Are You Better Off Now?

Ronald Reagan famously asked this question during the 1980 presidential campaign. It was a winning slogan.

It’s a great question to ask yourself. Are you better now? Is life better now?

Well now you can check! Go to, which is part of the Cato Institute’s Human Progress initiative. Here’s what you do:

  • Step 1: Select your country of birth.
  • Step 2: Select your birth year.

So do you think life expectancy, infant survival, income per person, food supply, years of schooling went up or down. I think you know the answer. Of course these stats don’t portray the whole picture, but it gives you a sense. Crime’s lower. Civil rights are greater. Travel and communication are easier and better. And so on.

What was most interesting for me was doing Step 3, which you’ll find below the bar graph generated from your information. In Step 3 you can compare life in the United States to other countries (or if you aren’t an American, compare your country to the US). What you find is that most other countries have grown more than the US. This should not be surprising. Remember that the US possessed half of the world’s industrial output at the end of 1945 because much of it–think Europe and Japan–had been destroyed in World War II. There’s really only one way to go for most of the world, and that’s up. The developing world has gone up up up in the past half century since decolonization, the end of the Cold War, and globalization.

I’m an American who’s been to every state. I feel I know the country pretty well, though I’m sure I’m full of bias, incomplete information, and misinformation. But I don’t suspect that most Americans get that the US probably won’t grow like China, India, and the developing world. There’s not much slack in our system. So when people want to “make America great again,” I have a thought. America is greater than it’s ever been. Better educated, longer lived, healthier, freer, more affluent. But rosy retrospection makes many pine for bygone days that exist only in their reconstructed memories.

I’m fine with reconstructed memories. Just don’t vote or base public policies on reconstructed memories.

So Much to Be Grateful For!

Significant decreases in extreme poverty, hunger, child labor, child mortality, death in childbirth, teen births (US), smoking, war, homicide, violent crime, nuclear weapons, and share of income spent on food.

Significant increases in life expectancy, leisure time, literacy, IQ scores, democracy and internet access.

People are getting taller and staying in school longer. Guinea worm is almost eradicated–and Guinea Worm is a really bad parasite–Homelessness in the US is down.

Check out 26 Charts and Maps to Be Grateful for on

Happy Thanksgiving!

Alzheimer’s Rate Falling in US

Three different studies have shown that the rate of Alzheimer’s in the US and other developed countries has dropped significantly…and in the space of just a few years:

“In one U.S. study, researchers found that compared with the late 1970s, the rate of dementia diagnosis was 44 percent lower in recent years. The sharpest decline was seen among people in their 60s.

A second study, which reviewed research from England, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States, found a similar pattern. The third study, meanwhile, found signs of progress in the space of only a few years: In 2004, older German adults were about one-quarter more likely to be diagnosed with dementia than in 2007.”

From HealthDay, Amy Norton

Living Longer and Longer and…

“People everywhere are living longer, according to the ‘World Health Statistics 2014’ published today by WHO. Global averages show, a girl who born in 2012 can expect to live to around 73 years, and a boy to the age of 68. This is 6 years longer than the average global life expectancy for a child born in 1990. WHO’s annual statistics report shows that low-income countries have made the greatest progress, with an average increase in life expectancy by 9 years from 1990 to 2012.”


Key facts

  • Globally, the number of deaths of children under 5 years of age fell from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012.
  • In developing countries, the percentage of underweight children under 5 years old dropped from 25% in 1990 to 15% in 2012.
  • While the proportion of births attended by a skilled health worker has increased globally, fewer than 50% of births are attended in the WHO African Region.
  • Globally, new HIV infections declined by 33% between 2001 and 2012.
  • Existing cases of tuberculosis are declining, along with deaths among HIV-negative tuberculosis cases.
  • In 2010, the world met the United Nations Millennium Development Goals target on access to safe drinking-water, as measured by the proxy indicator of access to improved drinking-water sources, but more needs to be done to achieve the sanitation target.


Watching Progress Before Your Eyes!

While browsing TED Talks on my iPhone app I discovered the Swedish scientist Hans Rosling.

He and two colleagues have created Gapminder, a beautiful, informative, and elegant web platform for showing global development statistics. You must check this out as it shows how major indicators of development–health, GDP, infant mortality, etc.–change over time.

Now of course not all of the data sets point toward progress, but most do. The increase in CO2 over the decades is ominous and disturbing. But trends in most other areas leave much reason for hope.

Check it out!

Wisdom of the Elders

What is wisdom, the illusive trait sought by the great minds from every era?

From National Geographic

From National Geographic

Here’s my simple (and purely speculative) starting point: A x I = W (Age x Intellect = Wisdom). Everyone gets wiser as they get older, right? And intellect has a “multiplier” effect. If you’re “smart” (I) and you learn from your mistakes and successes (A), then you’ll gain W amount of wisdom.

I doubt it’s that simple.

Wisdom is rightly associated with age. So how important is wisdom to aging gracefully, accepting the inevitable with some degree of peace?

A recent article in The New York Times, “The Science of Older and Wiser,” investigated the question “Will wisdom help you age and die with more equanimity and acceptance.”

The article examines the work of several scientists. One, Vivian Clayton, a geriatric neuropsychologist in Orinda, California, “scour(ed) ancient texts for evocations of wisdom, she found that most people described as wise were decision makers….She determined that wisdom consists of three key components: cognition, reflection and compassion.”

So I’ll modify the equation: A x I x (R+C)=W

While I don’t think that the unexamined life is not worth living–there are good people who aren’t capable of reflection, or who pretty much live in the moment–self-knowledge is a good thing, as is one’s understanding of everything outside oneself.

I think a modicum of acceptance is key, as does Monika Areldt, an associate sociology professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

“’Wise people are able to accept reality as it is, with equanimity.” Her research shows that when people in nursing homes or with a terminal illness score high on her wisdom scale, they also report a greater sense of well-being. ‘If things are really bad, it’s good to be wise,’ she said.”

What I liked most about the article is seeing the scientific study of wisdom. This quality has mostly been examined through the lens of philosophy. I look forward to hearing more from science about wisdom. Maybe science can’t go that far in exploring and explaining wisdom.

What do you think are the components of wisdom?