By Alan Caruba
The beginning of a new year is a good time to consider the many things that differentiate this new century from the last.
I’d like to recommend that everyone read “It’s Getting Better All the Time: Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years” by Stephen Moore and the late Julian L. Simon. It was published in 2000 by the Cato Institute and is singularly the best reference for anyone and everyone who assumes we have always had electricity, global telecommunications, abundant food, and extraordinary medical treatment.
By way of comparison, consider the American Civil War that cost the lives of 620,000 men who fought on both sides of the conflict. On December 24, 1864, Gen. Sherman sent President Lincoln a message by telegraph offering him Savannah, Georgia as a Christmas present. By April 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee would tender his surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. All the parties arrived on horseback and while the use of rail travel played a minor role, there were no trucks, no tanks, nothing that involved the invention of the internal combustion engine.
The inventions we take for granted would largely wait until the 20th century. In the 100 years between 1900 and 2000, the improvement of the human condition would progress at a rate unknown in the whole history of mankind.
Ironically, the automobile, which is blamed for “pollution” and as a contributor to the bogus “global warming”, brought to an end an era in which cities and towns were filled with horse dung and garbage. Before the modern era of sewage systems and plumbing, cities were places of pestilence. In 1918-1919, an epidemic of influenza killed more than 700,000 Americans and another 20 million to 100 million around the world.
In 1900 Americans had barely a 50-50 chance of surviving a trip to the doctor or, worse, the hospitals of the time when the simple act of washing one’s hand before surgery was unknown.
At the beginning of the last century, life expectancy was barely into the 40’s. Today, Americans can expect to live to an average of 78 years and, as anyone can see, Americans are living routinely into and beyond their 80’s. The “obesity epidemic” is the result of an economy that produces more food than ever before. The invention of genetically modified seeds not only insures that more crops will be grown but that forests will not be sacrificed to produce it.
The authors note that, “Most important of all, almost every great tragedy of the 20th century has been the result of too much government, not too little…Nazism, socialism, communism, Marxism, and apartheid were all simply fancy names for statism—for unreasonable government control over the lives and liberties of the citizenry.”
The last century marked a major departure from previous ones becoming one of widespread abundance in almost every sector of life. “Today’s farmer feeds three times as many people with one-third as many total farmers on one-third less farmland than in 1900.” American farmers are about 40 percent more productive than their European counterparts.
Few, if any, Americans can think of a time when there was no radio, but it only came into being in the 1920s. Television didn’t begin its claim on our attention until the 1950s. As recently as the 1960s, most shows were in black and white and Americans had only three or four channels from which to choose.
While the nation goes through the problems associated with the failures of the banking system to take greater care in lending for mortgages, in 1900 about 50 percent of Americans owned their own homes. Today that has risen to about two-thirds. One of the primary goals of environmentalism is to drive people back into cities and off the roads, but such progress cannot be thwarted. What the nation—now with more than 300 million citizens—requires is housing development, not a return to an era when one in five families lived in housing with three persons per bedroom.
To demonstrate how idiotic the demand is that we “conserve” electricity instead of developing more sources, such as nuclear power, Congress recently passed an “energy” bill that bans the sale and use of incandescent light bulbs beginning in 2012. By contrast, in 1900 barely two percent of homes had electricity. Progress demands more electricity, not less, nor will it be supplied by such notions as wind or solar power that are utterly dependent on whether the wind is blowing and sunlight is constantly available.
What today’s American takes for granted is largely the result of an incredibly inventive 20th century. Its major inventions included refrigeration, aspirin, electric heating, the telephone, the electric railroad, movies, radio, television, air conditioning, fuel efficient automobiles and so much more that they cannot be listed, but can be found at prices that make them available to working people throughout the nation.
Today we live with pollution myths spun by environmentalists, but our air and water is cleaner as the result of regulations introduced in the 1970s. Despite a five-fold increase in population, the percentage of land space that is covered by our forests has remained constant at about one-third of the land area of the United States. This is generally true throughout the world as well, but in the nation today vast efforts are being made to put more and more land off-limits to every form of development, whether it be for mining or the extraction of oil and natural gas. They take the form of so-called “heritage” areas.
What Americans are not doing is the job of maintenance. When a bridge can fail in Minnesota and hundreds more are at risk, we are failing to maintain the nation’s vital infrastructure. This is especially true of the electrical transmission system—the grid— that is in urgent need of upgrade and expansion. Too many of our highways, many built in the 1950s, are in need of improvement. Some American roadways are being put on the auction block to foreign ownership.
The great task of this new year is to remove the nation’s educational system from the death grip of the federal government and the teacher’s unions that have imposed a system that renders America’s children ignorant of the fundamentals needed for an advanced society and economy. Education must be returned to local governance.
When the new century began in 1900, America was not committed to a vast military whose presence is now found throughout the world. The maintenance of peace has become the job of the United States as nations relinquished this necessity while guarding themselves with the development of nuclear weapons. This is occurring as our military has shrunk in size and become entirely voluntary.
At the same time, we have witnessed the growth of international institutions like the United Nations that has not only failed to meet its original goal, but evolved into a corrupt organization of self-serving bureaucrats more interested in lavish conferences than the hard work of real progress versus the fairy tales of “global warming”, i.e., tending to refugees, and bolstering democracies. Similar groups like the European Union further enlarge governance over sovereign nations that should be more responsible for their own affairs and agreements that serve their own interests. Globalization is coming with a price that reduces individual liberty and freedom.
The scourge of communism—another term for big government—has been pushed aside by the evident failure of this and other socialist economic systems, though it remains a threat. It has been replaced by the resurgence of Islam, a religion invented in the seventh century to serve the interests of Bedouin societies for whom conquest and theft was a way of life. Today, a large portion of Islam feels under attack at the same time it strikes out against modernity and its benefits. It must either reform itself or continue its long record of failure to move into this and preceding centuries.
The new century is at war with the past and its weapons are those of mass destruction. While there is much for which to give thanks, given the progress of the previous century, there is much to fear that such progress will be either reversed in a global holocaust or that massive governmental institutions will strangle it in favor of exercising authoritarian power over the lives of everyone on earth.
Alan Caruba writes a weekly column posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center, http://www.anxietycenter.com/. His blog is http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com/.
© Alan Caruba, January 2008