December 31, 2019 - 9:00 pm
For many, the birth of a new year is a time for reflection and optimism, an occasion for hopeful resolution and personal reset. But these are not normal times. Seemingly endless political conflicts have created a climate of anger, anxiety and agitation in many quarters, leading to a heightened pessimism about the future.
But while our disputes have indeed become more vitriolic and divisive, it’s important to take a more complete and thoughtful inventory of the times. For as we start 2020, the nation — and the entire world — has many reasons to celebrate.
“Just about every measure of human welfare is improving except one: hope,” John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister noted in an op-ed in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.
This disconnect, they believe, stems from the fact that people tend to emphasize the bad over the good. “Our minds and lives are skewed by a fundamental imbalance that is just now becoming clear to scientists: the negativity effect,” the authors write, adding, “We focus so much on bad news, especially in a digital world that magnifies its power, that we don’t realize how much better life is becoming for people around the world.”
Over the past 25 years, for instance, the number of people living in “extreme” poverty — as defined by the World Bank — has dropped by a remarkable 75 percent.
In his book “Fewer, Richer, Greener,” Laurence Siegel of the CFA Institute argues that markets and democratic institutions have led to dramatic improvements in living standards. As the world becomes richer, he forecasts, population growth will slow and cause less stress on the ecosystem.
Mr. “Siegel provides reams of solid data for similarly heartening global trends,” writes Ronald Bailey of Reason magazine. “Crop productivity, food availability, life expectancy and education are increasing; violence is in decline.” As for the pessimists, Mr. Siegel has a message: “Let us not teach our children that apocalyptic thinking is right thinking. (It) has always been wrong as a forecast, and it will continue to be wrong. … Life has improved tremendously in the past 250 years … (and) it will continue to improve in almost every dimension; health, wealth, longevity, nutrition, literacy, peace, freedom and so forth.”
Despite the turmoil in Washington, the United States remains a beacon of hope and opportunity for the world. The Constitution will continue to withstand the stress tests of Beltway hyperpartisanship.
“By rationally looking at the long-term trends instead of viscerally reacting to the horror story of the day, you’ll see there’s much more to celebrate than to mourn,” write Mr. Tierney and Mr. Baumeister. “No matter … who wins the presidential election, the average person in America and the rest of the world will in all likelihood become healthier and wealthier.”
And that’s a reason to toast 2020 rather than to fear it.