My Review Of 'It's Better Than It Looks'
What first attracted me to this book by Gregg Easterbrook, is the testimonial by Walter Isaacson, since I respect his journalism.
The book is a persuasive look at how, despite the dystopian look at America as presented by the 2016 campaign of the new president, things are actually not just pretty good, but are quite an advancement from the past for most, as the author states the arrow of history always points up. And as with all societal advancements, come disruptions to many who either can't or won't adapt to the changes, and the government is slow to provide help to those disadvantaged by the progress.
Though the progress might be hard to see by many in the US or Europe, the middle class is shrinking because most leaving are moving up, and since 1990, extreme world poverty has declined from 37% to 10%. Sure, reform is needed along with the changes, and the author addresses the possible reforms needed while also pointing out how the disadvantaged can currently adapt. The author goes into tackling the following.
Are we starving? No, high-yield farming has not only solved that, but the world's population growth rate peaked around 1960, dropping from about 2.3% to 1.4% per year now. Yet popular films like The Hunger Games portray a future of starvation.
Why, despite all our bad habits, are we living longer? Better healthcare, better disability handling like telecommuting, plus there is a strong correlation between better education and longer life expectancy.
Will nature collapse? Mt. St. Helens' 1980 eruption was equal to about the power of 1,500 Hiroshima nuclear bomb explosions. Some predicted that needed farmland would destroy our forests, yet since 1980, our forest cover has increased about 15%. Plus, replacements for CFC refrigerants have improved the atmosphere, as have smog controls. 3D seismology, fracking and better car efficiency standards have erased dire warnings of peak oil.
Will the economy collapse? No, basically market economics, with its distributed decision making, eliminated the situation of one leader causing a collapse. There never was a time when all jobs were secure, but there never were more US manufacturing jobs than in 2017. Despite claims that our workforce participation is down, it is about 63% compared to the low of 60% in 1966. Plus, those who complain that GDP growth is slowing, ignore that measurements of GDP are less accurate, like surgeries produce better results.
The author does suggest GDP growth could improve with less regulation and public financing of political campaigns. Government efficiency and less debt can be achieved by replacing many social programs with a universal basic income or expanded earned income tax credits. And since a person's intelligence is pretty much developed by age 6, extending paid work leave to parents of young children would improve population achievements.
Why is violence in decline? Murder and war deaths per capita don't even appear in the top ten causes of death. The greatest deterrent to crime is the more likely chance of being caught, thus just the cellphone has reduced crime. Less colonialism, more treaties and trade have reduced war. And as devices improve, so does morality.
Why does technology become safer instead of more dangerous? Cars, ships, locomotives, etc., become not only safer, but cleaner. Smaller and more accurate weapons reduce war deaths.
Why don't dictators win? Liberated people are more ingenious, democracies spread.
How declinism has become chic. Research centers, government agencies and political interest groups seek funding. The media looks to grab attention with negative events, often overusing the term, crisis. As demographics age, there is the human tendency to glamorize youthful times.
Human bodies are good at producing adrenaline and cortisol, thus a human tendency towards anxiety over future uncertainty, recently in the US and Europe when the white majority feels threatened by immigration. New, social media leads to more opinionization, clustering of ideas called the Big Sort, people only having relationships with people who think similarly, thus more susceptible to the Big Lie.
The "impossible" challenge of climate change. Basically, see the above for clues to the future... the Big Lie works, but there is reason for hope since not everyone believes the Big Lie.
The "impossible" challenge of inequality. Progress does breed income inequality. Moving helps, like rust belt Midwest victims moving south and to the coasts. Again, a universal basic income might help.
We'll never run out of challenges. The author mentions future challenges like more robots, artificial intelligence and quantum computing
I do recommend the book.
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