living not in the worst of times but in something much closer to the best. What do I mean?

First, economic growth. In 2005, as in 2004, the world economy grew by about 5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, and the IMF projects similar growth for several years to come. This is faster growth than in all but a few peak years in the 1980s and 1990s, and it’s in vivid contrast to the long periods of stagnation or contraction in history. The great engine of this growth is, of course, the United States, which produces more than one fifth of world economic product and whose gross domestic product has been growing at around 4 percent–4.8 percent in the latest quarter. *** But other areas are growing, too….

Lagging behind is the euro area (1 percent) and the rest of western Europe (2 percent). Lesson: Sclerotic welfare states produce mass unemployment and stifle initiative and innovation. In contrast, the Chinese and Indian growth rates show how freeing up an economy produces rapid growth, and the continued contrast between the United States and Europe makes the same point. Free-market economic growth is enabling millions of people to rise out of poverty every year, even more than the experts expect.

But aren’t we also living in times of record strife? Actually, no. Just the opposite. The Human Security Centre of the University of British Columbia has been keeping track of armed conflicts since World War II. It reports that the number of genocides and violent conflicts dropped rapidly after the end of the Cold War and that in 2005 the number of armed conflicts was down 40 percent from 1992. Wars have also become less deadly: The average number of people killed per conflict per year in 1950 was 38,000; in 2002 it was just 600. The conflict in Iraq has not significantly changed that picture. American casualties are orders of magnitude lower than in the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, and precision weapons have enabled us to vastly reduce the civilian death toll.

[W]e shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, in most important respects, our civilization is performing splendidly.

Barone’s column is titled, “Heard the Good News?” Unfortunately, most Americans haven’t. “Performing splendidly” are not words our media are fond of repeating.

One consequence of this was seen, I think, in a poll recently conducted by BIGresearch. This survey of 7,500 consumers included the question: “Do you think your children and/or grandchildren will have a better economic future than you?” By a stunning (to me, anyway) 62% to 38% margin, respondents said that they do not expect their children and grandchildren to have a better economic future. The Center for Media Research reports:

This negative anticipation was shared across all age groups, with more women responding negatively than men. However, younger respondents (ages 18-24) were not quite as downbeat as older consumers.

What accounts for this widespread negativity? “Bad politics” and “bad government” were among the reasons given by respondents.

With all due respect to the people who were surveyed, it is hard to understand the basis for their pessimism. Innovation and rationalization of markets will continue to make Americans more prosperous in the future, just as they have in the past. The two historically critical threats to prosperity, traditional warfare and socialism, seem unlikely to drag down America’s prosperity in the years to come. The only cloud on the horizon with serious potential to derail economic growth is international terrorism. Yet, given our post-September 11 success in forestalling this threat, terrorism, by itself, cannot explain the prevailing pessimism. My own interpretation is that the media’s daily bombardment of bad news, real and imagined, is largely responsible for Americans’ distorted views of both the present and the future.

Via Power Line News.

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