An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll two weeks ago found that nearly 70% of Americans have negative opinions about the state of the nation.
When respondents were asked to use one word to sum up their feelings, the most frequent examples included “declining,” “disarray,” “turmoil,” “shambles,” “downhill” and “disaster.”
By a margin of more than 2-to-1, respondents said the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction. Only 28% responded that the U.S. is on the right track.
That’s pretty astonishing when you think about it.
Sure, we have problems. There is an opioid epidemic. We have too much student debt. There is turmoil on our southern border. And Washington is its usual dysfunctional self.
But there is also plenty to celebrate, even if the national media doesn’t give it much attention.
In just a few months, for instance, this will be the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.
The U.S. labor market just notched its 100th straight month of increased employment in January. For the second consecutive month, net new jobs rose by more than 300,000.
Unemployment is near an all-time low. And wages rose at least 3% from a year earlier for the sixth consecutive month.
Labor Department statistics show that wages and salaries have experienced the biggest jump in a decade.
People are working fewer hours and nevertheless earning more.
(The average American worked more than 60 hours a week in the 1800s. Today they work less than 40 hours.)
Literacy and education levels – even IQs – are at all-time highs.
Ninety percent of Americans age 25 and older have completed high school. Two-thirds have some college. Forty percent have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Eighteen percent have a master’s, professional degree or doctorate.
Thanks to new drugs and advances in medical technology, life expectancy is up and infant mortality is down.
Violent crime is also down. And homicides have been declining for decades.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the national abortion rate just hit an all-time low.
All forms of pollution – with the exception of greenhouse gases – are in decline.
Urban waterways that had been left for dead – Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay, Boston Harbor, Lake Erie and many others – have been recolonized by birds, fish, marine mammals and intrepid swimmers.
Seaborne oil transport has become much safer, even though vastly more fossil fuels are shipped today.
Motor vehicle deaths are dropping. Clean energy is getting cheaper. School bullying is down. The Pew Research Center reports that racist, sexist and homophobic attitudes are becoming increasingly rare.
Americans today are even 37 times less likely to be killed by lightning than they were in 1900.
How is that possible? Credit better weather forecasting, improved electrical engineering, greater safety awareness, and – for those unfortunate enough to be struck – higher-quality emergency care.
A Spectrum Group study reveals that there are more millionaires than ever in this country.
The Federal Reserve reported that U.S. household net worth hit an all-time high in the third quarter of 2018: $2.07 trillion.
Americans work shorter hours, have more purchasing power, enjoy goods and services in almost limitless supply, and have more leisure time than ever before.
I’m not sure which parts of all this represent “turmoil” and which parts “disaster.”
Things don’t look all bad on the global stage either.
Wars between nation states, civil wars, terrorist incidents, violent crime, domestic violence and child abuse are all down.
More countries have adopted democratic institutions.
And thanks to gains in efficiency and emission control, the modern world is decarbonizing.
Western countries have learned how to get the most energy with the least emission of greenhouse gases. As we climbed the energy ladder from wood to coal to oil to gas, the ratio of carbon to hydrogen in our energy sources fell steadily.
As a result, fewer cities are now shrouded in a smoggy haze.
Due to conservation efforts and habitat protection, many species – including eagles, manatees, condors, pandas, rhinos and tigers – have been pulled back from the brink of extinction. (Some species remain in a precarious state but, according to ecologist Stuart Pimm, the overall rate of extinctions has been reduced by 75%.)
By almost every measure, our lives today are wealthier than ever.
Yet – thanks in large part to continual downbeat news coverage – most of us don’t realize it.
Why does that matter?
Because the consequences of adopting the popular but cynical worldview are many. They include depressed mood, a shortened life span and, of course, missed investment opportunities.
Speaking of investments, things don’t look too shabby in our bailiwick either.
Consumer spending is up. So is business confidence. Interest rates are low. Inflation is MIA. Energy is cheap. The dollar is strong. Corporate profits are at record levels. And so are profit margins.
The S&P 500 just had its best January in 30 years. And the trend – you may have heard – is your friend.
Is America on the wrong track?
Opinions vary. But if you’re going to risk your hard-earned capital, you need to feel some measure of optimism about the future.
Here are a few suggestions…
Lend an ear to respected social scientists like Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley.
Visit impartial websites like ourworldindata.org.
And – rather than listening to the drama, sensationalism and relentless negativity of mainstream media – open your eyes and look around.