June 23, 2008

BEING A DECENT PEOPLE... (via Brian McKim and Glenn Dryfoos):

Everything seemingly is spinning out of control (ALAN FRAM and EILEEN PUTMAN, 6/21/08, Associated Press)

Is everything spinning out of control?

Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Air fares, college tuition and health care border on unaffordable. Wars without end rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism.

Horatio Alger, twist in your grave.

The can-do, bootstrap approach embedded in the American psyche is under assault. Eroding it is a dour powerlessness that is chipping away at the country's sturdy conviction that destiny can be commanded with sheer courage and perseverance. [...]

American University historian Allan J. Lichtman notes that the U.S. has endured comparable periods and worse, including the economic stagflation (stagnant growth combined with inflation) and Iran hostage crisis of 1980; the dawn of the Cold War, the Korean War and the hysterical hunts for domestic Communists in the late 1940s and early 1950s; and the Depression of the 1930s.

"All those periods were followed by much more optimistic periods in which the American people had their confidence restored," he said.

Life Is Good, So Why Do We Feel So Bad? (GREGG EASTERBROOK, June 13, 2008, Wall Street Journal)
Unemployment is 5.5%, low by historical standards; income is rising slightly ahead of inflation; housing prices are down, but the typical house is still worth a third more than in 2000; 94% of Americans do not have threatened mortgages, and of those who do, most will keep their homes.

Inflation was up in 2007, but this stands out because the 16 previous years were close to inflation-free; living standards are the highest they have ever been, including living standards for the middle class and for the poor.

All forms of pollution other than greenhouse gases are in decline; cancer, heart disease and stroke incidence are declining; crime is in a long-term cycle of significant decline; education levels are at all-time highs.

Sure, gas prices are up, the dollar is weak and credit is tight – but these are complaints at the margin of a mainly healthy society. [...]

Campaigning in Pennsylvania in April, Hillary Clinton said "We need to go back to the prosperity of the 1990s," a comment that drew loud, enthusiastic applause. Converted to today's dollars, per-capita income in the Keystone State is 23% higher than in 1990. People may think Pennsylvania was more prosperous in the past, but the state is better off today. The same can be said for most (needless to say, not all) parts of the country and most demographics. Most are, right now, the best-off they have ever been. [...]

The relentlessly negative impressions of American life presented by the media, including the entertainment media, explain something otherwise puzzling that shows up in psychological data. When asked about the country's economy, schools, health care or community spirit, Americans tell pollsters the situation is dreadful. But when asked about their own jobs, schools, doctors and communities, people tell pollsters the situation is good. Our impressions of ourselves and our neighbors come from personal experience. Our impressions of the nation as a whole come from the media and from political blather, which both exaggerate the negative.

...we worry about our fellow Americans. Those worries are just misplaced.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 23, 2008 8:36 PM

Goodness, that AP piece is especially hysteric(al). No wonder newspaper sales are plummeting...

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at June 24, 2008 1:17 AM

Our impressions of the nation as a whole come from the media and from political blather, which both exaggerate the negative under a Republican administration, exaggerate the positive under a Democrat.

In September, we will see the homeless, and the insurance-less sick plaster on TV screens. They will miraculously disappear overnight if Obama wins, and will stay haunting your TVs if McCain moves in the White House.

Posted by: ic at June 24, 2008 1:51 AM

The newspapers may be projecting their own gloomy future on everyone else.

Posted by: Mikey at June 24, 2008 7:51 AM
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