There’s always plenty about which to grumble. A stagnant economy. Encroaching Big Government. Soaring federal debt and uncontrolled entitlement spending. Marriage deconstruction. Family breakdown. Over 40 percent of American children born without married parents. Coarsening popular entertainment. A post-modern amoral culture that demonizes virtue. Continued abortion on demand.
Internationally, plenty of evils brew. Iran’s crazy mullahs may yet get their nukes. Brutal wars rage in Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and several other hot spots. Radical Islam captivates tens of millions. Millions of Christians are routinely persecuted. Anti-Semitism persists. Drug lords bankroll billions while killing countless souls and bodies. Millions of women and children are sexually trafficked internationally.
Despite these horrors, there is still plenty for which to give thanks. America’s first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation was decreed by Abraham Lincoln during a Civil War that killed about 600,000 — the equivalent, proportionally, of 6 to 7 million Americans today. Thanksgiving focuses our minds on identifying the good in a fallen world. And there’s a lot of good, especially relative to other times.
Reason for thanks: The world has almost never known today’s relative global peace. Excepting the several tragic conflicts listed above, directly affecting a small percentage of the world’s population, nearly all the world’s 7 billion live without war or even the likelihood of war. During the last century, well over 100 million died in war. Even more died in genocides engineered by their own governments, typically Communist or Nazi. Across 5 decades of Cold War there was an arms race, the threat of a Soviet dominated world, and the risk of global nuclear war. Totalitarianism and imminent nuclear annihilation have thankfully receded. Today less than 3 percent of global wealth goes to military spending. For nearly all of human history, war has been the norm. Today, it is the mercifully the exception.
Reason for thanks: The world has never been wealthier and poverty has never been so low. Statists and redistributionists portray poverty as the unusual result of plutocratic oppression. But poverty has always until relatively recently been the global norm. The creation of new wealth and an expanding middle class, staring with the Industrial Revolution, has been the wonderful exception, an exception now spreading to hundreds of millions globally. A recent United Nations report says global extreme poverty declined from 43 percent to 22 percent in less than two decades. The combined global world product in 2012 was nearly $72 trillion. In 2004, it was $42 trillion in 2012 dollars. In that time wealth production per person went from about $6,500 to over $10,000.
Reason for thanks: The world’s peoples are living longer and getting healthier. Global life expectancy in 1990 was 65 and increased to 71 in 2012. In 1960 it was 52. Infant mortality since 1990 has dropped by more than half. For most of world history the average life was only a few decades. Today there is widespread near eradication of infectious disease and pestilence. For the first time in human history, most children now know their parents and grandparents. For the first time in human history, the vast majority of parents will not lose a child. Only decades ago losing at least one child was normal in most of the world. People everywhere are eating better thanks improved agricultural techniques. The global food production index increased by about 20 percent from 2004 to 2011. Global patents have doubled over the last two decades, correlating with the explosion in technology. Over the last decade Internet users have increased from 14 to 35 percent of the global population. Cell phone subscriptions more than tripled to over 6 billion. Access to clean water is constantly improving.
Americans can give thanks for a world that is wealthier, healthier and more peaceful. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday and stimulates reflections on our own national blessings. Our nation, despite its deep social, economic and spiritual problems, continues to enjoy tremendous improvements. Every year we are slightly healthier and wealthier. Our environment is getting cleaner. Despite infringements on liberty, Americans number among the 12 percent of the world population who live in a flawed but full democracy, according to an Economist index.
Thanks to growing online universities, more Americans have access to inexpensive education than ever before. We are on the path to energy independence, thanks to the unlocking of vast new oil and gas reserves. Personal debt is falling and savings rates are increasing. The enormous federal debt still grows, of course, but thanks partly to the sequestration, annual deficits are declining. Federal spending as a percentage of the economy is slowly decreasing after the 2009 splurge. And plunging crime rates have across the years saved tens of thousands of lives and spared hundreds of thousands the ravages of robbery and rape. Abortion rates are scandalously high but falling.
Recent books on the “myth of American decline” by Robert Kagan, Daniel Gross, and the German publisher Josef Joffe all argue that America will remain the world’s strongest power for the indefinite future, blessed with an almost infinite capacity for retooling in new eras. Americans, like the Chosen People of the Old Testament, have routinely mulled over our own supposed fall, resulting from our countless sins. Lincoln’s Thanksgiving decree called for reflection on sin. Interestingly, despite being supposedly “post-Christian,” probably more Americans numerically attend worship services now than ever before. And as a percentage of the population, it’s nearly as high as ever.
Most Americans will thank the Almighty when they dine on Thanksgiving, and rightly so. He has given us so much more than we deserve.