Itâ€™s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear by Gregg Easterbrook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Contrary to the media, the politicians, and many preachers of doom and gloom, things are getting better. Easterbrook lays out in well documented detail how every metric shows that the standard of living is getting better for every human on planet earth. Yes, incrementally. Yes, not at the same pace in every place. But things are getting better.
Easterbrook is no conservative, and not sure if he’d call himself a liberal; but either way, he offers equal opportunity critique of the doom and gloom prophets of the left and right. He advances a position he calls dynamism.
I would call it postmillennial optimism without the Gospel. As such, where he is able to see the wonderful advances in technology, medicine, agriculture, manufacturing, rising incomes, less crime, etc., he isn’t able to see that without Christ, it is all so much chaff and stubble.
The problem he lays out is that, all too often, we are told how bad things are. Politicians love to talk of some bygone golden age, which we have fallen away from and need to recover, or else everything will spiral into chaos. They love to talk of emergencies (cough COVID), cataclysms, and other nations stealing our jobs. Environmentalist loons warn that we have like 14 minutes until the planet combusts into a flaming ball. Conservatives bemoan rampant crime in the cities. Left and right, politicians try to tell the middle class that they’ve got it real bad.
The problem is that at every turn and by every measure, our projections are usually not only off, but very off. We use less land to grow more food. We have higher life expectancy than ever, thanks to the reduction of deadly diseases and effective treatments for such infirmities. Crime is trending downward almost everywhere in the world. Incomes are rising worldwide. Cars & factories run more efficiently than ever anticipated. Acid rain has become a non-issue.
The list could go on, but the long and short is that we tend to focus on bad things, and exaggerate them. Instead, we ought to recognize that there are still plenty of “issues” to solve, but also be able to do so optimistically. Easterbrook, rightly, points out that human ingenuity should be seen as a resource for solving our problems, not as a drag on our attempt to solve problems. An important point to be sure.
The first half of the book deserves 5/5 stars. There are some laugh out loud stats, which cut across the grain of the prevailing media narratives on various topics. However, the second half was 1.5/5 stars. Easterbrook floats some ideas that just need to be round filed (i.e. UBI, same-sex parenting as a good thing, and some other stinkers). That said, he does a great job of pointing out that a pessimistic outlook would make us think that everything is going to the dogs. I’ll leave off with this insightful quote:
Groups that sink into siege mentality usually wind up on the margins, while optimists slowly achieve their goals.Gregg Easterbrook.
Also, here’s an interview with Easterbrook at the start of the COVID-craziness.