Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Moment in the Sun


From economic historian Brad DeLong, a brief summary of the extreme weirdness of our time. He presents the table below without giving any source, and the seemingly precise quantification is certainly questionable, but the basic idea is undoubtedly correct. 



What's important is not the numbers, but the idea. Right now the income per capita of all humanity is almost 13 times what it was in 1500. Another way of looking at this is that it took 20 workers in 1870 to produce what one worker can today. 

And yet, we still have billions of people living in abject poverty. Even in a wealthy country like the U.S., while even most of the people we consider to be impoverished have a material standard of living and a life expectancy that vastly exceeds that of even the average person in 1870, their quality of life is probably little better. Relative and concentrated disadvantage is deeply stressful and painful, as are lack of meaningful and rewarding work and purpose, and constant insecurity. It's also very important to note that the bulk of that per capita income is going to a very small subset of the population, who are growing ever more obscenely wealthy.

Still, for most people, this is the best time to live there has ever been. Even European kings in 1500 had much shorter lives, more disease and pain, and more stress than an average American today. Yet life expectancy in the U.S. has recently made an unprecedented downward turn, mostly because of white people in non-urban areas who have experienced an epidemic of alcohol misuse, opioid addiction, and suicide. This has not, however, come close to erasing the pre-existing disadvantage of African American, Latino and indigenous people. Even a slight loss of relative privilege was apparently enough to drive some people to despair.

The point is, there is now plenty for everybody. We don't need to be quarreling over the crumbs, or fearing that we will be "replaced," or fearing we can't afford to make the investment necessary to save us from climate catastrophe. When that happens our unprecedented material wealth will go away! We can fix our problems and take care of everybody and there is plenty to go around. The problem is those obscenely wealthy greedheads who are investing a small part of their trillions into convincing the world that isn't true and distracting us with manufactured moral panics and ridiculous bullshit.  

Maybe tomorrow I'll have something to say specifically about the Supreme Court and the Republican Party.