The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

18 March 2004

Are you better off today?

Ronald Reagan asked this question in 1980, and rather a large number of people at the time decided that they weren't.

Dean Esmay, citing this piece from The Economist, says that the current crop of doomsayers is simply wrong:

Things aren't just "looking up," they're actually better than they've ever been, and getting better all the time for the vast majority of America. And whose lives are improving fastest of all? Minority groups, particularly blacks, and those at the lowest level of the income scale, all improving their lot in life at a record pace.

Personally, I'd amend Dean's statement slightly, to read like this:

And whose lives are improving fastest of all? Apart from corporate CEOs and other people outside the normal marketplace, the greatest improvements are among minority groups, particularly blacks, and those at the lowest level of the income scale, all improving their lot in life at a record pace.

But note: if my income goes up 5 percent — which, incidentally, it hasn't — and John Q. Pinstripe's compensation, including stock options and bonuses, goes up 8 percent, the much-decried gulf between richest and poorest widens slightly, even though my situation has inarguably improved.

And Dean says, quite reasonably:

1) The news media makes its money by making people think the world's in a constant state of crisis, and 2) No matter how well-off people are, they're usually convinced that things suck and are getting worse.

At this particular point in time, any degree of uncertainty — and if there's one thing we have in abundance in 2004, it's uncertainty — contributes to that perceived suckage. On the other hand, if you were somehow able to banish most of that uncertainty, you'd also breed a fair amount of cynicism: "Oh, sure, they tell us that everything's fine."

Am I better off today than I was in 2000? I think so. Do I credit the wisdom of my leaders for this? Not even.

Posted at 10:22 AM to Political Science Fiction


What's to amend? If my income goes up by 5% and yours goes up 8%, does it matter if the gap between us widens? We're both materially better off. Unless you believe that your 8% improvement somehow reduces my improvement, it's irrelevant to me that your income went up more than mine.

But then, I lack the envy and resentment that seems to drive so many people on these matters. I don't believe that my neighbor making more means I'm poorer. I just don't.

I'd also have to point out to you that when Reagan made that famous challenge, he won re-election by one of the biggest landslides in American history. And since that time, every single ethnic group, every single socio-economic group, has improved its income and standard of living. Without exception.

You do find individuals who do worse because of circumstances. But you can't find a system wherein that isn't true, you know? The benefit of our system is that unless something truly horrible happens to your health, usually, almost anyone can dig back out and improve themselves.

I'm materially less well-off today than I was four years ago. But I don't blame politicians for that.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at 1:06 PM on 18 March 2004

Well, that's my whole point: it's not a zero-sum game. The soi-disant egalitarians of the Left aren't content with improvements at the bottom; they also want the top to be brought down. I just wanted the topic to be on the table when someone inevitably complains about the rich getting richer and how Bush is so eee-vil.

And believe me, I've dug back out. I still have the calluses from wielding the shovel.

Posted by: CGHill at 4:19 PM on 18 March 2004