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
Here are just a few of the ways the human condition has improved
dramatically over the last 100 years:
- The average life expectancy in 1900 was 47 years. Today it is
77, and rising.
- The infant-mortality rate has dropped from 1 in 10 to 1 in
- "Poor" Americans today have routine access to a quality of
housing, food, health care, consumer products, entertainment,
communications and transportation that even the Vanderbilts,
Carnegies and Rockefellers could only dream of.
- A farmer a century ago could produce only one-hundredth of what
his counterpart is capable of growing and harvesting
- In the 19th century, almost all teenagers toiled in factories
or fields. Now, 9 in 10 attend high school.
- Today's Americans have three times more leisure time than their
- The price of food relative to wages has plummeted: In the early
part of this century the average American had to work two hours to
earn enough to purchase a chicken, compared with 20 minutes
- The authors have compiled hundreds of similar statistics to
show that life really is better and brighter. Measured against
perfection, there will always be room for progress. But measured
against the past, the changes have been quantum leaps.
Two factors make this news even better. "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
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