Living in the Past

According to some studies recently cited by the Wall Street Journal, a large percentage of Americans believe that life was better for people like them in the 1960's than it is now. Contrast that with the overwhelming majority of economists who conclude that life in the U.S. today is much better. The economists point to significantly higher wages on an inflation-adjusted basis, superior technology, and health advances that have added 10 years to our life expectancy.

Why do people ignore these major improvements? The article suggests the following explanations for their affinity for the past:

  • Wages and jobs have deteriorated for certain groups, especially for those with limited education.
  • We recently experienced a large recession from which we are slowly recovering.
  • Material standards have improved, but we live in an age of increased uncertainty.
  • Some people focus more on social changes than standard of living improvements.
  • The current presidential campaign has increased anxiety.

We should also consider that maybe people place too much emphasis on the present and idolize the past. We tend to focus on the difficulties we may be experiencing today and discount (forget) those that occurred a long time ago.

My family sat glued to the news on television with Huntley & Brinkley every night at dinner in the '60s. This was not a time of peace, love and understanding as far as I can remember. The Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggle are but two examples. As for elections, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago was quite a (bloody) scene.

As I noted in my last newsletter, pessimism has its appeal. But every generation has its challenges. A more nuanced look at today and the past may lead to a different perception of both.

Words of Wisdom

The past is always a rebuke to the present. -- Robert Penn Warren

Let's go Living in the Past -- Jethro Tull (1969)