Hey America, Where’s Your Optimism?


By Ken Knickerbocker

Why do so many Americans think that the apocalypse is upon us?

Gregg Easterbrook, author of The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, considers that very question and wonders when optimism became uncool in an op-ed piece he recently wrote for the New York Times.

According to Easterbrook, an April Gallup poll found that only 26 percent of Americans call themselves “satisfied” with “the way things are going” in the United States.

Yet a glance out the window shows blue sky. There are troubling issues, including the horror of mass shootings, but most American social indicators have been positive at least for years, in many cases for decades. The country is, on the whole, in the best shape it’s ever been in.

So what explains all the bad vibes?

Social media and cable news, which highlight scare stories and overstate anger, bear part of the blame, writes Easterbrook. So does the long-running decline in respect for the clergy, the news media, the courts, and other institutions.

But the core reason for the disconnect between the nation’s pretty-good condition and the gloomy conventional wisdom is that optimism itself has stopped being respectable, writes Easterbrook. Pessimism is now the mainstream. If you don’t think everything is awful, you don’t understand the situation!

Objectively speaking, America is doing well.

“Job growth has been strong for five years, with unemployment now below where it was for most of the 1990s, a period some extol as the ‘good old days,’” write Easterbrook. “The American economy is No. 1 by a huge margin, larger than Nos. 2 and 3 (China and Japan) combined. Americans are seven times as productive, per capita, as Chinese citizens. The dollar is the currency the world craves – which means other countries perceive America’s long-term prospects as very good.”

Recently Warren Buffett said that because of the “negative drumbeat” of politics, “many Americans now believe their children will not live as well as they themselves do. That view is dead wrong: The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.”

Click here to read more of Easterbrook’s op-ed in the New York Times.

Top photo credit: Last rays of light via photopin (license)