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The Realism of Global Optimism

Read a newspaper or watch the evening news, and the world always seems to be on the brink of some disaster. As a result of journalists' bias in favor of bad news, we often think the world is in worse shape than it is – even if we think our own lives are improving.

PRAGUE – Read a newspaper or watch the evening news, and the world always seems to be getting worse. One problem after another is put under a spotlight. The more death, destruction, and despair, the better. As one Danish journalism textbook puts it: “A good story is usually bad news.”

Only occasionally do we get uplifting, things-are-getting-better stories. When we do, they feel like a guilty pleasure. As a result, we often think that the world is in worse shape than it is – even if we think our own lives are improving.

Consider this: Since 1978, American consumers have been asked whether their current financial situation is better or worse than it was a year earlier. Over the past 25 years, an average of 38% have said they are doing better, while 32% have said they are doing worse. But, when asked the same question about the overall US economy, an average of 47% have said it is doing worse, compared to 38% who think it is doing better. More people think their lives are improving, while others are doing worse, probably because of journalists’ persistent bias in favor of bad news.

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