The world isn’t as broken as it seems

December 12, 2017 — by Kaylene Morrison

Reporter describes current economic issues as reminescent of the Gilded Age.

In July 2016, a poll conducted by The Breakthrough, a global research center, showed that just 6 percent of Americans believed the world was improving. While most may consider this pessimistic view of the future to be inherently dismal, people do not realize that the pessimism itself could hinder future progress.

After all, if people believe that living conditions will continue to worsen no matter what, then what motivation is there to keep pushing for change?

Two central reasons for the emergence of this despondency have been identified — people are unaware of trends in history, and they are uninformed regarding improvements that address national problems such as environmental protection and human equality.

In the U.S., one growing issue is the alarming concentration of wealth. The richest 1 percent of the population now owns 38.6 percent of the nation’s wealth, while the bottom 90 percent owns 22.8 percent, according to CNNMoney.

However, many are unaware of the cyclic ebb and flow of the distribution of wealth. For instance, the Gilded Age, a time period in the late 19th century, saw an income spectrum much like today. Wealthy industrialists and financiers such as John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould and John Jacob Astor were labeled “robber barons” since their fortunes were made at the expense of the working class.

Astor, in particular, who became affluent through his New York City-based fur company, was almost as wealthy as Bill Gates. In inflation adjusted dollars, his net worth of $110.1 billion makes him the fourth-richest person in American history.

Not only were the wealthiest of the time wealthier than any American today, a larger percentage of the population was unemployed. Nearly half of American citizens owned zero percent of the nation’s wealth, according to “The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power” by Steve Fraser.

Though many would interpret this obvious correlation as a terrible sign, it could also be seen in an entirely different light. After all, the Gilded Age ended with the rise of the Progressive Era. This movement developed as a response to the extreme poverty and class warfare of the Gilded Age, along with the racism and political corruption of the time.

During this time period from the 1890s to 1920s, numerous reforms were put into action, including the introduction of worker compensation, improved child labor laws, minimum wage legislation, limited work hours, graduated income tax and women’s suffrage.

In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution was in full force, which led to the climate change and global warming that is having drastic effects on the earth. With the loss of millions of square miles of arctic ice per year, a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Fahrenheit since prior to the Industrial Revolution, and mass bleaching of coral reefs around the globe, people are justified in being apprehensive about the future. However, the fact is that the most newsworthy stories, the ones that are read frequently, report on negative events.

At the beginning of his term, President Trump decided to abandon efforts to enact former President Barack Obama’s pledge of curbing greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. In the meantime, though, many other countries have continued their efforts to create change, leaving the United States behind.

World leaders met in Hamburg, Germany, during July and constructed the G20 Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth. This document includes reforms such as the target to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, plans for drafting long-term greenhouse gas emission development strategies by 2020, and plans for working toward affordable, reliable and sustainable energy emission systems as soon as feasible.

Perhaps what can be deduced from these examples is that highs and lows tend to balance each other out. And while the path into the unknown looks as if it gradually slopes down into a never ending darkness, we can rest assured that humanity is more likely just going through a rough patch — and will emerge better than it was before.