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November 28, 2010



Something about these comparisons with the past raises a red flag for me. I think it's because they are usually thrown up as a way of saying that today's less-well-off-people shouldn't complain and get all uppity - if they only realized how lucky they were (compared to 1900) then they'd shut up, smile, and serve the next customer.

Hartford doesn't go that way, of course, but I still react to it as if he did. Your "think of the future" is a good antidote.

I recommend a very short story in David Eagleman's enjoyable collection "Sum" about someone choosing to live their next life as a horse. Let's just say it turns out not to be a good idea.


"today's students have advantages I didn't: ... many more girls*."

Isn't that a disadvantage to half of today's students?


"Nor do we really wish we were born later"

... speak for yourself


- you just did


I envy future persons.


We adapt and we imitate - it's what we do. So our preferences must adapt to current circumstances. We can't adapt to circumstances that don't currently exist.


I think perhaps to remove some of the issues you raise it would be fairer to say 'Would you like £70,000 a year to live in 1960 or £70,000 a year to live in 1880'

I don't really disagree with things have got better, more than perhaps official lets on. But it's much easier to note what we have gained (jet travel, internet) than know what we have lost.

Leigh Caldwell

tomslee: '"today's students have advantages I didn't: ... many more girls*."

Isn't that a disadvantage to half of today's students?'

Presumably having much greater access to university is in fact an _advantage_ to women. Which I suspect far outweighs the minor disadvantage of reduced access to 19-year-old men.

On the main topic, I think there are many people who envy those born in the future; though a lot of them may be science fiction fans. For others, I think it's a salience issue - it's much easier to imagine what it would have been like to live in Dickensian London than in Heinleinian Mars.

john malpas

Why compare now with the past when you can compare now as as a Dubai aristo and now as a old age pensioner ( white) in london.
It might be wise to review the contempt many seniors have for you youngsters.
yet you think you are the bees knees.
And yet they are the past.


Well, if you believe some one by the name of Mary Ann Sieghart in The Independent today, we folks are enjoying a surfeit of democracy; and she thinks too much of demcoracy is a bad thing. I do not know howmuch is too much, but that is besides the point.
Wonder whether the enormously rich in the 1900s enjoyed such luxury?

Cliff Tolputt

Intriguing, isn't the future already upon you, though riches are hardly an imminent prospect?


Perhaps the future person to be envied is too counterfactually remote. Here's what I mean:

Counterfactual A: someone alive today has certain advantages which you yourself might enjoy.

Counterfactual B: there is a future person who you yourself might become.

To envy future people is to combine these: i.e. you yourself might become a future person who might enjoy certain advantages. My suggestion is that this doesn't fall easily into the imagination.

judith weingarten

Easterlin's paradox is a bit dubious, imo, but this statement is surely false: "the atrocious poverty (by today's standards) of past generations didn't seem to have made them miserable". I envy the historian who has good happiness data on impoverished people, serfs, slaves, or broadly lower classes of previous generations. Our total ignorance in this case may be confounded with bliss.


Loving your priorities there!

When I was at Oxford, women were in a minority

"Which was not much of a problem, except to me, because..."

and almost all were either scary feminists, Christians or ugly.

"Which was just terrible, I tell you! Terrible! For, you know, me!"

With such clarity of vision, I'm suprised you haven't cracked this already.

Brett Anderson

I think I'd rather be a colossally rich right now. I think there are pros and cons for both scenarios. Some days the lack of technology/radiation might be nice but other days I love the benefit of technology.

Also, the advances in science and medicine are areas where advancements have greatly enhanced our lives.

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