Americanism, Not Doomerism

Americanism, Not Doomerism

"The framers clearly had a belief that people, left free to pursue happiness, would actually find happiness. That free people would make the world better, not worse."

The state of the world is getting better, not worse. In fact, by most measures, our world is much better off now than it ever has been. We are the beneficiaries of what economist Deirdre McCloskey dubbed The Great Enrichment – a period of transformational economic growth and technological innovation beginning in the 1800’s and accelerating to the present that has dramatically increased global living standards.

Why then does polling show 56% of young people think humanity is “doomed”? With just a simple scroll through your daily newsfeed, it’s easy to see why. Studies show negative news headlines grew dramatically between 2000 and 2019, all while enjoying far greater engagement on social media compared to positive headlines. Extreme eco-anxiety, class resentment and political animosity are simply drowning out reasons for optimism.

No doubt today Americans are faced with immense challenges, but we should keep things in perspective. Consider the following statistics:

  • Extreme poverty has dramatically declined. In 1823, 75% of people lived in extreme poverty. Today, the share of the population in extreme poverty has dropped to around 10%. We’ve actually more than halved global poverty in just the last 20 years.
  • The world is becoming more equal. Global income inequality has declined over the last decade. People are getting more equal in terms of lifespan, political liberty, childhood mortality, as well as more equal access to schooling, nutrition, internet, and even clean air.
  • We’ve nearly reversed global deforestation. The annual decline in global forest area has fallen to 0.12%, down from a peak of 0.35% in the 1980’s. For wealthy countries like the United States, the share of land with forest cover is actually expanding. Cato Institute Scholar Marian L. Tupy recently noted “between 1982 and 2016, the global tree canopy cover increased by an area larger than Alaska and Montana combined”.
  • Humans use less land for agriculture per-person than we did 100 years ago. Despite double the world population, technological advances allow humanity to produce more food than ever on less land, sparing billions of acres of forests and other wild land from development.
  • Pollution is starting to get under control. Oil tanker spills are in decline. Less people are dying from air pollution. CO2 emissions in wealthy countries have fallen since 2000.

There’s obviously a lot more I could add to this list (those interested should check out but the point remains that by nearly every measure, our world is getting much, much better.

America has played no small role in catalyzing the world’s great enrichment. Our nation’s foundational belief that “all men are created equal” was at the time a truly courageous embrace of the ideals of liberalism. Our founders enshrined these ideals in the Constitution governing our unified republic, affording ordinary people extraordinary freedom to innovate, trade and create wealth on a scale history had never known before.

America’s founders didn’t know for certain that their experiment with individual liberty was a recipe for unrivaled prosperity and the world’s greatest economy. But they weren’t doomers. The preamble to the Constitution states it was crafted to secure “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” The framers clearly had a belief that people, left free to pursue happiness, would actually find happiness. That free people would make the world better, not worse.

Let us consider on our Independence Day that Americanism in its most original form was ultimately a declaration of optimism. If we dare to rekindle that spirit once more, America’s future is bright.

This column originally appeared in Lee Newspapers

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