New York Times: America’s Best Days May Be Behind It

Eduardo Porter of the New York Times writes that the United States saw a dramatic increase in its standard of living during the half century before the 1960s but hasn’t in the 50 years since.

From the New York Times:

Take a look back at some of the most popular TV programs of the mid-1960s — “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Bewitched,” even “The Beverly Hillbillies” — and what do you see?

Like today, middle-class Americans typically had washing machines and air-conditioning, telephones and cars. The Internet and video games were not yet invented. But life, over all, did not look that different.

There were TVs and radios in most homes. Millions of people worked in downtown offices and lived in suburbs, connected by multilane highways. Americans’ average life expectancy at birth was 70, only eight years less than it is today.

But flash back 50 years earlier. Then, less than half the population lived in cities. Though Ford Model T’s were starting to roll off the assembly line, Americans typically moved around on horse-drawn buggies on dirt or cobblestone roads. Refrigerators or TVs? Most homes weren’t even wired for electricity. And average life expectancy was only 53.

Americans like to think they live in an era of rapid and unprecedented change, but this kind of comparison — pitting the momentous changes of the mid-20th century against the seemingly more modest progress of our present era — raises a critical question about the nation’s future prosperity.

What does this portend for our well-being over the next half century? Has technological progress slowed for good?

The idea that America’s best days are behind us sits in sharp tension with the high-tech optimism radiating from the offices of the technology start-ups and venture capital firms of Silicon Valley. But it lies at the heart of the current political unrest. And it is about to elbow its way forcefully into the national conversation.

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