A Wasted Decade?

Life isn't perfect. But advances in medicine and technology are making things better all the time.

Yes, the economy is in atrocious shape. Yes, what's happening has terrible real-life consequences for millions. But why is it that the worst Chicken Littles are always running for office?

Take Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) who, in a recent interview with The New York Times, claimed that the first decade of the new century was "basically a complete waste of time" and a "false economy." During a recent Denver Post editorial board meeting, Bennet added that our generation is in jeopardy of "squandering" its legacy and leaving the world in worse shape than it was when our grandparents and parents gave it to us.

These popular platitudes ignore all kinds of realities. Government may have squandered riches, but we certainly haven't squandered a decade. You can bet that your grandparents lived through tougher life than you. And in all likelihood, you have more opportunities and comforts and fewer risks to deal with than your parents, as well.

The trajectory of progress on every front is rising. Technology—and I know this might be difficult for some to believe—means more than solar arrays and electric cars.

Life expectancy grew in the wasted decade. According to the American Cancer Society, over the past decade, U.S. cancer death rates have kept falling with big decreases in major killers, such as colon and lung cancer. Our survival rates are tops in the world.

There have been advances in fighting disease. There have been advances in nanotechnology. I'm not sure what a human genome is, but someone went ahead and decoded it for the first time during the wasted decade. Today you can walk into an office, undergo corrective eye surgery with little risk at an affordable price and walk out in mere hours.

How much has a smart phone improved your life? How much more information is available to you in seconds? Growth in the quality of life during this decade matches—or surpasses—that of decades before it. Even the Senate can't stop it.

The phrase "false economy" is meant to imply that we live in an unsustainable service economy in which wealth is an aberration. This, as opposed to a decent economy in which people stroll to work with union cards and lunch pails and build something useful—say, a light rail or a smart grid.

Bennet also points out that health care and college education costs have risen dramatically, while income hasn't. (Yet college enrollment rose throughout the decade.) What he doesn't mention is that nearly everything else costs less—sometimes a lot less.

Mortgages helped get us into this mess, true, but only a fraction of them. Until recently, homeownership among low-income Americans was growing. The past decade has seen interest rates fall and has provided most homeowners with thousands of dollars in savings.

Consumers now have more accessibility to cars that are safer and cleaner. Appliances that do more for less. Vacations that are easier to take. Food? Well, food is so cheap that do-gooders untiringly protest its availability because too many of us are fat.

One could go on. But for the long view, check out The Improving State of the World: Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet, wherein Indur Goklany lays out innumerable ways in which life has gotten better.

Life is far from perfect. And yes, the economy and government are bonded, but not, as Bennet seems to believe, the same thing. Simply because progress doesn't adhere to a politician's moral parameters doesn't make that progress fake or a waste of time.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his website at www.DavidHarsanyi.com.

COPYRIGHT 2010 THE DENVER POST
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  • ||

    Senator Bennet, please call me.

  • Al Gore||

    I still get to keep my jet planes and SUVs, right?

  • Matrix||

    Sure. People don't care if you're a hypocrite. Just keep pointing the finger at eeeevil corporations... up in their offices acting all... corporationy! Be sure to scrunch your nose, narrow your eyes and point a crooked finger at them!

  • ||

    It also helps if you sigh loudly a bit now and again.

  • And Don't Forget....||

    ...being full of shit doesn't hurt either. But you have that covered...in spades!

  • Chad||

    Fuck you all. Albert Gore is a wonderful humanitarian.

  • Max||

    So Technology make life better. Who would have thought? Jesus fucking Christ, Harsanyi, even the most obtuse can state the obvious. If you don;t have anything to say, don't bother fucking writing, idiot.

  • Brian D||

    "If you don;t have anything to say, don't bother fucking writing, idiot."

    Irony.

  • Prolefeed||

    If you don;t have anything to say, don't bother fucking writing, idiot.

    Projection.

  • Jason||

    If you don;t have anything to say, don't bother fucking writing, idiot.

    Pot, kettle.

  • Tman||

    If you don;t have anything to say, don't bother fucking writing, idiot.

    "And just like that -Poof!- Soze was gone.."

  • cynical||

    "Jesus fucking Christ, Harsanyi, even the most obtuse can state the obvious"

    And utter morons can ignore the obvious, which is why it occasionally needs to be repeated for the sake of politicians.

  • Max||

    ARFARFARFARFARFARFARFARFARFARFARF!!!!!!!!!!

  • George V||

    Senator Bennett could not state the obvious. I guess that makes him more most obtuse!

  • ||

    I disagree

  • xaM||

    If you don;t have anything to say, don't bother fucking writing, idiot.

  • ||

    yup

  • AlmightyJB||

    pic of japenese school girls posted during work hours. That's not very thoughtful.

  • Pip||

    And no alt-text???

  • Quiet Desperation||

    Cripes, where do you work? A Mosque? Totally harmless picture, not to mention awesome. :)

  • Lowdog||

    I don't see any Japanese school girls...what the hell?!?

  • Max||

    I'm glad we have technology. That strap-on Mom bought wouldn't exist if it weren't for latex and velcro.

  • ||

    Keep posting, Max. Maybe one day you will have something useful to say.

  • George V||

    So your mom shows you her sex toys????

  • Max's Mom||

    We take turns using it. My Max loves to be "pegged" now and then, as you kids call it.

  • Old Man With Candy||

    Where's the alt-text when you need it?

  • -||

    How's this:

    Careful, libertarians. We're only 14.

  • AlmightyJB||

    That doesn't help

  • Pip||

  • ||

    "Bennet also points out that health care and college education costs have risen dramatically, while income hasn't"
    Price controls on college professors salaries? I can get behind that - they are funded essentially by the gubermint, so they should get no more than the median income.

  • Matrix||

    Gloom and doom sells. It drums up votes. Saying "things aren't perfect, but they are getting better everyday" is not going to make you popular. Saying "we're on the verge of total collapse, and the middle class is vanishing, and they took yer job!! DERKA DERRRRR!!!" will get you a large following, more TV time, more money, and more votes. Logic and sensibility be damned! Riding sensationalism into public office is the way to go!

  • ||

    Missed the elections of 1980 and '84, eh? Or didn't learn about them in school?

  • Ronald Reagan||

    +1

  • doomboy||

    What a tool.

    Life is better because we have smart phones! I'm suprised he didn't mention twitter.

    Yeah, health care and education are way more expensive, but (other stuff?) is cheaper. . . .like 44 oz soft drinks at circle k, now only 79c! I bet that gulf seafood is cheaper too!

    And hey, its not like the deficit and public and private debt went up much. Or say the number of troops who we will be using some of that pricey healthcare as a result of two wars of choice this decade.

    Individual rights, they are on the upswing too, right?

    And how about that stock market, man its up, what, about zero over 10 years?

    Been a helluva decade, for sure. If you are a TBTF bankster or a politician.

  • Tman||

    Life is better because we have smart phones! I'm suprised he didn't mention twitter.

    Twitter and other similar networking apps have already saved lives and helped to fight against government censorship such as in Iran during the election.

    Yeah, health care and education are way more expensive

    Meh. My premiums aren't that much different than they were ten years ago. My lifestyle has become more expensive to maintain though.

    And hey, its not like the deficit and public and private debt went up much.

    They did, but how this means it's a wasted decade doesn't seem to correlate.

    Individual rights, they are on the upswing too, right?

    See: Party, Tea.

    And how about that stock market, man its up, what, about zero over 10 years?

    Actually, it's below the closing total - 11,522.56 January 7, 2000. Of course if you go back five years from there it was 4,801.80 -September 14, 1995. The DJIA has been in a consistent upswing if measured over the long term.

    I'm not sure what you're whining about.

  • doomboy||

    If twitter is the difference maker for you, well, you'll have to subscribe to my tweets to get my snappy retort on this.

    I think the author was generalizing, not speaking about your personal health insurance situation.

    Is a radically increased deficit and debt load in any way a positive for the past decade?

    Which individual rights is the Tea Party pushing for? When they first appeared they seemed to mostly be against the bailouts (i.e., the cause of those deficits) but of late they seem to be much more like hard-right republicans.

    As for the DJIA (or say the S&P a much broader index), an upswing is not consistent if you have to cherry pick the time period. The author is the one who specified a decade not me.

    Personally, the decade was far from a waste, but that has zip to do with the feeble examples cited in the article.

    I was whining about the turd-polishing article, was it not obvious?

  • Tman||

    If twitter is the difference maker for you, well, you'll have to subscribe to my tweets to get my snappy retort on this.

    +1. (It's not a difference maker for me, BTW.)

    I think the author was generalizing, not speaking about your personal health insurance situation.

    Yeah, I just don't think costs have risen that dramatically. I mean, costs go up over time, so what?

  • doomboy||

    Yeah, I just don't think costs have risen that dramatically. I mean, costs go up over time, so what?

    My personal insurance costs haven't gone up much either, but thats largely due to the increases in large part being borne by my wife's employer.

    Personally, my beef with health insurance is when you have "good" insurance its no longer really insurance (i.e., a product to buffer risks of unlikely, but extreme events) and instead is a big fat subsidy. We have benefitted from this subsidy, via having kids and getting treated for a rattlesnake bite, but the very fact we paid almost nothing for those services are a big part of the problem, its this kind of price-distortion that makes health care both so overpriced and essentially immune to normal free market competition.

  • Tman||

    I agree 100% with your beef on healthcare.

    But overall, I don't think the oughts were a wasted decade. We made some progress in some areas and went backwards in others which appears to pretty much resemble most decades.

  • ||

    I agree too. I wouldn't call the 00s a wasted decade. I also believe insurance usurps market rate health care by spreading the cost over a group of payers. If everyone had to pay out of pocket, prices would have to drop if they wanted customers.

  • Chad||

    You are right, doomboy: the third-party payer problem causes health insurance to be overpriced and essentially immune to normal free market competition.

    Now, if libertarians would grasp that this is true NO MATTER WHO PAYS FOR THE INSURANCE, we might be getting somewhere.

  • ||

    Twitter is useless for the most part. Facebook though isn't. And neither is the voice activated dialing system in my cousin's BMW or any one of the thousands of little improvements that are constantly occurring in our lives.

    I know you don't think so. But if you had a time machine and you were able to go back 10 years you would notice the difference. You don't notice these changes because they have happened gradually, the are very small and they are distributed throughout everything you do.

  • ||

    Eh. I was already middle-aged in 2000, and I can easily remember what life was like then. Not a whole hell of a lot different.

    Just compare, if you like, the previous decade. In 1990 there was no Internet, roughly speaking. Very few people sent e-mail, and the only useful function of a $2000 desktop computer was as a glorified typewriter. Plenty of people still used actual typewriters instead.

    Compare that to 2000, and then 2000 to 2010.

  • Highway||

    I'll offer you a deal. You can have the healthcare costs of the 80's... and the same care you got in the 80's. What's that? You don't want to go back to that?

  • doomboy||

    I have no problem with that. Can I get my civil liberties from the 80's back too?

  • Mike the Grouch||

    If you mean 1980 that might make sense. If you mean 1989 it doesn't. By the end of the 80s, the policies that are filling our jails now (thus depriving citizens of their liberty) were largely in place. From 1980 to 1989 the per capita incarceration rate in the US more than doubled. In the 20 years since it has not yet doubled again. In fact the incarceration rate seems to have stalled its growth since about 1999. So while it's only one measure of freedom, the 80s were actually worse for liberty than either the 90s or the 2000s.

  • doomboy||

    I think at best (if you only talk about incarceration) it is equally bad in the 2000s as by the end of the 1980s. Perhaps the rate of change is lower (so its stopped getting worse), but its not like there are noticably fewer folks in prison, either.

    And in 1989 there was far less drug testing, far less automated eavesdropping, far less GPS tracking, far less asset forfeiture, no TSA, no no-fly list, no interior BP checkpoints, no outgoing BP checkpoints, (presumably) less puppycide, far less SWAT teams, etc. etc. etc. I will grant there have been some small improvements, but overall, I still see the 80s and 90s as "more free" time than now.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    How about you specifically identify the particular civil liberties that you personally have lost?

    Have you been subject to drug testing? If so, in what context? Government-mandated?

    Have you been GPS tracked?

    Have you been eavesdropped on?

    Asset forfeiture has been around a loooong time - it is possible its use has been increasing in the past few years, but it already was used a lot in the "drug war" back in the 1980s.

    I agree with the general sense - the vague feeling that government is increasingly restricting our individual liberties. But last time I checked, we still have pretty much the same degrees of freedom to move around and travel and engage in activities we want to.

    In certain respects, I'd say certain liberties have increased - it's much easier and more accepted to be openly gay today than it was in the 80s (not that that does anything for me - no homo). Marijuana seems to be gaining a growing potential acceptance. And it is a for-sure thing that way more states nowadays have "shall issue" concealed carry permit laws - and private gun ownership is at an all-time high, with way more people having permits to carry than ever before.

    Also, there are way more outlets for individual speech - with the advent of this here interweb, blogs, tweets, Facebook, cheap/free web hosting, cheap and easily available printers, etc., it's easier than ever to get other people to see/hear your political rants.

    I don't know how you would derive some kind of "freedom index", as an overall measure of whether we have more or less of it, though. There are certain respects in which we have less liberty; but others in which we have more.

  • ||

    ""Have you been eavesdropped on?""

    Define eavesdropping. And does it have to be a human?

    """ But last time I checked, we still have pretty much the same degrees of freedom to move around and travel and engage in activities we want to.""

    Not true in NYC. You once could go into many office buildings. Now you can't. I can't enter City Hall anymore, either.

    But for the most part what has changed isn't how much liberty you have, it's the government's ability to record and query that which you do. Freedom is no longer without the watchful eyes of the government.

  • Mike the Grouch||

    No, of course, the absolute rate now is higher than in 1989. The point I'm making is that things got worse faster during the 80s than they have since. And that most of the current infringements on your liberties started in the 80s and leveled off by 1999/2000, especially the Drug War stuff. Technology is actually working just as much to expand and protect freedom as it is to limit it. Mixed bag. Back then there was no way to automate eavesdropping, drug tests were just being invented, etc. But on the flip side, police misconduct was much more rarely exposed on a world wide media network in the 80s than it is today.

  • Spencer Smith||

    +1

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Only if politicians get the exact level of healthcare WE get, Highway.

    Don't see that happening, though. They're the Privileged Class, because they won elections. We are mere peasants by comparison.

    Just ask Tony or Chad.

  • Jeff P||

    The 1980s, now THAT was a waste of time!

  • Matrix||

    Hey, I like my NES, Mister!

    I also like my hair metal bands and spandex! Don't bash the 80s!

  • ||

    I got borne unto the world in that decade, I did. It was the most productive decade of my life so far.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    Born in the 1980s? Damn kids.

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    How old are you that a group involving 30 year-olds makes you think 'Damn kids'?

    Disclosure: I'm not actually 30, but other 'kids' from the 80's are.

  • Banjos Kick Ass!||

    To be fair, those born in 1980 are 30, 90% of them (including me), are still in their 20s.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    How old are you that a group involving 30 year-olds makes you think 'Damn kids'?

    1. I was kinda joking.

    2. When someone says they were born in the 1980s, it does make me think "kids", because if they were born "in the 1980s", that would imply to me they are in their 20s, not 30s. If you were born on Sept. 22, 1980 or earlier that year, you are just 30. Anyone born "in the 1980s" is in their 20s.

    3. I was born in the 1960s. So yeah, someone who is 25 seems pretty young to me - now. Not when I was 25 myself, of course. But if you're 25, you're closer in age to my older child than you are to me.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    Put another way - I graduated college in the 1980s. So when someone says they were born then, well, yeah, I think yeah, a young `un.

  • We're Here to Help||

    "I got borne unto the world in that decade,..." Wow! Your intelligence is beyond your years.

  • Butts Wagner||

    I done got birthed in the 80's myself. .............The 1880's!

  • ||

    Yes technology has made things better. I'm not sure if I buy it has made things better enough to counter all the other fuck ups. A smartphone isn't so great without a job etc.

    Besides, I think most of us take the technology advance thing for granted now days. Yes technology will make life better, but that doesn't mean we can screw up everything else.

  • ||

    So you have a twin sister.

  • Fructose||

    When you look at tech progress over the last 20 years, the most impressive seems to be in consumer electronics and internet technologies, but thats simply where the improvements are most obvious to consumers because they double in quality every 18 months or so.

    Car quality and safety have also drastically improved over the last ten years. Consumer reports estimated that 2005 cars have 33% fewer malfunctions when 5 years old than 2000 cars. 2000 model year cars are death-traps compared to 2010 model year cars, but people don't notice the changes because they don't get into accidents every day of their lives.

  • Banjos Kick Ass!||

    This article was irritating and a big ass straw man. It concluded that all doom and gloomers are doom and gloomers because we fail to recognize the advances of the last decade. Umm...no. We are concerned by our massive trade deficit, the impending collapse of the dollar, and the eventual massive drop in standard of living that will come about in the process. And also, none of us are claiming that there is something wrong with having a service economy. It is fine as long as we were still producing shit and there wasn't a trade deficit.

  • ||

    +1

  • Peanut Gallery||

    Sure looks like the trade deficit is the same now as it was in 2000 to me.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.....0_2009.svg

  • Banjos Kick Ass!||

    Point being?

  • omg||

    Isn't "false economy" the term the IRA used when they firebombed a store?

  • mark||

    I'm with the Congressman on this one.

    The 2000's were an economic binge on fiat money.
    Price of gold in 2000: $300/oz
    Price in 2010: $1200/oz

    That's a four-fold increase. So far the worst effects have not been felt due to a papering-over by the government/Fed. Ten years from now we may be referring to the 2000's as "The Roaring 00's" and the 2010's as "The Greatest Depression".

    Or not, maybe technology will save us!

  • Federal Reserve||

    Damn, I was hoping to go unnoticed in this discussion. Ignore the previous reference to the price of gold!! Don't ask how I pay my employees!!

  • hmm||

    I can play farmville, with a friend in Australia, on my fucking cellphone

    Wasted on the face, maybe? The sheer advancement in terms of information and technology is astonishing. It'd be interesting to measure the rate of technology growth today with 20 years ago.

  • born in the 60's||

    Don't make me throw away my CD collection!!!

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    CDs? Shit, I still have vinyl albums and cassette tapes.

    But no 8-tracks...

  • Patriot Mike||

    I only recently ditched my 8-tracks. On the plus side, weed is stronger and more plentiful than ever, craft beer is better than ever, and Yes is still touring. But vinyl albums still sound better than CDs.

  • Jason||

    Have you tried a SACD?

  • ||

    ""Thanks to innovations in medicine and technology, life is getting better all the time.""

    Technology is driving the cost of medical care upwards. Sure life is geting better in that respect, but only if you can afford it. The cost comes out of your pocket, or someone elses.

  • Mike the Grouch||

    The treatments that cost more? Either didn't exist before or weren't as effective is my guess. Of course we need to be able to afford it. How many man-hours go into the typical heart stent surgery? Or Lasik, even? Those people gotta get paid!

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    A major surgery I had this decade cost over $40,000. My father had the same health problem at my age and has to have a colostomy bag for the rest of his life (starting at age 16). I have a scar. I'll take the newer, safer, more expensive surgery.

    As a bonus, I'm also helping out with that colon cancer statistic. I'm now immune to it. Take that, pitiful mortals.

  • ||

    Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Compare the cost of the HPV vaccine (modern medicine) to the cost of treating cervical cancer (older medicine). A $3000 genetic typing test in 2010 can allow a breast-cancer patient to forego the $50,000 of chemotherapy 1990 medicine would require, not to mention the unpleasant side-effect of being made sterile.

    It's true that end-of-life medicine, staving off the bitter end a little bit, is enormously costly for fairly modest benefit, which makes fools focus on it as "waste."

    What's overlooked is that this stuff is, quite literally, the "bleeding edge." Where do you think you experiment with bold new types of medicine that could help people loads or cut their life short abruptly? Only with the dying, of course.

    But over time desperate medicine produces learning, and insight, and eventually becomes ordinary life-saving medicine that is totally worth the cost.

    A good example is the experience of artificial hearts. What was originally desperate and fantastically expensive medicine, that prolonged patients lives unpleasantly for mere days at a cost of $millions, eventually evolved into cost-effective and life-saving mechanical heart-assist devices that can, in some cases, even prevent the need for costly heart transplants. (For that matter, transplants themselves have followed a similar journey from desperate medicine to effective and routine medicine.)

    The mistake people make in looking at huge end-of-life care costs is they overlook that the whole of medicine is dynamic. Techniques and knowledge are born on the desperate expensive edge of life and death, and over time evolve to routine, cheap and effective care -- while new tech takes its place on the frontier.

    What happens if the "early adopters" -- i.e. the dying -- stop buying (or are prevented by government from buying) the latest leading-edge care? Anyone with a brain can predict the result, and it ain't happy news for the future.

  • WasabiPeas||

    Government policies and regulations are driving the cost of medical care upwards. Where these policies and regulations are not as onerous, for example lasix, technology is driving the cost down.

  • ||

    "" Either didn't exist before or weren't as effective is my guess.""

    Most didn't exist and that's why life is getting better. But it comes with a cost. Which includes the expense of covering people who can't pay.

    ""Those people gotta get paid!"""

    A lot. They make getting $75 for working at GM chump change.

  • The Orphans||

    Modern Inventions
    2000 - 2009

    http://inventors.about.com/od/.....ention.htm

  • Chad||

    Life expectancy grew in the wasted decade. According to the American Cancer Society, over the past decade, U.S. cancer death rates have kept falling with big decreases in major killers, such as colon and lung cancer. Our survival rates are tops in the world

    Well, some of the time they do, and some of the time they don't. But who cares if we "survive" a bit longer after discovering cancer, when compared to other rich nations

    A: We are mostly "surviving" longer because we discovered it earlier

    B: We are much more likely to get it in the first place

    I don't know about you, but I'd much rather have a 0.5% chance of discovering cancer at age 50 and dying at 54 than having a 0.75% chance of discovering cancer at 48 and dying at 53.

    It is not clear at all whether we are getting any healthier. There are many steps backwards entwined with any steps forward, and most of the steps forward are costing us a fortune.

  • nike shoes UK||

    is good

  • UGG Boots Cheap||

    dd

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