As regular readers know, I'm an incorrigible optimist about the future. Granted, the last year has shaken that a bit, but I still think my children will have better lives than I did, even if they won't be AS better as they could be. Just to get some perspective on the "things are getting better" meme, consider the little vacation my family took this past week.
We drove down to PA to drop my son off for rehearsals and then departure for a band trip to Europe. My wife and daughter and I spent the rehearsal days shopping and going to Hershey. The whole time I kept thinking about the car trips I took as a kid and how much better things are now. I grew up with 3 brothers and in the early and mid 70s, we took several cross-country car trips, starting at our home in suburban Detroit and going, in one case, all the way to Salt Lake City and back, seeing the major national parks etc along the way. We also did the Canadian maritimes and Florida.
And we did it all in an old AMC station wagon. My dad plotted out all of the stops and hotel using those old AAA tourbooks. Everything was done by phone and took hours. We had tons of maps of course, but still got lost from time to time. And we had to leave a detailed itinerary behind so that people could find us. And if I had to listen to another crappy local radio station...
Compare that to today: We drove around in a much more comfortable, safe, and reliable Nissan Altima. It also got probably twice the gas mileage and produced a fraction of the pollution of the AMC. (Plus, no one had to ride backward!). Finding hotels and learning about Hershey took all of 30 minutes on the Web and I didn't have to talk to a human being. I printed out one map but the rest was all navigated by GPS, which saved us once or twice when we went wandering (which we knew we could, given the GPS). We didn't leave an itinerary, as our cell phones made it possible for us to be reached at any time by our house/dogsitters. It also enabled us to coordinate with one another as we separated while shopping or at Hershey. The cell also served as entertainment for my daughter, who passed the time in the car texting friends at home or taking pictures. Finally, our whole trip was made much more pleasant by high-quality, user-chosen music on the car CD player.
None of this accounts for the cheaper real cost (in labor time) of our food and hotel nights, not to mention the notably higher quality of both compared to those trips from the early 70s. The very fact that we had quite good Chinese food in the small town of Hazleton, PA reflects the expanding division of labor and growth in choices.
If one thinks about all the bad economic policies and the general growth of the state that has taken place since the early 70s, the fact that life is still so much better in so many ways should lead one to think, to borrow from Pete, that the Smithian forces of the division of labor and the power of Schumpeterian innovation will indeed continue to conquer the stupidity of the state. No doubt the fight will be a tougher one in the years to come, thanks to the events of the last year, but both history and theory suggest that the combined efforts of humanity coordinated by even restricted markets will still win out over the stumbling and bumbling of the political class.