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Reason Foundation

A Wasted Decade?

Life isn't perfect. But advances in medicine and technology are making things better all the time.

David Harsanyi
September 22, 2010

Yes, the economy is in atrocious shape. Yes, what's happening has terrible real-life consequences for millions. But why is it that the worst Chicken Littles are always running for office?

Take Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) who, in a recent interview with The New York Times, claimed that the first decade of the new century was "basically a complete waste of time" and a "false economy." During a recent Denver Post editorial board meeting, Bennet added that our generation is in jeopardy of "squandering" its legacy and leaving the world in worse shape than it was when our grandparents and parents gave it to us.

These popular platitudes ignore all kinds of realities. Government may have squandered riches, but we certainly haven't squandered a decade. You can bet that your grandparents lived through tougher life than you. And in all likelihood, you have more opportunities and comforts and fewer risks to deal with than your parents, as well.

The trajectory of progress on every front is rising. Technology—and I know this might be difficult for some to believe—means more than solar arrays and electric cars.

Life expectancy grew in the wasted decade. According to the American Cancer Society, over the past decade, U.S. cancer death rates have kept falling with big decreases in major killers, such as colon and lung cancer. Our survival rates are tops in the world.

There have been advances in fighting disease. There have been advances in nanotechnology. I'm not sure what a human genome is, but someone went ahead and decoded it for the first time during the wasted decade. Today you can walk into an office, undergo corrective eye surgery with little risk at an affordable price and walk out in mere hours.

How much has a smart phone improved your life? How much more information is available to you in seconds? Growth in the quality of life during this decade matches—or surpasses—that of decades before it. Even the Senate can't stop it.

The phrase "false economy" is meant to imply that we live in an unsustainable service economy in which wealth is an aberration. This, as opposed to a decent economy in which people stroll to work with union cards and lunch pails and build something useful—say, a light rail or a smart grid.

Bennet also points out that health care and college education costs have risen dramatically, while income hasn't. (Yet college enrollment rose throughout the decade.) What he doesn't mention is that nearly everything else costs less—sometimes a lot less.

Mortgages helped get us into this mess, true, but only a fraction of them. Until recently, homeownership among low-income Americans was growing. The past decade has seen interest rates fall and has provided most homeowners with thousands of dollars in savings.

Consumers now have more accessibility to cars that are safer and cleaner. Appliances that do more for less. Vacations that are easier to take. Food? Well, food is so cheap that do-gooders untiringly protest its availability because too many of us are fat.

One could go on. But for the long view, check out The Improving State of the World: Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet, wherein Indur Goklany lays out innumerable ways in which life has gotten better.

Life is far from perfect. And yes, the economy and government are bonded, but not, as Bennet seems to believe, the same thing. Simply because progress doesn't adhere to a politician's moral parameters doesn't make that progress fake or a waste of time.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his website at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column previously appeared at Reason.com.

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