By Dave Smith, Senior Contributor, USDR.
“For 200 years, pessimists have had all the headlines – even though optimists have far more often been right.” – Matt Ridley
2018 has been an extraordinarily turbulent year. The testy resignation of Secretary of Defense Mattis, the roller coaster ride of the stock market, the negative impacts of President Trump’s tariffs on American businesses, the firing (officially resignation) of the White House Chief of Staff, and continued drama around Brexit were in the headlines at the close of the year. The 2018 midterms saw record voter participation levels as the Democrats re-took the House and various state legislatures across the country. The #MeToo movement continued to shake up corridors of power in politics and entertainment, and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings were must-see TV and a Rorschach test for political identity groups. There were hurricanes, school shootings, a migrant caravan, French tax protests, and much more.
For all the controversy and even negativity, there was still plenty of reason for optimism as we prepare for the New Year. Thomas Jefferson spoke of government as a protector of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – unalienable rights endowed by the “Creator”. In each of these endeavors, there is much to celebrate in 2018 and beyond.
In terms of life, the news is indeed encouraging. In the United States, the past half-century has seen an increase in life expectancy among both men and women. A standout among these statistics is for African American men, who’ve seen their life expectancy increase from 60 years to 72.5 since 1970. Looking outside the United States, a substantial increase has occurred in the former Soviet bloc countries since the fall of the Iron Curtain. In the United States, the infant mortality rate has fallen by 15% in the past decade, and there has been a 29% drop in the number of child deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Other trends look positive as well. After reaching its height in 2009, the number of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan has steadily declined, with only 2 soldiers killed there in 2018 thus far. The number of HIV-positive diagnoses has also decreased over the past decade, and deaths due to cancer and heart disease have declined.
In terms of liberty, while there are obvious problem spots around the world, the arc seems to be bending towards increasing liberty worldwide. In the United States, after several years of slipping, economic freedom is on the rise: the US is back in the global top 10 according to both the Fraser Institute and the Heritage Foundation; the Cato Institute has the United States ranked at 17 in its Human Freedom Index.
Americans are taking advantage of their liberty by exercising their voting rights: 113 million American citizens participated in the 2018 midterm elections, representing 49% of the eligible electorate – the highest level of voting in a midterm election since 1914, and up from 36% in 2014.
The first significant criminal justice reform legislation in decades, the FIRST STEP Act, was signed into law by President Trump with clear, emphatic, bipartisan support in both Houses of Congress.
Liberty breeds prosperity, and as free market capitalism spreads across the globe, it is eradicating poverty. According to the United Nations, extreme poverty is down over 60% since 1990, while the World Bank calculates a 74% reduction. In the United States, unemployment is at a historically low 3.7%, and Gross Domestic Product growth was 4.2% in the 2nd quarter and 3.5% in the 3rd (and would have been higher if not for the trade disputes). Much has been said about the shrinking American middle class, but the data show that the middle class (and lower class) are shrinking because there are more people moving into the upper class.
In the pursuit of happiness – and as a Thanksgiving tradition – many families enjoyed a traditional turkey dinner. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the cost of Thanksgiving dinner (defined as turkey and trimmings to serve a family of 10) has decreased 3 years in a row, and when adjusted for inflation was the most affordable in the past decade and 26% less expensive than 30 years ago. Purchasing power is stronger in other areas as well: for the cost of an electric oven in 1966, today a family could purchase a stove, washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, microwave oven, dishwasher, and blender – and still have enough for a small freezer for the garage.
While there are still those in need – food banks, churches, and other charities were still busy this year, our troops are still stationed in harm’s way, and tribalism shows no signs of subsiding – there is still much optimism for the present and promise for the future.
Born in the same county as Davy Crockett in East Tennessee, Dave found his way to Texas where he works in the petrochemical industry. He’s written and spoken about politics on various media outlets including Fox, ABC, and Townhall. He is a graduate of Tennessee Tech with a degree in chemical engineering. Make sure to check out Dave’s popular series, “Profiles in Liberty” at USA Daily Chronicles. Follow Dave on Twitter: @semperlibertas.