Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Believe in Yesterday

I'm a sucker for nostalgia. I love old movies and old houses. I'd rather play cards or a board game than play a video game, and I'd rather read a book than watch television. More than anything, I want to live a simple life, on a little farm where I can grow most of my family's food and be as self-sufficient as possible - just like the "good ol' days".

People think I'm nuts. I think life today is nuts.

Did you know that the average house in 1950 cost $7500 ($70 000 today) and the average annual household income was $4200 ($40 000 today)? Today the average household income is just under $70 000 and the average cost of a house is over $350 000. Most families in 1950 had one income and most families today have two incomes, so a house in 1950 cost one person less than 2 year's pay, and a house today costs two people more than 5 year's pay.

Does that make sense? Is that progress?

You'd think that with all the technological advances in the past 60 years that, if anything, it would cost less to buy a home, not more. Isn't that the point in progress - to make life better, and therefore more affordable? Not much is cheaper today than it was 60 years ago, though, and it can be argued persuasively that the few things that are cheaper, shouldn't be. Energy is cheaper. Meat is cheaper. Grains are cheaper. Now, I'm not saying that we don't need energy, meat, or grains. Quite the contrary. We just don't need as much of them as we have. Overproduction and over-consumption of all three are destroying our bodies and the planet.

That average household from 1950 managed to put away about $420 a year in savings - might not seem like much, but it was 10% of the household's annual income. Not very many families today can afford to put away 10% of their income.

A modern "farm"
Before 1950, we ate less, but we ate real food, and we were healthier for it. The supermarket didn't exist until 1947, so we grew our own fruits and vegetables, and we bought what we couldn't grow or raise from a farmer. Farms weren't monocultural wastelands devoid of human presence. They grew grass (real grass, not what's on your lawn), grains (just a little bit), fruits and vegetables, and raised cows, pigs, and chickens all on one property. We were connected to our food and to each other. We knew where our food was coming from and we could see its production with our own eyes - now that's transparency. We don't even know where our food comes from anymore, other than its country of origin. We certainly have no connection to it or to the people who produce it for us. It's not normal that our government bans the sale of raw milk while we're all slurping down Coca Cola as fast we can.

Sure, life was tough before 1950. People worked harder for less, but I would argue that they were better people for it. I doubt a child today learns more from watching television or playing video games than a child before 1950 learned from doing farm and household chores. I would even go so far as to say that a child today learns much less. Imagine how much a child must have learned about the real world by assisting in the production of food, whether it be on a farm, in a kitchen, or in a kitchen garden. Without television and video games, children had to be creative in the ways that they entertained themselves, and therefore, were forced to better develop their imaginations and critical thinking skills.

I doubt anyone will argue with me when I say that we are much more disengaged today than we were before 1950. Voter turnout is proof of that. Some will say that politicians are worse today than they were before 1950 and that's the reason so few of us vote. I would say that politicians are worse today because so few of us vote. We can't expect to be properly represented by a government that we don't vote for. Political parties are in the business of winning elections. Most parties pander to the concerns of older electors, because older electors actually bother to vote. If young people started voting, the parties would start pandering to them, too. 

But we're not just disengaged from politics and our democratic responsibilities - we're disengaged from each other. Cheap gas allows us to live further away from our families, and most families aren't as close-knit as they once were. We don't know our neighbours anymore. When was the last time the nice neighbour lady from down the street dropped by for tea or left a pie on your doorstep? We're terrified of letting our kids play outside by themselves, because God knows who or what is out there. And if the nice neighbour ladies from down the street did happen to leave pies on our doorsteps every once in awhile, most of us would toss them in the garbage. They could be full of poision, after all.

A new growth index was released in Canada today. It's called the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), and it's supposed to be a better indicator of the quality of life enjoyed by Canadians than the GDP, which is based solely on the economy. The CIW measures numerous indicators of wellbeing, including democratic engagement, community vitality, education, environment, health, leisure and culture, living standards, and time use. According to the CIW, Canada's GDP has grown 31% since 1994, but our standard of living has only grown by 11% in the same period of time. What this means is that the benefits of economic growth are not being enjoyed by the average Canadian.

While there are fewer of us unemployed than there were in 1994, job security has decreased, and the cost of living has grown.

Our life expectancy has gone up a little, but we now suffer from more health problems and live fewer years of our lives in good health. I'd rather die at 70 and enjoy every one of those years, than die at 80 and only be healthy enough to enjoy 60 of them, wouldn't you?

We take more long-distance trips today than we did in 1994, but visits to our National Parks and Historic Sites are down by over 20%.

We spend more on cultural and recreational activities, but spend less time enjoying these activities. 

We volunteer less, but watch television and play video games more.

We spend more time in educational institutions, but are somehow less educated, and less capable of finding jobs relevant to our degrees than the generations before us.

Our greenhouse gas emissions have gone up 15%, the health of our fisheries has declined by over 5%, and there is over 3% more smog in our cities. Even worse, our grade on the Canadian Living Planet Index has decreased by nearly 24%. Of the 130 countries measured, we ranked as having the 7th largest ecological footprint (per capita). If every person on Earth was to live like the average Canadian lives, we would need 4 planets just to maintain life as it is for us today.

The CIW Network is an independent, non-partisan group based out of the University of Waterloo. The data they've collected and compiled is from reliable sources, including the Government of Canada (I refuse to call it the Harper Government of Canada, no matter how much our PM insists). 

It's kinda nice when my ideas are supported by statistics.

Still think I'm nuts?

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