The roaring twenties are upon us — and no one seems to notice just how amazing the world actually is. By virtually every metric, the human condition is better today than ever before. In America, and across the world, we’re living longer, healthier and more prosperous lives. In fact, for the first time in recorded human history, the majority of people on this planet are considered middle-income or wealthier!
Of course, that’s not to say the world doesn’t currently have its challenges — but we’re, nonetheless, trending toward an even more prosperous, healthy and fulfilling future. It just doesn’t feel like it.
Which makes sense, given that we’re steeped in a culture that is dominated by pessimistic and apocalyptic headlines. In every cable news program, social media feed and political campaign, we’re told the nation (and even the world) is on the brink of economic, environmental and societal ruin. Fearmongering is a tried and true tactic for politicians and activists — and, unfortunately, we live in a culture dominated by politics.
Despite surprisingly good economic news nationally, the American public is relentlessly subjected to the narrative that “the middle class is shrinking” as “the rich get richer.” And yet, the reality is that we’re all doing quite a bit better off than we were just a few decades ago.
In fact, the reason the “middle class is shrinking,” isn’t because people are getting poorer, it’s because they’re getting richer. Income mobility is alive and well — which is something that should be self-evident, given the fact that the majority of today’s billionaires climbed their way to the “top one percent.”
We’re surrounded by even more doom-and-gloom narratives when it comes to the state of the global climate. From political ads that quite literally depict a coming apocalypse, to being told we have a mere 12 years left to save the planet, tales of the world’s eminent demise have dominated the environmentalist movement — with nearly every natural disaster being held as “proof” that the next mass extinction event is just around the corner.
And yet, reality once again paints a much different picture. Human deaths from natural disasters have been dropping dramatically, and environmental economists have documented a “decoupling” effect, where our demand for natural resources drop as economic growth increases. In other words, while we certainly face some ecological and environmental challenges in the modern era, we’re actually trending toward a more environmentally friendly future, thanks to the economic progress we’ve made through free markets.
Even socially we’re progressing at a breakneck pace — the vitriolic state of social media notwithstanding. Despite the culture wars that are waging all around us, the world has never before been so interconnected, cooperative and tolerant than it is in our modern era. Most importantly, our world has also gotten freer than ever before.
Governments around the globe are finding it increasingly difficult to control people without their consent, as individuals connect, inform and build entire movements online to resist undemocratic regimes. Yes, social media might be an ugly place sometimes, but it also gives Hong Kong protestors, for example, the tools necessary to organize against the world’s most powerful communist dictatorship.
Beyond any other metric, it’s this basic advancement in the human condition — the opportunity to act, think and communicate freely — that should make us the most optimistic moving into the next decade. After all, it is this freedom that has made all our other progress possible. We aren’t living longer, healthier and more prosperous lives because central planners issued orders from some government office. Progress was made possible because, for the last couple hundred years, much of mankind has had the freedoms necessary to unleash the creative energies of individuals and markets. The liberty for people to take risks, own property and engage in voluntary commerce has given rise to more widespread prosperity than any historical dynasty or government program.
The fact that politicians, activists, and the media try so hard to convince us the world is on the brink of destruction, illustrates how desperate they are to fearmonger the public into giving them ever more control.
Provided that we continue to protect the freedoms that have made such human flourishing possible, rather than limit them, we will continue to see miraculous improvements for people around the world. So, raise a glass to the start of this century’s roaring twenties. It’s going to be impressive.
Michael Schaus is Communications Director for Nevada Policy Research Institute.