Littered with pennies.

The best teacher I had in high school was Mr. Rushing, who taught my AP Government courses. He had a pretty dry sense of humor, was very intelligent, was well-respected by the students, and his red-inked pen was feared by all. I had him again for two weeks at the beginning of AP European History, but the whiners in IB didn’t like their teacher and complained until their section was switched with ours. We were infuriated, but either way, it shows how highly everyone thought of him.

That said, he would occasionally tell my class something that never made sense to me. He’d say that my generation would be the first in American history that would be economically worse off than its parents.

This worried me a little. What did he know that the rest of us didn’t? Why was this going to happen? Would it be my fault? What would I have to do to avoid ruining the world? Or would it be because of something I didn’t do? Such is the conundrum faced by those who know the future.

I didn’t get it then. I don’t get it now. I cannot objectively look at the world we live in and say that my generation is worse off than its parents, or that we will be worse off.

I can see that some people are worse off than their parents were at the same age, but I see even more people who are better off than their parents were at the same age. I can see particular ways in which we’re worse off. We hear all about doom and gloom in the news, especially when politicians sense a winning issue during an election year. But I think the economic positives outweigh the negatives by far.

We live longer lives. We live healthier lives. We can afford more leisure, or work more if we’d like. In America, there is virtually no risk of starvation (unless you’ve got some serious self-image problems). In fact, our “problem” is just the opposite– we’re more likely to die from too much food than too little. Communication is easier, and there’s greater access to knowledge. We, as a society, are so disgustingly rich that though the streets aren’t paved with gold as immigrants used to imagine, they are littered with pennies.

On balance, we’re better off than we were thirty years ago, and will probably be even better off in another thirty. Sure, it’s possible that something unforeseen could cause us to be worse off, such as a nuclear attack, or a meteor strike, or an invasion by the Martian cloth-monsters. But even if that happens, I can think of a time in American history when people were worse off than their predecessors: look at the Great Depression. Even if my generation did somehow end up worse off, at least we wouldn’t be first. So there.

Anyhow, what prompted this brief entry was today’s article on my favorite economics blog, Café Hayek. It’s named after the Nobel Prize winning Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek—no known relation to Salma. I like this website not merely for the subject matter, but also because of the authors: one was an economics professor at my alma mater; the other wrote The Invisible Heart, a novel about the adventures of a high school economics teacher. The article was about the 1975 Sears catalog, and I’ll let it speak for itself.

In other news, today is the twentieth anniversary of the Chicago Bears’ victory in Super Bowl XX, their ninth overall championship. All hail Ditka.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 26th, 2006 at 9:45 PM.