We live in confusing times. And I for one am not afraid to admit it.
It wasn't long ago when we knew how the economy worked. Prosperity was good. Jobs were good. Ambition was good. We saved for the future and aspired to live more affluent lives than our parents did. We agreed on a set of moral and social principles. Politeness was good. Consideration was good. Narcissism was bad. Insults were bad. Crime was bad.
But everything has become much more muddied in our modern times. For example:
The Federal Reserve worries about deflation, and for years has been trying to get the inflation rate up to 2%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the 2018 inflation rate was only 1.9%, and for 2019 it barely rose to 2%. So if this is the case, how can there be, according to many sources including the Atlantic, a "cost-of-living crisis" because of "ballooning rents, sky-high child care prices, spiraling out-of-pocket health-care fees and heavy educational debt loads." How can there be a "cost of living crisis" when there is no inflation?
And how it is that people are up in arms about global warming, yet Americans are now buying more gas-guzzling SUVs than ever before? For the first time, in 2019, more trucks than cars were sold in America, while electrics and hybrids together make up just 8% of the market. Meanwhile, we plug more computers and more air conditioners into the electric grid, which leads power companies to burn more coal, oil and gas, sending yet more hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.
Then all the experts worry over how the planet is going to accommodate our ballooning population, now at 7.8 billion people and climbing to 10 billion in the next 30 years. I recently read The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert which suggests that global warming is the least of our problems. We will starve to death or catch a fatal communicable disease even before we drown in the rising waters.
Yet at the same time experts wring their hands over our low birthrate. The United States is not producing enough children even to replace our population. Neither are Europe, China or Japan. So our economy won't grow. Our standard of living will decline. And there will be nobody to support us in our old age.
I read a piece from NPR the other day. Here we are in the age of instant communication, with phones and texting and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and a myriad of ways to connect with other people. And yet, according to NPR, we as Americans suffer a loneliness crisis. Older adults are especially vulnerable since many live in isolation at the very same time they are dealing with the loss of a spouse or close friend or relative. Loneliness, in turn, has led to higher suicide rates, especially among the elderly, and mostly especially among elderly men.
But loneliness is not restricted to the elderly. One study by the insurance company Cigna found that about half of Americans view themselves as lonely. And somewhere between 20% and 40% are beyond lonely, classified as "socially isolated."
Another report from San Diego State University said that increased use of social media is actually correlated with increased feelings of loneliness. Is it possible that sometimes the answers to our problems are actually causing the problems?
Maybe it's time to get back to some basics. Maybe we don't need a big, hulking SUV just to get around town. Maybe we can put the credit card away for a while -- both personally and nationally -- and realize what our parents told us, that money doesn't grow on trees. Maybe we should unplug our computers, at least for a while, and go for a walk with some friends, read a book, and be polite during conversations with our neighbors and fellow countrymen.