Will Your Kids Be Better Off Than You?

Gary Becker and Richard Posner debate a timeless question: Will the next generation be better off than their parents’ generation? Becker’s take: “America has always been optimistic about its future. The decline in such optimism during the past couple of decades is understandable, but highly regrettable. The best way to restore this optimism is to promote faster economic growth. That is feasible with the right policies, but will not happen automatically. Even America has no destiny to be optimistic about the future without important redirection of various public priorities.” Posner, meanwhile, offers a slightly different take: “[B]ut I do not think people who are well off do, or at least should, want their children to have higher incomes than they. Parental altruism implies concern for children’s welfare, rather than for children’s incomes per se; and the higher a family’s standard of living, the less likely an increase in that standard in the next generation is to increase happiness.” [%comments]


Without a doubt, on average, the next generation will be "better off". As a race, we continue to advance and improve:

- Advances in health means less disease and suffering.
- Advances in the way we harvest and produce food means people have easier and faster access to increased food supply and food choices.
- Technological advances means we work more efficiently and are able to produce more with less effort, creating the potential for more leisure time
- And, etc...

Unless something very significant happens (for example, armageddeon), all subsequent generations should be better off than previous ones.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

No doubt that our iPods are getting cheaper with more memory and so are computers.

In living memory each generation got richer, more educated, longer life expectancy since the end of WWII. Each subsequent generation was taller, faster, stronger and more intelligent. Houses became McMansions. Employment was so abundant during the dot com bubble , college freshmen were dropping out to start a dot,com with multimillion dollar IPO. Jobs were even plentiful for Art History and English Majors. People pimped their Hummers, stretching them and putting a jacuzzi with wet bar in the back. We have so much food, we became the fattest generation in the history of the planet. We made sumo wrestlers look ordinary and puny.


Check out this long winded discussion on the NYTimes Blog predominantly with young 20 somethings who should be in their peak optimistic idealist years and their parents about the future: They are not maturing, missing major milestones, living at home, video gaming, underemployed, overeducated, unable to buy a home, new car, start a family, are angry, depressed and frustrated about their future, and have NO PLAN.





Eh, I wouldn't go with a "most people... think" argument when it comes to serious scholarship, nor would I present a conclusion that takes current vogues as representative of the only legitimate trend of thought. Peter Brown may have popularized the whole transformational thesis about the fall of the Empire, but it is not in any way final and complete--nor is it beyond dispute. It is, in fact, possible to take Brown's premises at face value and still argue the decline hypothesis: what's been roundly rejected is the etiology and diagnosis presented by Gibbon. But disproving his model and providing evidence of transformation is not the same thing as disproving decline.

Yes, there was a change. yes, that at least partially reflected a change in values. But scholars should not be afraid of value judgments, at least insofar as they represent the very standards held by the people we'er talking about--if we're talking about Romans (i.e., any citizen inhabitant of the Late Empire) they did notice a decline, and they mention it in the record. One could argue that this is not representative and in fact represents an élite viewpoint, to which one would then say that the enfranchisement of Middle Ages peasants wasn't exactly prominent either--or, as Ward-Perkins has done--use material evidence instead of literary prosopography to construct the image of late antique standards of living and their dark ages counterparts.

The Eastern Empire is a bit of a red herring in that the lavish prosperity of Constantinopolis was not reflected in the whole of the Empire (the hinterlands were always poor, but the great cities of the eastern Mediterranean were in decline even as the eastern capital prospered), and the situation in the West was markedly dissimilar. I don't know how anybody could look at Roma, a city of over a million inhabitants during the apogee of the Empire, and at least several hundred thousand during the 5th century, and remark that the medieval city of a few thousand people was not, in fact, a decline from the earlier situation.

The transformation hypothesis is useful alongside the decline model. It is equally as bad as Gibbon on its own, in its attempt to overcompensate for what you term a cliche because it makes exaggerated, untenable claims, in the name of relativism. Beware of intellectual modishness.