Monday, April 11, 2016

Why Is Everyone So Grumpy?

     I heard some good news recently. Actually, it's not news. Anyone who knows psychology would know about the Flynn Effect. But I only just heard about it.

     Apparently tests have shown that people are getting smarter. The average I.Q. score is 100. But over the years the tests have had to be made more and more difficult in order to keep the average at 100. If the average teenager of today with an I.Q. of 100 could take the I.Q. test of 30 years ago, the teenager would score an I.Q. of 120.

     This is especially good news when you consider that today's economy demands higher skill levels; and so the smarter people are, the better they will fare in the economy of the future.

     It also proves what I long suspected: I am smarter than my parents. Of course, it also proves the claims of my kids -- that they are smarter than I am.

     No one knows for sure why people are getting smarter. The experts suggest better nutrition, better health care, better education, better parenting. Perhaps some of these factors are arguable, but it's undeniable that many things are getting better over time. We have lower crime rates and higher educational levels. And, for sure, we have better health care, which leads to longer and healthier lives. The figures prove it: A person born in 1920 had a life expectancy of about 54 years. A person born in 1950 had a life expectancy more like 68 years. And for those us us still alive, in our 60s, we can expect to live well into our 80s.

       Yet, according to Real Clear Politics, some 66 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction, while less than 30 percent believe we're headed in the right direction.

     Steve McCann in the conservative-leaning American Thinker says we realize we're in trouble for several reasons. The national debt has ballooned to almost $20 trillion. While the economy has produced almost 6 million jobs since 2008, the working age population has increased by 18 million people, which means fewer people of working age are actually employed. Also, whether you love immigrants or hate them, the sheer number of immigrants over the past quarter century has put pressure not only on the job market but on schools, housing, roads and social services. According to McCann, in 1988 there were 16 million immigrants living in the United States. Today there are 42 million immigrants, including some 12 million who are ... either "illegal" or "undocumented" depending on your political persuasion.

     All this has contributed to the unequal distribution of income which has upset the treasured American notion of a classless society. According to McCann, since 1988 the inflation-adjusted income of the top 5% of Americans has risen about 40% while the income of the bottom 50% has fallen by about 2%.

     And while younger Americans may be smarter than their grandparents, Americans have actually fallen behind on a relative basis -- we have not progressed as fast as our European or Asian counterparts. In 1990 American teenagers scored in the top 10 among industrialized countries for their proficiency in math, reading and science, but today our teenagers are ranked down in the 20s.

     McCann concludes, with an eye on the current presidential election, "A vast majority of American people sense that the future of the nation is in serious jeopardy ... and one of the most troubling aspects of the current unease is what this portends: when anger and frustration evolve into deep-seated passion, reason is too often a casualty."

     McCann has plenty of company in believing the U. S. has seen its best days. As one person wrote, reflecting the sentiment of the Real Clear Politics poll:  "It seems we're grasping for anything that will stop this decline of our country, this feeling we have that America is on the fast track to becoming a Third World Country with all the wealth at the top, this feeling that we've lost our individual liberty and freedom."

     On the other hand, James Fallows says that the narrative of America going to hell is a constant throughout American history, especially in presidential election years. He recounts in The Atlantic how he traveled through the country and found that, despite what you hear about American decay and the unraveling of the nation, there are many examples of rapidly progressing civil and individual reinvention in towns and cities across the nation, from Fresno, CA, to Ajo, AZ, to Duluth, MN and Pittsburgh, PA.

     Personally, I think it's easy to focus on the negatives -- there are certainly plenty of them around -- but I take heart in knowing that Americans are getting smarter. And I'll choose to believe what a man smarter than I am believes, for it was Warren Buffett who recently wrote:

     “It’s an election year, and candidates can’t stop speaking about our country’s problems (which, of course, only they can solve). As a result of this negative drumbeat, many Americans now believe that their children will not live as well as they themselves do. That view is dead wrong: The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history ... America’s economic magic remains alive and well."

23 comments:

DJan said...

I am not sure why I feel so depressed about the direction of the country, because everything you say is true. One reason, I think, are the vast numbers of people trying to find a way to enjoy limited resources, which will only continue to increase as population explodes. I'm old enough to remember when traffic like we see every day only existed in metropolises, and the number of homeless people on the streets was miniscule. But Buffett is right, so I'll look on the bright side. Thanks, Tom. :-)

Tabor said...

this negative view was around when I was growing up. Yes, we are facing greater challenges, technology is limiting jobs and those jobs that are available require much smarter workers, but there are so many good things going on. More food being grown around the world, better communication around the world, certainly technology making for better health. It is all relative and it is NOT the govt. that is hiring these refugees, it is the companies, so maybe we ought to find out why.

Hauola said...

Good Morning Tom, People in general do long for the good 'ol days. Perhaps the internet has made being educated more readily available to people living in rural and metropolitan areas. As a society we are constantly in the midst of change, and an election year does highlight where more change is either needed or how it is proposed the change begun by someone else can be improved and continued. It feels much better to think along the lines of optimism, with an occasional twinge of err tossed in, and so I want to cling to the belief our country is better for children born in this 21st century.

The Virginian said...

Thanks, Tom. I tend to see things more along the lines that James Fallows and Warren Buffet see them - you have to get out and around the country to see the mix of changes that strengthen the nation in strategic ways that may not benefit us personally. Although annoying, heavy traffic is a great sign of important business activity - people going to work, to shop, to attend events, etc. This is a rich continuing conversation across the generations and only ends when our hope for the future fades away.

Barbara said...

I like the Warren Buffett quote. It makes sense. I also remember the 60s and thinking that I would be dead from a nuclear explosion by the age I am now. I think politics and news agencies do keep the negative in the forefront of our thoughts. However, I am scared of all the presidential candidates so I slip into the fear mode.

Olga Hebert said...

I personally feel it is the drive for more and more and more that is harming society but the very planet that sustains us. It's going to take civil and individual reinvention to turn things around.

Stephen Hayes said...

Why are people so grumpy? Conservatives and FOX news have made millions of people believe everything is going to hell because they have no new ideas for governing and attempt to win elections through fear and anger. I don't know anyone who isn't better off financially now than they were in 2008 yet the Administration gets no credit for turning the economy around.

Carole said...

Wow, I hate to say it, but I'm surprised that people are smarter now! Maybe technologically? Have you seen those you tube videos where they quiz young people about government and politics? (Who is the Vice President? Who won the civil war? etc). Scary to see how many could not answer!

I agree with everything Stephen Hayes said above!

Wisewebwoman said...

I'd say smaller sized families have a whole lot to do with it. My siblings can't believe the father I had (I'm the eldest of 6) vs the father they had. One example, he taught me to read at 4 and got me a library card so we could cart out at least 10 books a week. They all learned to read much later than me and on their own, i.e. at school.

It makes a huge difference having engaged, intelligent parents.

XO
WWW

Tom Sightings said...

I agree with DJan and Olga, that the inexorable push by Americans for more, better and faster material goods, followed by the rest of the world pushing for the same things, presents perhaps the biggest challenge to our future. Our hope is in technology, which has solved these problems in the past, and so may get us ample clean energy, reverse the damage to the planet, and maybe give us other things to do besides consume more and more resources like water, trees, petroleum and other natural resources. As for traffic, the only answer I see is less travel and more connection thru computers, and maybe more public transportation. How about high-speed trains connecting cities with good internal public transportation systems, from Boston to NY to Philadelphia, DC and Atlanta, and out to Chicago.

Dick Klade said...

I'm thinking the good stuff is underplayed and the bad overemphasized. Pointing out problems is the stuff political campaigns are made of. Taking a broad view, even harping on problems may not be so bad. We cannot solve problems without identifying them and exploring solutions. We do, however, need to wake up to the root cause of many of the more difficult problems--over population throughout the world.

gigihawaii said...

My grandkids are smarter than me. They both learned how to read and write in preschool and are proficient on the iPad, though they are only 6 and 8 years old.

Anonymous said...

I live by a high school 4 year high school.When our only child attended the school it was only a 3 year high school 10,11 and 12th grades.>They had more ap classes and the teachers and classes were small when she graduated in 1996 a mere 20 years ago, many of her ap teachers retired they were tired of many beauracracy and the principal did not back them up, he retired with a huge pension and they did pretty well, but the ap classes took big hits, now privileged kids get tutoring and still attend the high school but they won't remain in our state they go to California to privilege colleges and never come back to this state, the school bonds never had any trouble going thru now people are so poor they don't vote in levy votes and many use the public library to sleep during the day and try to find a place to go to at night..Poverty and homelessness and many families hungry..I volunteer at a food place I am not a member of the church but the pastor to me is a saint, he feeds and listens and helps many who have families and are hungry working 60 hours a week their children go to school and get thru and get educated and take care of their mother and fathers and many siblings the kids who have the means sit on our curb and smoke marijuana and never attend anymore (marijuana is legal for recreational purposes here) I never voted for it, my only child saw plenty at the wonderful public university she went to and graduate highest honors with several degrees, she was not about to waste her good fortune and scholarships toking the marijane no she was not..I think plenty of kids are smart but if your family has no home to live in or only temporarily and food is scarce it makes you different, they get in and out of colleges quickly and support their parents and siblings, they know what it is like to starve for food and housing..I think Bernie Sanders is so popular in Washington state the first presidential candidate in years who is committed for all people to get educations and some type of housing, work and health insurance, the first since the late 60's..but of course Hillary has the billions and many supporters but she is really a career politician wealthy beyond most peoples notion...I think the world is changing too fast in the USA to think that many will ever get to the dance..

schmidleysscribblins.com said...

I agree with Dick. The good news is ften under reported and ther's lots of good news. We have always been a 'can do' people, and we can still do it. Its the power of positive thinking.

Read a little history, particularly for the 1930s, and you will think life today is a piece of cake. I think its mostly "conservatives' who are so negative. After all they hate change more than anyone.

Still the Lucky Few said...

So glad I found this intelligent and insightful site. The biggest issue, from my vantage point, is the fact that 1% have most of the country's riches. Even though the argument can be made that if all of their wealth was distributed to others it wouldn't make a great deal of difference to the ordinary person, the fact that this disparity exists puts the USA in the realm of a third world country—especially when so many are underprivileged. Yet you give that issue only a passing mention!

Tom Sightings said...

Thanks for visiting, Still the Lucky Few. I'm going over to check out your blog.

Anonymous said...

It is raining again, but we are off to the eastern part of Washington state with kindergarten friends we are in our late 60's and we enjoy the getaways, we try to be cheerful no matter what..I fractured my right shoulder entering a restaurant seeking a location I could not find and the people acted like yahoos, the ambulance place charged an enormous amount and the people who transported me were absolutely miserable human beings, we got a huge bill our health insurer paid them only so much and we ended up paying $50.00 tops, the place is horrible for transporting people if I could have crawled to our car I would have and know if I ever get into a jam like that I will crawl rather than take an ambulance plain and simple but I am happy and cheerful I could have killed myself broken my neck, people just walked over me and the help save one 23 year old nursing student were yahoos..I know many have never been taught compassion and manners, yet at nearly 68 I would have never treated anyone like I was treated and the owners never sdaid squat to me, the company that insured them were like where's freaking waldo? my goodness sakes..I learned a big lesson and was ablt to see Bernie Sanders when he stood out in the warm rain when he came in a sling and greeted people..It is what is in your heart that matters and I am an old hippie from California and will never treat anyone like I was treated~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I WAS TREATED LIKE CRAP, YET I TREAT EVERYONE LIKE IT IS THE LAST DAY AND OR EVENING I COULD EVER SAY HI AND HOW ARE YOU AND LOVE..I guess being a live and let live human works a lot in my life..enjoy your blog and your thoughts about everything! peace out~

Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines said...

I don't know who to believe anymore...if I listen to talking news heads- we are near to blowing ourselves to oblivion. The longer the tv and radio stay off..the better my mood about our current state of affairs.

Anonymous said...

Back in the 1950s, we did not take tests to see how "smart" we were - only how "intelligent". Smart is relative to the environment, is it not? I would expect younger people to be "smarter" about figuring out how to live in today's environment. They probably wouldn't be so "smart" about living in the environment of the 1940s, 1950s, or even earlier.



joared said...

This is an excellent view of our current state of the union. I think one of the major differences affecting so much both positive and negative has to do with the increase in population. Also, there are major changes in the predominant nationalities populating our country. Those who fear no longer being the majority, those who fear change, those who want to feed those fears and create more for whatever their reasons -- recent years has been political -- promote the negative for their own gain. So much more as you note. Good to be reminded to look at history as Schmidley scribbled!

Brian said...

If kids are "smarter" in a practical sense, which IQ testing doesn't measure, you can't prove it by my experience. Increasingly over the past 40 years of my working, whether digging ditches, supervising professionals or managing large organizations, literacy in a real sense, arithmetic skills, and critical evaluation and thinking abilities have greatly diminished.

A high school diploma, even a college degree, is proof of nothing but spending years being indoctrinated in current issue advocacy - today's includes gender toilet identification...yes, seriously. Today's "grumpy" climate is typified by "tolerant" students demanding "safe zones" from contrary opinions they deem -phobic, -istic, or merely "inappropriate" and prefer to stamp out, afraid of the very diversity of thought they lovingly promote. They even find "Trump2016" chalked on benches too threatening. And there must be punishment for "deniers" or deviants.

Liberty (and personal responsibility for choices and outcomes) scares hell out of these brilliant 120 IQ kids. Americans are destined to fully surrender individual liberty for government "security" and enforced social/economic "fairness" in another generation or two.

These kids ain't so bright.

Laura Lee Carter said...

My pessimism comes from having a Congress that does nothing, and interestingly nobody seems to care. This suggests to me that we are stuck with what is, and have no hope of changing the many problems we face. No matter who we elect next to the presidency, if Congress continues this gridlock approach to government, we are sunk.