Happy New Year

Posted: Dec 30, 2002 12:00 AM
It is thought, in blase circles, rather bad form to pass on good news. But this is New Year time, and the Cato Institute has reissued a rhapsody of Coueisms (Emil Coue is the ebullient guy who pronounced early in the 20th century that every day, in every way, things were getting better and better). It is titled "It's Getting Better All the Time: 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years." The volume, brought together by Stephen Moore and Julian L. Simon, is good for a deep draft of counter-despair between the potholes of contemporary history.

Here we go with just a few of the data, marvelously produced graphically and in color:

Incidence of selected diseases in the United States: Deaths from pneumonia in 1900 per 100,000 population: 0.144; in 1998, 0.04. From tuberculosis, 0.113, 0.05.

Five-year relative cancer survival rates: 1960, 39 percent, 1990, 62 percent. (Among blacks, the figures also improve, though not so markedly -- i.e., from 27 percent to 47 percent.)

Age-adjusted heart disease death rates per 100,000 population: 1950, 307; 1998, 126.

The Cato survey does not ignore what would seem to some to be tangential questions: How often do you take a bath or shower in the winter? Only once a week 1950, 17 percent; only once a week 1999, 1 percent. At least once a day? 1950, 29 percent; 1999, 75 percent.

Gross domestic product (in billions of 1998 dollars): 1900, $900; in 1998, $32,000.

Average income levels (in 1998 dollars): 1820, $1,556; in 1998, $32,444.

Per capita GDP in 1900, the United States (100) was exceeded by Great Britain (112) and Australia (103). In 1998, with the U.S. at 100, the closest was Canada at 90, followed by France at 79. Britain was 69.

Median family income (in 1997 dollars): 1947, $20,102; in 1997, $44,568.

Millionaire households in current dollars: 1892, 0.03 percent; in 1975, 0.5 percent; in 1998, 7.7 percent.

The explanatory text on stock values lists the finding of statistician Jeremy Siegel, author of "Stocks for the Long Run." It reports that "for roughly the past 150 years the average annual rate of return in the stock market has been more than 10 percent. There has never been a 40-year period in U.S. history when the markets have deviated significantly from the long-term trend." The Dow was 72 in 1920, and hit 10,000 in 2000.

Median household wealth in 1998 dollars: 1962, $33,000; 1998, $71,600.

Mass capitalism -- percentage of all workers who own stock: 1965, 11 percent; 1999, 52 percent.

Teenage substance abuse is down in every category (cigarettes, alcohol, heavy alcohol, marijuana, cocaine) since 1979, but up in all categories since 1996.

In 1960, a 3-minute telephone call to San Francisco from New York cost $12.66. Today, $0.36. The life of a light bulb is four times what it was 10 years ago. Over the past 50 years, the rate of death from catastrophic accidents (accidents killing at least five people) has fallen about fourfold. The percentage of streams usable for fishing and swimming: in 1972, 36 percent; in 1994, 86 percent.

Had enough? For more, write to the Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Ave., Washington, D.C. 20001.

And remember: If you had some ham, we could have a ham sandwich, if I had some bread.

That's the other face of Coueism, but over New Year's, we should pay it no heed.