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“The world is going to hell.” Every day, in every news outlet, we are bombarded with this notion. Climate change irrevocability, civil strife, increasing racism, terrorism, homophobia, and poverty. The west is in a navel-gazing spiral of negativity and self-hatred. We verbally flagellate ourselves with condemnation of our own wealth, of our carbon footprint, of our inability to fix all the problems instantly, effectively, and permanently. We are stuck in a loop of negative self-critique that any therapist would diagnose as suicidal, and in fact, suicide rates are rising. But it’s time we looked at some facts and started telling ourselves a new story. As it turns out, we don’t suck.
One of the biggest critiques of the west is that there is rising inequality, that the poor are getting poorer while the rich keep getting richer. However, that’s not actually true. It’s a lovely narrative for those who favour wealth redistribution because the perception of injustice spurs people on to figure out how to rectify that. The only problem is that it’s untrue. Of course, there are problems, there always are, but they’re not nearly so bad as we are led to believe by popular media representations, and they’re getting better.
A recent article in The Economist shows just how off our thinking has been with regard to wealth inequity. New research confirms that the basis for this belief in increasing financial disparity is inaccurate. The claims of inequity were founded on four presumed truths. These are that the top 1% of earners have soared high above the rest of us in wealth accumulation, that household incomes have languished, that worker exploitation has hurt labour while lining the pockets of wealth capitalists and that the accumulation of assets the wealthy hold have been skyrocketing in value.
However, “…some economists have re-crunched the numbers and concluded that the income share of the top 1% in America may have been little changed since as long ago as 1960.” Unaccounted for in the analysis of wealth inequity were the changes with regard to Medicaid expansion, pension dividends that go to middle-earners, the vast underestimation of “inflation adjusted median income growth in America from 1979-2014.”
While we could always do better, the fact is, we could do much worse. It’s hard for us to believe that we are not the worst people in the worst time frame in the entirety of human history, but as we berate ourselves for being so terrible, we should take a moment to note that poverty is in drastic decline worldwide.
In a Q&A on his YouTube channel, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson notes that: “It is by no means self-evident that things are getting worse… In the last 15 years, the millennium goal for the UN was to have world poverty, like absolute poverty, that’s less than $1.50 [down] by 50% within 15 years, and that was actually reached ahead of schedule. We’ve lifted hundreds of millions of people into the middle class in the last 30 years. There is increasing inequality in the west because the working class has taken the brunt of that redistribution to third world countries. But really there’s no starvation in the world anymore, except really for reasons of misdistribution and political purpose.
“People are becoming richer and more educated all the time. And we are waking up to our planetary responsibilities, and once people stop starving to death, and having to burn dirt and eat substandard food that they’ve scraped out of the ground they do start to turn their attention to things that are more aesthetic. … I don’t see an alternative [to capitalism] that has manifested itself that doesn’t have far more negative consequences. … The most successful societies by virtually any metric are the capitalist societies.”
Shocking, I know, but it’s true. The west and western culture is not the worst thing ever to happen to the world and humanity. We don’t have to wipe ourselves off the face of the earth or stop having babies just to save everyone from our wretched, horrid, greedy, trolling selves. We have actually been helping. Poverty is in decline, and along with it, our general sense of self-respect.
It’s time to tell ourselves a different story, one that involves trying our hardest to make things better for all people, because that’s what’s really going on. People are getting tired of this same, sad story. David Byrne recently launched Reasons to Be Cheerful as an antidote to all the bad news. It collects stories about all the legit good things happening in the world, and those that reflect innovation, compassion, and cooperation between people and cultures.
A narrative that gives us an inkling into our successes, not just our failures, would help us to push forward more than the hopeless one we are constantly being fed. One of our biggest issues is that, as things improve both in the west and worldwide, we raze the definition of success and replace it with an even higher measure.
We have lived up to so many of our goals, yet every time we attain one, we move the goal further on. It’s like we’re climbing a ladder and with every rung, we look up at the next one and see how much further away it is than the one we just climbed. This is not a call to let ourselves off the hook, we know how much work there is to do, we hear about it from every source every day. But the progress of democratic capitalism, with a healthy amount of checks on the power of the free market, is an effective tool for the betterment of us all. Let’s stop hating ourselves—what we’re doing is actually working.