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You May Think Things Are Bad, But Have You Considered How Cheap Hammers Are Now?

Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Are you bummed about the state of the world? Well, as a member of the Serious And Rational People Caucus, let me offer you a handy little thing we like to call “perspective.”

Sure, the undemocratic Supreme Court is gleefully stripping away basic right after basic right and has set its sights on obliterating the very laws that underpin free and fair elections in the country, but before you get all emotional and start throwing around the “c-word,” why don’t you consider that you could be diluting its meaning much?? And, yes yes, we all know that unless we take drastic action, in a few short decades the world will be increasingly uninhabitable for huge swaths of the global population, resulting in mass death and millions of climate refugees, leading to the collapse of civilization as we know it, but look, we all know higher gas prices are “political poison” and plus, humanity probably won’t go fully extinct. And fine, I’ll grant that half of Americans can’t afford to pay rent on a one-bedroom apartment, and that in order to be in the half that can pay rent you need to take on tens of thousands of dollars of student debt, making it impossible to build any stability let alone wealth, but c’monnn, let’s be real, forgiving student debt is a bad idea because it could lead to political backlash. And yeah, OK, maybe American fascism is on the rise, and—with the tacit and explicit blessing of law enforcement all over the country—is systemically targeting the marginalized among us in ways that reinforce a a patriarchal white supremacist state, but is it really that bad? Especially in a year before a midterm election year?? So you see, things are not that bad, and if they are bad, we need to remain calm and talk about them sensibly so that our side, the good guys, can remain upon their powerful perches and do their thing!

Clearly, these representatives are people who understand what’s at stake. Two other people who get it? Timothy Lee, a former Vox reporter, and Alan Cole, an economist and former advisor to Republican Senator Mike Lee. These guys, my brethren in our righteous efforts to get everyone, but especially young people, to just settle the heck down, offered up some very cool points today! In a piece titled “24 charts that show we’re (mostly) living better than our parents” and subtitled, “Ignore the haters: living standards have improved a lot since the 1980s,” these two free thinkers spit some truths.

For example, did you know that Americans eat about eight times as many blueberries as we did in the late 1980s? How about this: “Cars got more affordable while trucks got more awesome.” There’s more:

But American consumers have been spending more than ever on SUVs and pickup trucks. Jessica Caldwell, a car industry expert at Edmunds, told me that pickup trucks in particular have changed dramatically over the last 15 to 20 years. They used to be more utilitarian, she said, with a lot of people buying them to haul stuff for work. But “particularly over the past 15 years, they’ve turned into more of a family hauler,” she said.

That’s right, trucks may not have gotten any more fuel-efficient, but more people, who don’t even need to haul heavy things for work, are buying them. Almost like they’re a cultural marker in some way? But not to get off topic—this is progress, baby!

Did you know that some goods are getting more affordable? Well they are. Take your 16-foot ladder, semi-gloss paint, digital clocks—they’re practically free now! And don’t forget hammers:

The Spring/Summer 1980 issue of the Sears catalog offered a hammer with a fiberglass handle for $9.59. At the time, a typical worker made $6.86 per hour, so they needed to work about 1.4 hours to buy it. Today you can buy a comparable hammer from Amazon for $13.98. A typical worker today makes $27.33, which means they can buy a hammer after about 30 minutes of work—a 63 percent decline in work hours over 42 years.

Hell yeah, bro.

Also! Cars and highways are getting safer (kind of).

In 1980, America suffered 3.35 highway fatalities for every 100 million miles on the road. In 2014, it reached an all-time low of 1.08 fatalities per 100 million miles. In 2021 the figure was 1.33 deaths per 100 million miles—worse than 2014, but still much better than a generation ago.”

(Absolutely do not talk to me about how over the last decade “pedestrian deaths have skyrocketed by more than 2,000 – from 4,457 in 2011 to 6,516 in 2020 – a 46% increase.”)

Best of all, cheap goods are getting cheaper! Check out this sick chart (I recommend just sorta letting your eyes slide idly over the 100-percent increase in costs for tuition and childcare).

So you see, all this grumbling about how the country is fundamentally fucked up and in desperate need of dramatic intervention is way overblown. As my boys Tim and Alan wrote, “The situation isn’t as grim as pessimists claim.” This is the lesson you should take away: the pesky “pessimists”—the people clearly stating the obvious reality of the world we live in so we can attempt to work together to figure out what to do about it—they’re the real problem here.

Of course, there are people out there right now who are actually doing something about it, however and wherever they can, by engaging in networks of mutual care and protection, joining tenants rights groups and agitating for state protection and affordable housing, unionizing their workplaces, forging bonds of solidarity within their communities, protesting in the streets, running for local office or campaigning for local politicians, not letting the monsters in charge live in peace, donating to abortion funds, opening their homes to people who need abortions, destroying police precincts, fighting for legislation that could help us live, showing up to community meetings and school board meetings, teaching our kids about the world, and so much more. This work is out there. It is happening. We could all be doing it.

But things aren’t that bad, so don’t bother!