Every Other Generation Had It Better Than Us

Plenty of studies indicate that everything will go downhill from here.

The Congressional Budget Office changed it's long term GDP growth rate from 3% to 1.9%. Those Americans who were 65 years old in 2010 will receive net benefits of more than $300 billion, while those unborn will pay almost $400 billion to cover these costs in the future. Every age cohort around the world clamors to be called the "lost generation," with the latest report stating that Italians born in 1970 will pay 50% more in taxes while receiving half the benefits of those born in 1952. Youth unemployment brings the fear of an unexperienced working class trying to support an older world, while staying in school increases student debt levels that are becoming more difficult to pay back. Throw in climate change and government budget issues, and it becomes difficult to see any hope of overcoming our problems.

Should we just give up now? Go live with our parents while throwing away any hope for future prosperity?

No. Here's why.

Innovation
Many claim that innovation is dead. Economist Tyler Cowen calls it the "Great Stagnation": Over the last century or so we were fortunate to reap the easy rewards of things like abundant land, cheap fuel, and educating a relatively uneducated population, but now there isn't much left to dramatically power productivity. However, this may all be a lack a patience to see what relatively recent innovations, such as the Internet, will allow.

As The Economist writes, "Roughly a century lapsed between the first commercial deployments of James Watt's steam engine and steam's peak contribution to British growth." It simply might take some time to incorporate all the possibilities of new technology into our lives. For example, computers still operate on coding written in text that deters many from programming for themselves, but image recognition, voice recognition, and increased bandwidth and processing power could allow much more accesible forms of programming to help everyday people automate and create programs.

One example The Economist cites is automated cars:

In 2004 the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a branch of America's Department of Defence, set up a race for driverless cars that promised $1 million to the team whose vehicle finished the 240km (150-mile) route fastest. Not one of the robotic entrants completed the course. In August 2012 Google  (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) announced that its fleet of autonomous vehicles had completed some half a million kilometres of accident-free test runs.

Add in Google's Glass project that turns humans into a light form of the Terminator -- an extremely efficient and productive cyborg -- and there is hope to believe that computers are just beginning to drive growth. And this growth will be key in covering the expenses of an older, stormier, debt-ridden world.

Resilience
Humans, over our short time, have faced much worse prospects than debt and low growth. About 70,000 years ago, a super volcano erupted, ejecting 2,800 times more material than Mount St. Helens and supposedly leaving the reproductive human population at about 1,000 individuals. In more recent history, plagues, famines, and world wars have all appeared to doom us. But we found ways around these problems.

The stability of the Eurozone has been in question since 2009, but those in charge at the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund have been able to create emergency loans for troubled countries, working with sovereign leaders to affect policy and, in Greece, even drastically renegotiating debt with 50% losses for private creditors without tearing apart the economic union. Avoiding a poor outcome is in most of the world's interests, and so far Europe has been pretty successful, even in tough economic conditions.

Take even company-specific problems that seemed intractable. Apple  (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) was losing $1 billion a year and seeing double-digit sales declines when Steve Jobs returned in 1997. Now, it makes more than $1 billion in profit per week and still sells more than $2 billion per quarter in iPods -- a product which came out in 2001.

Or look at Sirius XM  (NASDAQ: SIRI  ) . Once trading for a few nickels in the depths of the recession, it had reportedly hired advisors to prepare it for bankruptcy, as it had more than $3 billion in debt. Before a large portion of its debt came due, however, Liberty Media  (NASDAQ: LMCA  ) invested more than $500 million for a 40% stake in the company. Now, Liberty Media owns more than 50% of the satellite radio provider, and Sirius produced free cash flow in excess of $700 million last year. Space junk turned into heavenly profit.

Making the best of it
While there is plenty to worry about today, there has always been plenty to worry about. Humans, thankfully, are an intelligent species that can handle plenty of hardship, although they may complain along the way. The only option we have is to make the best of the time we live in and try to improve our circumstances as much as we can. Labeling a generation "lost" does no good, unless it inspires people to find solutions.

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  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2013, at 9:32 PM, UFQuack wrote:

    Pure BS

  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2013, at 9:53 PM, techy46 wrote:

    "Every Other Generation Had It Better Than Us"

    Oh you arrogant, spoiled, self centered little brats. You have the freedoms to do whatever you want and haven't had to fight (ie. drafted) to protect any of them while conscripts fight your religious wars. How about working any job you can get for a living and maybe you'll save enough to buy a house and retire some day.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2013, at 3:47 AM, TMFHelloNewman wrote:

    @UFQuack

    Thanks for reading and giving your insightful comment.

    @techy46

    I see you read through the entire article instead of just the title, especially the part about "the only option we have is to make the best of the time we live in and try to improve our circumstances as much as we can." Thanks for the comprehensive reading.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2013, at 7:16 AM, qrthotist wrote:

    Would it be a bad thing to once again start

    thinking 100% America and Americans,

    house cleaning.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2013, at 8:39 AM, JamesRobertDobbs wrote:

    Lack of innovation isn't the reason why the current generation isn't living as well as previous generations. The problems are:

    1) High hospital and pharmaceutical costs due to a mostly unregulated medical industry (at least here in the US)

    2) Poorer health due to more automation, diets with higher fat/salt/sugar content, fewer sidewalks and safe areas to walk or exercise, higher stress levels due to a 24-hour news cycle that emphasizes violence, risk and conflict.

    3) Taxpayers having their money taken by corporations who are getting increasingly better at forcing governments to cater to their desires instead of citizens' needs.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 12:16 PM, Jim5345 wrote:

    Sure, no problem, BUT, ah, how do we pay back 130 trillion unfunded liability?

    YOU ALL FORGET OUR DEBT??

    WHY?

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 12:54 PM, HanSoLow wrote:

    @JamesRobertDobbs

    1) High medical costs are a problem; however, the medical industry is highly regulated. How long does it take for a drug company to get a drug to market? years because of regulations (not necessairly a bad thing). Can you see a difference between the government sector of the health insurance industry and the private? I think that because the government side (medicare / medicaid) has become so large and dominant that they can effectively dictate lower prices to the providers (through regulations) for that portion of the population using those services and shift the cost burden to the private sector side of health insurance. That is one of the main reasons why I think premiums have risen for private health ins.

    2) Your point about poorer health and higher stress is purely a personal choice to partake in such things. We now have more choice than ever before over what we eat, do, and watch due to modern infrastructure / distribution (superMARKETS and the internet)

    3) I don't dispute your thrid point. The tax code is a massive mess that caters to the well connected's ability to get it tailored to themselves. I would dispute that it is not corporations taking taxpayers money. It is government taking taxpayers money. The government has almost no place protecting favored businesses at the expense of other businesses and individuals.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 1:04 PM, MoreIsNotEnough wrote:

    I could go into all the detail of what I’ve observed in my 65 years, and expound upon what I see as the trend of our country’s future, but I don’t feel up to being flamed at the moment. I’ll just say the I believe from the 1950’s to the mid 1960’s was probably the best times for most (but not all) in this country. After that, it was good in some areas of life, but our society just started going down hill. I see things getting worse and worse at an alarming rate now, and I believe America’s day in the sun is coming to rapid end. I’m glad that I got to live during the best of times.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 1:05 PM, cgg11 wrote:

    I believe you mean "every generation had it better than ours."

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 2:40 PM, 48ozhalfgallons wrote:

    MoreIsNotEnough: Yup, as your contemporary, I share your viewpoint. The fall seemed to begin with the assassination of Kennedy. It wasn't Kennedy himself so much as the events and players which followed. LBJ of '64 was as modern as any contemporary political leader. Nothing has changed since then. Growing up with a single mom sans resources was survivable then. Not now!

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 5:34 PM, Fitzharrisl wrote:

    I know this article is about finance, but when the author can not get the grammar correct, I have problems going much further. Someone should have helped Dan finished the sentence....better than we do.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 5:47 PM, Gidiga wrote:

    To be grammatically correct the headline should read:

    Every other generation had it better than we.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 6:00 PM, FinnMcCoolIRA wrote:

    The problem facing the current - and future - American generations has nothing to do with "Innovation", etc.

    The root problem in America is the ever growing and totally out of control power and intrusivemess of government [Federal & State]. Such all powerful government has and will continue to destroy the very character of American individualism and freedom which is necessary for an enhanced future.

    In short, every aspect of American life is being negatively influenced (destroyed?) by a 'Big Brother' state which will crumble free markets and private initiative. The slow but deadly growth of the "State" began more than 80 years ago and has now reached its pinnacle in the reelection of what is assuredly a Marxist-Socialist president with grandiose but stiffling ideas.

    There are many positive and hopeful things POSSIBLE in the future .... but not if the long trend in central control by government continues.

    On this our current course, the future is quite bleak!

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 6:55 PM, ryanalexanderson wrote:

    > To be grammatically correct the headline should read: Every other generation had it better than we.

    100% wrong. Seriously? "we" is a subject pronoun, "us" is an object pronoun. "Every other generation" is the subject, "us" is the object.

    Please hand in your grammar police badge. You've let down the entire force.

    Good article. I'm a bit bummed out by the debts, but I figure 10 years of above average inflation will clear them out. The long term advantages of North America are undeniable, and there's still no major competitor in innovation, arable land, and many other categories.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 6:56 PM, ryanalexanderson wrote:

    > To be grammatically correct the headline should read: Every other generation had it better than we.

    100% wrong. Seriously? "we" is a subject pronoun, "us" is an object pronoun. "Every other generation" is the subject, "us" is the object.

    Please hand in your grammar police badge. You've let down the entire force.

    Good article. I'm a bit bummed out by the debts, but I figure 10 years of above average inflation will clear them out. The long term advantages of North America are undeniable, and there's still no major competitor in innovation, arable land, and many other categories.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 7:32 PM, szcz wrote:

    An intrusive government is degrading our society. Innovation will not help nor will inflation.

    Mr. Dobbs, a respondent above, writes that "corporations are taking our money". That is astonishing. On April 15th, the government will take my money and if I refuse to pay, ultimately someone from the government will come to my house with a gun and make me do whatever he wants. Exxon will not do that to me.

    Mr. Dobbs has obviously been indoctrinated from K1 until his graduation from either high school or college.

    We are no more than sharecroppers on the government plantation.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 8:27 PM, NickD wrote:

    How is this helping us invest.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 8:48 PM, FinnMcCoolIRA wrote:

    "How is this helping us invest."

    By being cognizant of the known risks of the "State", one has an opportunity to select representatives who WILL NOT interfere in the free market or individual efforts.

    Such choices will result in the expansion of opportunities - including investing - that the nation once possessed.

    I never said that the responsible process would be quick or easy .... but only that it is absolutely necessary if we wish to secure our future.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 10:03 PM, AvianFlu wrote:

    Please Mr. Newman. It's "global warming", not "climate change"...

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 10:43 PM, whereaminow wrote:

    Every generation should have it better than the previous. If you look through this history, the only time this trend is interrupted is during war or brutal tyranny.

    I don't think Tyler Cowen is arguing that we don't. And I doubt he would say something as easily refutable as "innovation is dead."

    A more appropriate point, however, is to be concerned about a startling trend. Washington seems devoted to war and moving every day towards greater tyranny. That gives concern to many. I think that concern is appropriate.

    David in Liberty

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 11:37 PM, NickD wrote:

    Let's be like Norway

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 1:56 AM, FinnMcCoolIRA wrote:

    "....like Norway"!!!

    We'll be lucky to wind up like Norway after 4 more years of such malignant and idiotic Federal//State government spending and control as we see today.

    It's more likely that we'll end up as a mongrel breed reflecting Greecian economic prosperity, Franco-Italian labor markets and a Chi-Com level of individual freedom.

    And thats if we're LUCKY.....

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 2:36 AM, TC118 wrote:

    @ryanalexanderson

    >> To be grammatically correct the headline should read: Every other generation had it better than we.

    >100% wrong. Seriously? "we" is a subject pronoun, "us" is an object pronoun. "Every other generation" is the subject, "us" is the object.

    >Please hand in your grammar police badge. You've let down the entire force.

    I hate to break it to you this Ryan, but you are incorrect as regards your grammatical analysis. "Us" is not the object of the sentence, "it" is. If you extended the sentence, you would not say, "Every other generation had it better than us did." You would say, "Every other generation had it better than we had it." Therefore "us" is not the object of the initial verb "to have" in this case. Rather "we" is the subject of the implied second instance of the verb "to have."

    Please had over your badge to the official grammar Nazi.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 7:24 AM, ryanalexanderson wrote:

    Duly noted. I've let down the entire Reich.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 9:15 AM, irish77777777 wrote:

    Climate change, not just warming, because some areas of the globe will be cooler, and it doesn't just have to do with temperature. It can be all kinds of storms that will wreck havoc also. Climate change trumps debt and all other problems. If we don't correct the runaway carbon in the atmosphere we will see dramatic changes to the globe that our population is too large and spread out to deal with. Read the book Global Weirdness written by a bipartisan panel called Climate Central of the most reputable climatologists and peer reviewed. It really lays out the science in language a 6th grader could understand.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 3:27 PM, coloradofarmer wrote:

    > Duly noted. I've let down the entire Reich

    Thumbs up for the perfect reply. I applaud your civility and humor.

    Good article. Each generation (in the US) is living longer (on average), is healthier (on average), and better educated (I hope).

    After 70 years on this earth, I see too many youngsters wanting to 'start' with their parent's generation's asset base (that took a lifetime of work to accumulate) but without wanting to take the time to earn it. Too many workers spending every dollar earned without regards to the value of the dollar. Too many cell phones sucking the financial life out of families simply because they think they need the expensive 'toy'.

    If we are to be overtaken it will be because another society with a better 'work ethic' comes along and 'out-works' us. Everything I have seen about America thriving STARTS with the positive work ethics. If this sounds like a farmer talking... yes, I'm a farmer.

    Hopefully the following generation will be better off due to the finding and exploitation of the oil and gas fields which may lower manufacturing costs, bring jobs back to the US because of the lower cost and which will better the standard of living.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 4:06 PM, NickD wrote:

    I'm 20 with 8,000 invested and pay 60 a month for a Cricket phone.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 4:19 PM, gskinner75006 wrote:

    lol! It's good to know that grammar and debating the difference between "global warming" and "climate change" is all we (or us if you prefer) have to worry about. I bet I will sleep better tonight (in fact, a nap is order right now)...

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 10:19 PM, observerbob2013 wrote:

    Firstly it is sad that an article that attempts to raise a sensible question is bogged down on grammar.

    The reality is that most of us look back on the past through rose coloured glasses. I agree that the 50's and 60's were probably the best years most of us experienced due to the fact that it was a period of full employment and rapid growth of technology. Generally it was possible for a family to live well on one income and families could still develop as a unit.

    Today we have many new toys and gadgets but far less time to enjoy them but more importantly we also have far less equality.

    The poor have become poorer and the super rich richer while the middle class has constantly shrunk due to an acceptance of the values of economists that corporate profits and low consumer prices are the holy grail while quality of life is unimportant.

    It would be good to see a return to some of the values of the 50's and 60's that espoused a fair return for a fair effort. I will, however, agree that some of the values of those times are better forgotten.

  • Report this Comment On March 05, 2013, at 8:54 AM, mikecart1 wrote:

    Innovation is dead only to be unaware of what is being developed around the world. They are too busy watching their favorite reality show or wasting away on the couch eating a bag of chips while watching Dr. Oz.

    Nuclear power is in its latest generation, new microprocessor technology is being created, new medicine and cures are being formed, true electric vehicles are being made, independent companies are now going into outer space, etc.

    Innovation is more alive than ever. 100 years ago, how long you think it would have taken to go from iPhone 4 to iPhone 5? I would say 10+ years.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2013, at 3:01 PM, BillSDC wrote:

    Economist Tyler Cowen -- "... but now there isn't much left to dramatically power productivity ..."

    I am reminded of Charles Duell, who was appointed Commissioner of U.S. Patent Office in 1898 and purported to have said "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

    Tyler Cowen is a moron.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2013, at 12:59 AM, Gidiga wrote:

    Using good grammar reinforces good discipline, which, unfortunately, is lacking in today's society.

    It also makes one think, which, too, is lacking.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2013, at 4:16 PM, EdGrey wrote:

    1) Imbalance between public and private sector, where the public sector (government) has been hijacked to protect the interests of the wealthy part of the private sector. This increases monopolies, prices, and reduces quality of goods. It's all justified by a viciously wrong version of social Darwinism, which is questionable even in its best forms.

    2) As part of 1), military costs have grown way past what should be considered insane.

    3) And with all this, some people still think that the USA has anything to do with Christianity?

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2013, at 12:54 AM, rwk2008 wrote:

    A generation ago, many of us watched as the Soviets devoted an increasing fraction of their wealth and productivity to military strength, eventually reaching a breaking point, and as a direct result, the USSR collapsed. Now we watch as the United States races down the same path. It isn't so much that previous generations had it better - more accurately, the American empire is in decline, and the decline, like global warming, seems to be accelerating.

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