Welcome Reader

I suppose it is kind of preposterous that one imagines himself important enough to write down his opinions for others to read. Chattering superciliousness is one of the most infuriating things about academics and so-called intellectuals, generally, who feel compelled to share their thoughts. But here it goes, anyway.

Good Old Days?

Reprint from June, 2004 issue of The Valley Business Journal

Those Good Old Days Were Not So Good
by Michael Berumen

An acquaintance recently told me that he thought society was more morally depraved than it ever was. He went on to say that he misses the old-time values and the tranquility of those halcyon days of yore. Nearly every generation embraces the belief in a bygone “golden age,” when people were at once happier and more virtuous. According to historian Arthur Herman, “Every culture, past or present, has believed that men and women are not quite up to the standards of their parents and forebears.” Each generation tends to view its progeny’s ideals and habits with opprobrium; therefore, it is not altogether surprising newer ones even come to believe the past is preferable.

Notwithstanding these sentiments, the fact remains that now is the best time in history to be alive. The average person’s life, today, is vastly better than it would have been in the idealized past, even the more recent past, which people are too apt to confuse with a heartwarming Norman Rockwell scene. Consider the millions of lives lost to war in just the last several centuries. Nearly 100 million people died in the two World Wars in the first half of the 20th Century. Please describe the greater moral sense that allowed many millions to die in German death factories, in the Gulags of the late U.S.S.R., because of tribal warfare in the heart of Africa, or on the killing fields of Southeast Asia. What was morally superior about enslaving millions in the 19th century and before, or as recently as several decades ago not allowing people of color to drink from the same public fountain? No doubt, women miss the superior morality of an era when they could not vote or hold political office. You get the point.

Today, world life expectancy is 64, up from 46 in 1950. In 1950, 29.2 out of 1,000 babies in the United States did not live to see their first birthday; today, only 8.5 out of 1,000 will die before then. An African-American male born today can expect to live five years longer than one born in 1970. In 1960, 25% of American families lived on an income below 125% of the poverty level; today, 16% are subject to this misfortune. In 1960, 21 out of 100,000 workers were killed on the job; this number has been reduced by 2/3rds to 7 out of 100,000. Today’s worker is 35% more productive than his counterpart was in 1970 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; and yet, he works roughly the same hours per week. And, the average American spends three times as much money on recreation as he did in 1970, so who says we don’t have any fun?

So much for the good old days. No doubt, aspects of the past surely merit admiration, even a bit of nostalgia. However, the notion that the present is not as good as the past, at least for most folks, is simply false. It is a great time to be alive, especially if one is lucky enough to have been born in the United States. Things are not perfect here, to be sure, and too much suffering remains in the world. On the whole, though, conditions and, yes, even values are better than ever before. The great news is this: if past is prologue, the future that lies ahead will be even brighter.