It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear

It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear

Is civilization teetering on the edge of a cliff? Or are we just climbing higher than ever?Most people who read the news would tell you that 2017 is one of the worst years in recent memory. We're facing a series of deeply troubling, even existential problems: fascism, terrorism, environmental collapse, racial and economic inequality, and more.Yet this narrative misses some...

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Title:It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear
Author:Gregg Easterbrook
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It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear Reviews

  • Roxanne

    This is a Goodreads win review. This book is very relevant to the times we are living in. Every I see the news on any channel it is full of American politics, and what bad shape our country is in. We also see almost daily acts of terrorism, rascism, wage inequality, sexual harrassement, climate change, natural disasters from weather. So the state of things looks pretty bad. But despite these problems democracy is still the best form of government for the better world we want to live in. He state

    This is a Goodreads win review. This book is very relevant to the times we are living in. Every I see the news on any channel it is full of American politics, and what bad shape our country is in. We also see almost daily acts of terrorism, rascism, wage inequality, sexual harrassement, climate change, natural disasters from weather. So the state of things looks pretty bad. But despite these problems democracy is still the best form of government for the better world we want to live in. He states and I agree that we should banish the electoral college and replace it with the popular vote. I live in a block of states that the Democrats think we do not matter because we do not have heavy electoral votes so we were not campained much in and they needed our states as it turned out because they lost. The second part of the book is how we can make a better world. We need to address climate change. inequality with other countries, improve our public schools and teach skills for the labor market as every student does not go to college. and move the country forward with optimism.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    I have many policy disagreements with the author, for example, his take on entitlements but I agree with most of the spirit of the book. Things are not as bad as they look and holding on to an overly pessimistic view of current events can lead to problems of our own making. Remember kiddies right-wing authoritarian ideologies thrive on fear. Things are not as bad as they seem and will get better more from an outlook that looks more for the positive than dwell on the negative.

  • D.L. Morrese

    From the title, I expected this book to be much like those by Steven Pinker, showing how human life has steadily improved from generation to generation, about how we've reduced things like hunger, disease, poverty, crime, and war by implementing the ideas of the Enlightenment. There is some of that in these pages, but Easterbrook isn't really looking at the broad scope of history here. He is more focused on today, or at least on the last century. His main point is that things today (in general)

    From the title, I expected this book to be much like those by Steven Pinker, showing how human life has steadily improved from generation to generation, about how we've reduced things like hunger, disease, poverty, crime, and war by implementing the ideas of the Enlightenment. There is some of that in these pages, but Easterbrook isn't really looking at the broad scope of history here. He is more focused on today, or at least on the last century. His main point is that things today (in general) are far better than politicians, social media, and most news reports might suggest.

    Humans, he states, are predisposed by their evolution to suspect threats and be wary of the unknown. Even though most shadows are harmless, treating all as if they are bears hiding in the bushes has survival value because, every once in a while, there really is a bear. Politicians and the media exploit our inherent fears (sometimes intentionally) for their own benefit. His take on how current politicians have done so abound.

    This isn't an objective or scholarly work. There is little statistical data, no graphs, no detailed analysis, and he freely shares his personal opinions and value judgments (such that Western ideals are moral and that a well regulated market economy is the economic ideal). Despite these differences, he comes to much the same conclusions as Pinker does in

    and in

    . Things aren't only not bad; they are better than they ever have been. That doesn't mean we don't have serious problems. Disease, crime, poverty, and hunger have been reduced, but they haven't been eliminated. Challenges such as climate change and wealth disparity certainly need to addressed. But history shows that humans are quite good at overcoming challenges.

  • Sid

    If you can ignore the politicians (they want your vote) and the news media (if it bleeds it leads), one can objectively see that never before has civilization looked this promising. Disease control, food production, peace and prosperity have been at record highs. This is the fundamental thesis that Gregg portends.

    That said, the situation around the world (especially in the US) is far from perfect. Wealth disparity continues to widen. Our nation's debt levels and future social security is dubious

    If you can ignore the politicians (they want your vote) and the news media (if it bleeds it leads), one can objectively see that never before has civilization looked this promising. Disease control, food production, peace and prosperity have been at record highs. This is the fundamental thesis that Gregg portends.

    That said, the situation around the world (especially in the US) is far from perfect. Wealth disparity continues to widen. Our nation's debt levels and future social security is dubious at best. Our children's lack of drive and emphasis on learning marketable skills can be questioned. Even still, one cannot question the rise in the quality of life across the board, especially in developing countries.

    The US struggles in some of the above areas. Regulations such as Universal Basic Income and investments in transportation can help ease some of the challenges we face currently. Regulations in fact served us well in the past, just look at ending slavery, regulating CO2, eliminating CFC's etc.

    Ultimately we are better off today than life was 50 or 100 years ago (World Wars, working in mines, racism etc. all things of the past). Gregg urges us all to embrace Dynamism, for each day and each challenge we face is different and requires a problem solvers mindset. By embracing and relishing in the desire to improve a situation, we will continue to propel mankind forward.

  • Clif Hostetler

    This book takes a look at current conditions in comparison to the past and concludes that life is much better now than in the past. It's better in almost every way—we live longer, we are richer, we are less subject to violence, and we are more democratic. Along the way Easterbrook acknowledges that there are plenty of problems to overcome and threats to avoid. He argues that the fixes are available and not too hard to attain—though nothing in life is simple.

    I can't help but think of those famou

    This book takes a look at current conditions in comparison to the past and concludes that life is much better now than in the past. It's better in almost every way—we live longer, we are richer, we are less subject to violence, and we are more democratic. Along the way Easterbrook acknowledges that there are plenty of problems to overcome and threats to avoid. He argues that the fixes are available and not too hard to attain—though nothing in life is simple.

    I can't help but think of those famous opening lines, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." I agree that it is good to be aware of the progress humans have made, but not to the point of complacency. We still need to keep working on solutions and hope for the best.

    There are places in the book where I suspect Easterbrook has managed to make the statistics say what he wanted them to say by applying small tweaks:

    The above needs some fact checking before broadcasting. What sort of "higher benefits" was he including?

    He also claims that the reason that the proportional size of the middle class is shrinking is because more people are advancing into the upper class than the number entering from below. That may be good news for those who are advancing, but does not erase the reality of wealth disparity. (See excerpt at end of this review.)

    On the subject of wealth disparity Easterbrook makes the point that disparity of wealth may be increasing in China, but it was accompanied with the removal of 750 million people from destitution in China over a 30 year period. This probably qualifies as a human achievement of historic proportions, but of not much consequence to western economies except to lower consumer prices (good) and lose manufacturing (not so good).

    Among the "easy" solutions suggested by Easterbrook includes the Universal Basic Income in which each adult would receive $1,000 a month unconditionally. It would reduce income inequality and much of its cost would be offset by elimination of government bureaucracy that is currently needed to prevent fraud. On paper this appears to work, but it's hard to imagine the political aspects of accomplishing this.

    The following is an excerpt from where the book discusses the "shrinking middle class:"

  • Kolumbina

    An interesting and unforgettable book by Gregg Easterbrook.

    Finally some positive and refreshing facts and thoughts which brought hope and optimism in reader's minds.

  • Roozbeh Daneshvar

    This book is a must-read, especially with the current pessimist and nostalgic good old days mood all around us. It was one of the books that changed my view significantly towards many aspects, e.g. climate change, economy, violence and poverty. A large portion of the optimism is based on a myriad of facts and numbers, which are convincing. Yet, I have the impression that sometimes they are also based on some wishful thinking and not as concrete as the other sections. I felt that sometimes the ar

    This book is a must-read, especially with the current pessimist and nostalgic good old days mood all around us. It was one of the books that changed my view significantly towards many aspects, e.g. climate change, economy, violence and poverty. A large portion of the optimism is based on a myriad of facts and numbers, which are convincing. Yet, I have the impression that sometimes they are also based on some wishful thinking and not as concrete as the other sections. I felt that sometimes the arguments were not as solid and accurate as they could have been.

    The book was very recent with references to a lot of recent developments in the world (and it felt good to read a book this much up to date). It was very well polished and well written. Yet, it seemed that The last chapters were written in haste. They did not have the clarity and flowing narration of the previous chapters. This book could have ended better.

  • Anna

    I am so steeped in the culture of fear-mongering that even though this book espouses optimism at every turn I found myself more afraid on some of the issues presented after I read the book than I was before! This is why it took me some time to finish the book. Having finally finished it I am glad I read it and will try to be more hopeful about what might happen in the future. Perhaps I can learn to fact check those politicians and news media that spew out the pessimism.

    Popsugar 2018 (advanced):

    I am so steeped in the culture of fear-mongering that even though this book espouses optimism at every turn I found myself more afraid on some of the issues presented after I read the book than I was before! This is why it took me some time to finish the book. Having finally finished it I am glad I read it and will try to be more hopeful about what might happen in the future. Perhaps I can learn to fact check those politicians and news media that spew out the pessimism.

    Popsugar 2018 (advanced): A book about a problem facing society today

  • E

    Gregg Easterbrook is on solid ground when detailing the outline of his title argument. The agricultural revolution has led to more food than we know what to do with. Life expectancy continues to rise for the most part. The environment is cleaner than it has been in decades. The worldwide economy continues to grow. Violence and war are in decline. Technology makes us safer (although he underestimates how social media and the smartphone are killing us morally). Democracy has made incredible gains

    Gregg Easterbrook is on solid ground when detailing the outline of his title argument. The agricultural revolution has led to more food than we know what to do with. Life expectancy continues to rise for the most part. The environment is cleaner than it has been in decades. The worldwide economy continues to grow. Violence and war are in decline. Technology makes us safer (although he underestimates how social media and the smartphone are killing us morally). Democracy has made incredible gains since the start of the Great War, assuming we can keep them.

    Easterbrook is on less solid ground when he looks to the future. I could hardly summarize the Whiggish view of history better than the last line of this book: "History has an arrow, and the arrow of history points forever upward." That is quite an optimistic eschatology from someone who hardly mentions faith in the entire book. To get to this glorious future, however, Easterbrook has some odd places to go: higher taxes (although, I could support his ideas for cap-and-trade to lower greenhouse gas emissions if those taxes really were equally rebated in the form of lower payroll and income taxes; fat chance); abolishment of the electoral college (he really shows his lack of historical and political understanding here); universal basic income; and more. The author should have stuck with his original premise instead of trying to pretend to be a policy expert!

    Where Easterbrook really goes wrong is that he seems to have no guiding moral principle for ascertaining if things really are "better." But then again, can any secular mindset provide such principles? He speaks highly of religious belief in his TMQ columns, but doesn't seem to reflect any internalization of such a perspective. It's all statistics. He applauds gay "marriage" but doesn't have anything to say about the death of 60 million unborn children (to cite a highly charged but never irrelevant example). He points out that there is no "golden age" of history, which may or may not be right, but doesn't mourn the passing of the shared moral foundation that the West has held for merely two millennia. Even the dangers of wealth seem to pass by without comment.

    I may be disappointed with Easterbrook, but the first half of the book, proving his title thesis, is spot on. And he is not afraid to be politically incorrect, critiquing hypocritical panderers on both sides of the aisle. His conclusion might be shunned in polite society (the "Davos set"), but boy is it important:

    "If poverty in the developing world is to continue to decline, global resource consumption must go up. . . Consumption of energy, metals, water, concrete, agricultural chemicals must rise. . . . The earth can sustain a big increase in resource consumption--can society? . . . The conventional wisdom is that the whole world cannot live like Americans and western Europeans. To the contrary: for the whole world to live at the Western standard is the only moral course, and given rates of improvements in living standards, coupled to per-capita reductions in pollution and resource waste, is not an impossible dream."

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