The Most Prosperous Era In The History Of The World

By John Lumbard.

Our unemployment rate is high, the stock market is struggling, and sluggish growth seems to stretch far into our future. It might not be easy to take a step back and feel appreciative for the progress we’ve made, and the progress we’ve helped bring to the rest of the world; yet it’s very clear that we’re living in a time of peace and extraordinary plenty.

Two hundred years ago the average life expectancy, worldwide, was just 26 years. The life of man was nasty, brutish, and short—and poor. Incomes, wealth, and life expectancies had remained frozen for a thousand years—in fact, they had advanced little since Roman times.

Yet change and progress were stirring. In the next 100 years the life span of the average American male nearly doubled, amidst all the improvement in nutrition, working conditions, and living standards that such a great leap implies. Property rights, free markets, free societies, and the rule of law were driving prosperity across Europe and North America.

The lives of Americans in 1912—a century ago—were nevertheless quite poor by the standards of today. Fewer than 10% of the homes had telephones, and only 14% had bathtubs. Automobiles were rarer than hens’ teeth, and most workers—men, women, and children—labored from dawn to dusk.

Today even our poorest citizens are healthier and wealthier. Many have automobiles, and most have mobile phones—in fact, those who don’t have cell phones can get them free, via a Universal Service Fund program that’s funded by a tax on your phone service. The only people who go hungry in America are those who have not connected with the federal food programs (SNAP, Child & Adult (CACFP), Women Infants & Children, Elderly Nutrition, etc.), or with state welfare programs. Or with soup kitchens and shelters, or the massive (and studiously ignored) outreach of churches nationwide.

This bounty may be of little comfort to those whose savings are in CDs at 1%, or those who were laid off in a downsizing or merger—and have been eating away at their savings for years as they find another job or launch a new business, without any help from public assistance. We’ve been there, done that, and it’s no fun. And yes, most Americans felt wealthier five years ago, and they look back on the technology bubble of 1999 as the best of times. But if you were lucky enough to enjoy the best times in the history of the world, do you really have cause for gloom? _______________________________________________________________________________________________

In 2012 the U.S. stock market will rise more than 25% _______________________________________________________________________________________________

We should all feel rueful about the way we partied in the last couple of decades, but as dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants we have greater capabilities than we’ve ever had. Not just the greatest in history, but we—right here—have the greatest technological, agricultural, and humanitarian capabilities on today’s planet. We enjoy unparalleled freedoms, as well as protection from dictators, despots, and invading armies.

Nowadays the successes of China, India, Southeast Asia, and Brazil often cause anxiety about job losses, but let’s not forget that we used to wonder how we could possibly help the huddled masses of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. According to the World Bank the average life expectancy for the entire globe—including places like Somalia and Darfur—now stands at 69.4 years! And the truth is that the United States played an important role, by helping other nations understand the prosperity that flows from free markets and the rule of law.

This isn’t just a time of prosperity. It’s also a time of world peace. Sure, there’s trouble in Afghanistan, and there’s reason to worry about Iran and North Korea. But have you seen the history of the 20th Century? Some of the centuries that preceded it were even worse; during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) the male population of the German states was nearly cut in half.

In 2012 you’ll see a grudging acceptance that these are not, after all, the worst of times. The pervasive gloom of Wall Street will lift, as will the ridiculously-depressed prices of equities. We’re going on record with a prediction that in 2012 the U.S. stock market will rise more than 25%, and that parts of the world will do even better.

In the words of the philosopher Bobby McFerrin, Don’t Worry Be Happy. And spread that cheer to your friends and neighbors; we’ll all have a good year in 2012.

 

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