There are many plausible explanations for the pessimistic bias. One is the revolution of rising expectations: When people experience economic and social gains, they expect more of the same and are disappointed. Another cause: Politicians and the media focus on short-term problems and not on long-term achievements. Easterbrook counted the number of instances the New York Times used the word “crisis” for a month. The answer was 914, or 30 times a day. People worry, because every problem is a “crisis.”
Easterbrook introduces an interesting idea, “collapse anxiety.” He defines this as people’s fear that economic and social change threatens their “way of life.” If that’s so, naturally they’re worried. The dilemma is apparent. Progress often requires change, but many people resist change.
We need to get the story straight. Contrary to Easterbrook, history is not a straight line upward. It takes many twists, including some (World War II, most obviously) that involve immense human tragedies.