F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
January 30, 2000
20th Century: An American Success Story

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

The next time someone tries to tell you that "those were the good old days," set him straight: These are the good old days!

"These are the good old days" is, of course, the closing line of a song from the seventies by Carly Simon, one of my least favorite female vocalists, along with Rickie Lee Jones and Joni Mitchell (impenetrability being a quality I cannot abide in any art form, high or low). It is, nevertheless, a striking expression -- one that antedates Ms. Simon's usage by several decades at least. In the classic screwball mystery film The Thin Man, released in 1934, it's the quick-witted comeback of master sleuth Nick Charles (played to perfection by William Powell), to whom a friend from his impoverished policeman's past opines: "Those were the good old days." "Don't kid yourself," Charles quips. "These are the good old days!" These being the only days we actually have, the logic of the sentiment defies dispute. As it happens, however, the facts also support it.

"There has been more improvement in the human condition for people living in the United States in this century than for all people in all previous centuries of human history combined," declares Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute. "Freedom works," he concludes, by way of explaining the phenomenal American success story. "The unique American formula of individual liberty and free enterprise has encouraged risk taking, experimentation, innovation, and scientific exploration of a magnitude that is unprecedented in human history."

Moore argues that "three relatively modern developments have revolutionized human life" throughout the world, but especially in America. "The first," he contends, "was modern medicine. Scientists generally attribute up to half the increase in life expectancy in this century to improved drugs, vaccines, and other medical treatment breakthroughs. The second development was the harnessing of electrical power," says Moore. "The magic of electrical power not only brought us literally out of the darkness," he observes, "but also launched thousands of inventions, all of which have allowed mankind to begin to harness the forces of nature, thus improving nearly every aspect of our daily lives. The third transforming development," Moore continues, "was the invention of the microchip. As the brains of the computer, the semi-conductor has been mankind's passport to a whole new universe of knowledge."

Americans may wax nostalgic, but they do so with wax that's new and improved! "For the vast majority of Americans," Moore asserts, "life was not better in the 1950s than today. We are healthier," he remarks, "we live longer, we are richer, we can afford to purchase far more things, we have more time and money for recreation, we have bigger and better homes, we are at much less risk of catastrophic accidents, and we breathe cleaner air and drink safer water." Many of us, unfortunately, don't realize how well off we are. Moore emphasizes that "most Americans who are considered 'poor' today have routine access to a quality of food, health care, consumer products, entertainment, communications, and transportation that even the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, the Rockefellers and 19th-century European royalty, with all their combined wealth, could not have afforded."

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