The Potomac River, near my house in Washington, stunk so badly of raw sewage 30 years ago, no one wanted to live near it. When Richard Nixon went out on his yacht, he had to keep the windows closed and stay inside. The Chicago River was so filthy that in Upton Sinclair's 1906 book, "The Jungle," chickens walked across it.
The air is getting cleaner, too. Since 1970, smog has dropped by a third despite a near doubling of the number of automobiles. In 2000, Democrats made a big deal about how Houston had overtaken Los Angeles as the new "smog capital." It did. But what wasn't mentioned was that Houston's air had gotten cleaner, just not as fast as L.A.'s.
We are living in an age of increasingly abundant resources. Most commodities like oil, ores, metals and coal are cheaper - i.e., in economic terms, more available - today than they were 20 years ago. And, with the exception of fresh water in the Middle East and groundwater in China, no important resource is expected to be in short supply for decades to come. That goes for oil, too.
Not only is the environment healthier, we are, too. Despite all of the hand-wringing about one epidemic or another, Americans are living longer - much longer. In 1900, life expectancy was 41 years. Today it is 77 and rising. Social Security was pegged to age 65 because most people weren't expected to live that long. Today, the global life expectancy is 66 years.
Deaths from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, fire, automobile accidents and suicide have all declined in the West. In the United States, infant mortality has dropped 45 percent since 1980 to the lowest in U.S. history.
Deaths from crime have dropped too, because crime in the United States has fallen dramatically for more than a decade. Teenage drinking is down (though this is largely due to the fact that my college buddies have gotten older and married).
Cigarette smoking is down a lot, divorce is trending down a little and teen pregnancy is down a ton. We have had a 20-year economic boom punctuated by two relative mild recessions, and the economy seems poised to boom again.
I would lose my conservative-movement decoder ring if I were to say everything's hunky-dory. But as Easterbrook notes, most of our real problems are the consequences of our successes, not our failures.
We're wrangling over Medicare, for example, because our older citizens are living longer and demanding top-flight healthcare - and they get it. This is a good problem to have.
Similarly, having Lucy perform her latest hit from The Explosive Pants Project is a great problem, compared to not having her around. So this Thanksgiving - her first - let's take a moment to think of all the problems we have that we should be thankful for.