Things are Great, Aren’t They?
By Patrick F. Cannon
I was born in 1938 and many people born then often wax poetic about how things were better in the “good old days.” Now, I’m sure I was a bright little fellow, but I doubt I was bright enough to realize that unemployment had risen to 19 percent the year I was born; and that the frightened leaders of Britain and France had managed to buy only one more year of peace by betraying the Czechs at Munich. My “good old days” also included World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, and the numerous smaller wars we seem addicted to.
In many ways – sorry about that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – these are the good old days. Instead of 19 percent, unemployment is at 3.5 percent, and real income continues to rise. The homeless population has declined every year since 2007, when it was 643,258, to 553,830 at the end of 2018. Worldwide, extreme poverty is now below 10 percent. Economies in Africa and Asia are experiencing much faster growth than Europe and North America. Although there are worrying pockets, child mortality rates have fallen to record low levels.
I have said this before, but it’s worth repeating – farmers can easily feed the world now, and for the foreseeable future. Indeed, advances in agricultural science – most of which came from the United States – will enable large areas of land to be taken out of production and added to the expanding forests. News on the health front continues to be good, with great progress being made in the eradication of polio; and the steady decline of deaths from malaria, heart disease and cancer.
Advances in communications technology have been astonishing, if sometimes a mixed blessing. I type this on a laptop, which cost me about $550, or $30 in 1938 money. That might have bought you a radio then. I can search the world with my computer. Next to the laptop is my cell phone, which would have set me back about six bucks in 1938. I can do almost everything with it that I can do with my laptop, and call just about anyone in the world on a whim, whether at my desk or strolling down Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
Yet, we also live with a continuing sense of dread, most of which we can blame on our elected officials. A significant number of our fellow citizens voted for a totally unqualified man to be their president. In the three years he has been in office, he has brazenly proven just how unqualified. He ended the year deservedly impeached by the House of Representatives, in an action that was admittedly as much political as judicial; and will be disposed of the same way in the Republican Senate. That he retains the support of his “base” in the face of his outright lies and vindictiveness says as much about his supporters as himself. It also says much about Republican senators, whose wish to be re-elected trumps their obligation to serve their country.
The general rot reaches closer to home too. Tuesday’s Chicago Tribune rang out the old year by reporting that Illinois had lost more residents – 159,700 – than any other state since 2010. In the same period, every state that borders Illinois had gained population. Yet, in the face of constantly growing pension debt, no Democratic politician – not Governor Pritzker nor Chicago’s touted reform mayor Laurie Lightfoot – supports the only way it can be addressed: a constitutional amendment that would permit sensible changes in the future. Instead, they do what modern politicians are seemingly born to do: they raise taxes.
Oh well. As with most years, 2019 was a mixed bag. Against all logic and experience, I will hope for a better 2020. I know it’s better here in the Cannon household. And I can certainly wish it for you. Happy New Year!
Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon