Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 closes with a surprising wave of optimism

Let's face it, 2014 was full of lamentable news events, and while I'm usually able to maintain an optimistic outlook by looking at the big picture, I'm also resigned to the media rarely sharing that viewpoint. So I was completely surprised to see a wave of overall "good news" articles popping up in the last week. I've followed (and written) articles like this for years, and I can't remember the last time I saw this many written at the same time.

Some of it is inspired by economic news. By all accounts, the economy has been successfully recovering for a while now, although not necessarily in a way - or at a pace - that benefits everyone. But here's a New York Times article about the economic recovery finally spreading to the middle class in the form of wage gains.

I don't usually talk about specific economic news when discussing the Secret Peace, because I'm more concerned with long-term trends than with any specific economic cycle. The economy goes up, and the economy goes down, once a decade or so, and it always will. That's why I was glad to see other positive articles focusing on issues beyond rising consumer confidence and falling gas prices.

Michael Grunwald's article in Politico, for example, talks a lot about the economy but also raises good points about the press's negative focus and our reluctance to discuss good news. He writes, "This bah-humbug brand of moral superiority has flourished since the crisis: How dare you celebrate this or that piece of economic data when so many Americans are still hurting? It’s awkward to argue with that view, since many Americans are indeed still hurting. But the economic data keep showing that fewer Americans are hurting every month. ... Better is better than worse."

He goes on to write, "Let’s face it: The press has a problem reporting good news. Two Americans died of Ebola and cable TV flipped out; now we're Ebola-free and no one seems to care. The same thing happened with the flood of migrant children across the Mexican border, which was a horrific crisis until it suddenly wasn't. Nobody’s going to win a Pulitzer Prize for recognizing that we're smoking less, driving less, wasting less electricity and committing less crime. Police are killing fewer civilians, and fewer police are getting killed, but understandably, after the tragedies in Ferguson and Brooklyn, nobody's thinking about that these days. The media keep us in a perpetual state of panic about spectacular threats to our safety — Ebola, sharks, terrorism — but we’re much likelier to die in a car accident. Although, it ought to be said, much less likely than we used to be; highway fatalities are down 25 percent in a decade."

For an even more comprehensive look at the big picture, Steven Pinker can always be relied upon for well-researched, compelling updates. In this Slate article, he and Andrew Mack try to get past the sensationalism of the media and examine trends objectively, by tallying numbers. Take a look at some of these excellent charts:

They write, "The world is not falling apart. The kinds of violence to which most people are vulnerable—homicide, rape, battering, child abuse—have been in steady decline in most of the world. Autocracy is giving way to democracy. Wars between states—by far the most destructive of all conflicts—are all but obsolete. ... We have been told of impending doom before: a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, a line of dominoes in Southeast Asia, revanchism in a reunified Germany, a rising sun in Japan, cities overrun by teenage superpredators, a coming anarchy that would fracture the major nation-states, and weekly 9/11-scale attacks that would pose an existential threat to civilization. Why is the world always “more dangerous than it has ever been” — even as a greater and greater majority of humanity lives in peace and dies of old age?"

Topping even Pinker and Mack's charts is this article listing 26 important charts that show the world is getting better. Their charts cover wildly different stats - much like my book - that all add up to an improving world. Some highlights:

Lastly, astronaut Chris Hadfield leaves us with this short uplifting look at the state of the world - and an excellent challenge for each of us to make the most of 2015. Happy new year!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What about the wage gap?

One of the data points from my book concerns the gender wage gap, showing the difference between the money a woman makes as compared to a man performing the same job. The Secret Peace included a chart showing how that gap has been narrowing for the last few decades:

Since the last data point I had before my book was published was from 2004, I thought I'd look up if there was anything more recent. Sure enough, I had marked a mention in The Week from December 2013: "According to new data from Pew Research, the wage gap for American women under 32 has shrunk to 7 percent. But among all ages, women make 16 percent less than men." 16 percent less than men means 84 percent of their wages, so let's update our chart to reflect that:

We see that the line continues exactly as we would expect. It's maybe slowing slightly, but overall it's practically a straight, linear trend from 1975 to today. Does this mean that, sometime around 2035, we can expect to see pay parity? I don't know; the last few points could be more difficult ... but signs look good.

This issue was in the news again recently, and there was a lot of debate over what the exact numbers are. Personally, I think the number matters less than a few key points:

  1. There is still a wage gap.
  2. It is decreasing, albeit slowly.
  3. It is decreasing not due to natural causes but thanks to the tireless work of countless individuals.

That same Week article mentioned, "Millennial-age women are just ‘as pessimistic as their mothers and grandmothers regarding gender equality.'" This is a real shame, since we can see that younger women are working with a much smaller pay gap than in the past. Is it ridiculous that there's still a pay gap at all in 2014? Of course, but it's important not to get too cynical, lest we stop working to eliminate it. My daughter will be working age around 2033 ... here's hoping she finds a finally fair working world.

One group working on this issue is the National Women's Law Center, which you can donate to here.