And now, a dose of good news. In a new book that will put the gloom‐and‐doom industry out of business, the Cato Institute says more human progress has been achieved in the last 100 years than in all of the previous centuries combined.
No matter what the variable—life expectancy, wealth, leisure time, education, safety, gender and racial equality, freedom—the world is a vastly better place today than it was a century ago, say co‐authors Stephen Moore and the late Julian Simon in It’s Getting Better all the Time: 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years.
“Never before have quality of life improvements been spread to virtually every segment of the population as has happened in the United States in this century,” the authors point out. Because natural resources have become increasingly available throughout history, and because productivity keeps increasing, there is apparently “no fixed limit on our resources in the future,” they note. “There are limits at any moment, but the limits continually expand, and constrain us less with each passing generation.”
Of course, if things are so great, why do we hear so much bad news? False scares and junk science are partly to blame, but the media also play a role in shaping people’s perceptions. In 1998, the authors point out, there was not a single commercial airline crash despite the hundreds of thousands of commercial flights and billions of air passenger‐miles traveled. While there was no major news coverage of this amazing record, the media devoted weeks of coverage to the 1999 crash of an Egyptian airliner. This focus on the bad lets us forget how much is good about life in modern America.
The biggest question of all though is why so much of the progress of the past 100 years has originated in America. Moore and Simon provide a simple but compelling answer: “The unique American formula of individual liberty and free enterprise has cultivated risk taking, experimentation, innovation, and scientific exploration on a grand scale that has never occurred anywhere before.”