'Everything That's Bad Is Politics; Everything That's Good Is the Market'
I rarely watch cable news anymore. It’s all hysteria, all the time.
CNN: “We are destroying the planet.”
MSNBC: “The middle class is disappearing!”
President Donald Trump says drug trafficking “is worse than ever!”
I’m glad my favorite magazine, Reason, cuts through the gloom and tells us the truth:
There is less war and more food. We live healthier and longer lives. HIV will soon be history. We are increasingly free to be whoever we are and love whom we want. Even work has become more pleasant.
It’s a surprising message, since most journalists tell us everything’s terrible.
“They’re wrong,” says Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason’s editor-in-chief, in my new video.
Why is the media so negative?
Mangu-Ward says evolution wired us to see a world in which things are bad. “If you are a caveman who hears a little rustling in the weeds and you say, ‘Oh, it’s probably fine’ and the other guy says, ‘It’s probably a tiger!’ that’s the guy who lives. That guy was our ancestor.”
So today, as life gets better, my profession wins clicks and ratings points by hyping whatever makes us afraid. Reporters ignore gradual improvement and, sometimes, miracles.
“We live in a world of reliable miracles,” says Mangu-Ward. “When I’m having a bad day, I trawl the internet for videos of happy cyborgs … hearing-impaired people getting cochlear implants turned on for the first time … paraplegics walking with the help of adaptive prosthetics, infants getting their first pair of coke-bottle glasses … things that, in another era, would have caused the founding of an entire religion!”
Even food is better. Meatless meat tastes as good as meat from an animal because “people want to make money by selling you a burger that didn’t hurt a cow,” says Mangu-Ward.
OK, so science moves forward, but how will we pay for it? News anchors tell us “the middle class is shrinking.”
That’s true, says Mangu-Ward, “because people are getting richer!” A chart in Reason shows that Americans moving out of the middle class mostly moved up. There are more high-income people than ever before and fewer low-income households.
Another Reason article points out that “pestilence, war, famine and death are all on the decline.” You wouldn’t know it from other news sources, but it’s true. Deaths from war have declined dramatically.
I pushed back, pointing out that American life expectancy dropped recently. Suicide among white men is up about 40%.
“Still, overall, that is the tiniest blip,” said Mangu-Ward. “People are living longer, healthier lives.”
Even work got better.
“If you watch the news, you would think absolutely everyone is America is laboring in an Amazon factory, crying while they fill boxes. That’s just not, on average, what work looks like,” says Mangu-Ward.
“A couple hundred years ago, work was dangerous. It was very easy to die at work,” she reminds us. “Work was extremely boring, even for people that had good jobs. Jobs are pretty interesting now, and they mostly don’t kill you, and we should be grateful for that.”
Reason’s writers aren’t dumb. They don’t pretend everything is rosy.
The magazine includes reporting on “the terrifying rise of authoritarian populism,” threats to a free internet and worries that “Americans aren’t saving nearly enough.” But Reason is the rare publication that also points out good news.
When looking at that, Mangu-Ward sees a pattern.
“Everything that’s bad is politics; everything that’s good is the market.”
Markets allow every individual a choice. Products and services must improve, or you won’t buy them. That’s why market competition brings us gradual improvements.
Politics, by contrast, gives us just two choices. Then it forces everyone to obey whatever the majority chose.
“At Reason (we) describe why everyone should have less power over each other … because people are going to make mistakes and hurt each other. Better that they shouldn’t do it with the force of the state behind them,” concludes Mangu-Ward.
She suspects life will continue to get better “if we can just manage to keep politicians from screwing it up.”
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