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Opening Arguments

Better and better

Maybe we should stop being so pessimistic about the prospects for coming generations:

Since 1992, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has been asking: Do you feel confident or not confident that life for our children's generation will be better than it has been for us?" Only once did even a plurality suggest that Americans believe that their children would be better off. That was in December, 2001 with a 49 percent confident and 47 percent not confident.

The latest poll result was from May of this year: 30 percent were confident the kids will be better off and 63 percent were not so confident.

As Thomas Macaulay asked in 1830: “On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”

Good question.

The fact is that, with rare exceptions, each generation has done better than preceding ones. That is as true as it has always been -- according to the Pew Center poll cited in the story, 84 percent of Americans are now richer than their parents were at the same age.

I remember vividly eing blown away by the fact that my first paycheck as a professional journalist was more than the last paycheck of my father's working life. Now it's not always going to be that dramatic -- we're talking about blue collar jobs and a 6th grade education vs. a college-educated white-collar worker, after all. But even incremental increases are important part of our expectation's in a capitalistic republic. Even adjusted for inflation and taking into account how many more things there always are to spend on, we should expect to do better and better. We always have, so why won't we continue to? Good question indeed.