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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2008 7 Elul 5768

Are you better off?

By George Will


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | John McCain, who is in what Macbeth called "the sear, the yellow leaf" of life, has revived an oldie from seven elections ago with a campaign commercial asserting: "We're worse off than we were four years ago." This, of course, derives from Ronald Reagan's question, addressed to the nation with devastating effect on his opponent, during Reagan's debate with President Jimmy Carter in 1980.


The nation considered the answer obvious. Reeling from oil shocks worse than today's, with 52 U.S. hostages in Tehran and with the Soviet Union rampant in Afghanistan, voters resoundingly said no. Today we know that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan hastened the collapse of the Evil Empire, so some things that seem to make us worse off are not unmixed curses.


Imitation is the sincerest form of politics, and in 1996 President Bill Clinton, seeking reelection, urged voters to ask themselves whether they were better off than they were four years earlier. Today we know that the nation's affirmative answer reflected the beguiling beginning of what turned out to be the tech stock bubble, so some things that seem to make us better off are not unmixed blessings.


McCain recasts Reagan's question as an assertion in order to pander to the public's dyspepsia and distance himself from George Bush. Enough.


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In contemporary politics, nothing succeeds like excess, so permutations of Reagan's trope are going to recur. Therefore, it is time to consider its deficiencies, which are symptomatic of a desiccated mentality.


Unfortunately, the phrase "better off" is generally understood as a reference to your salary, your bank balance, your IRA and the like. But wait. Are you better off being four years older? That depends.


If you are young, since 2004 you might have found romance, had children, learned to fly-fish and become a Tampa Bay Rays fan. In which case you emphatically are better off, even if since 2004 there has been only a 0.6 percent increase — yes, increase — in the median value of single-family homes.


If you are near "the sear, the yellow leaf" of life, in the past four years your expected remaining years of life have declined. But that does not mean you cannot be better off.


Suppose in those years you read "Middlemarch," rediscovered Fred Astaire's movies, took up fly-fishing, saw Chartres and acquired grandchildren. Even if the value of your stock portfolio is down since 2004 (the Dow actually is up), are you not decidedly better off?


The late Herb Stein, one of Washington's wisest practitioners in the field of applied philosophy, a.k.a. economics, criticized the "are you better off" question" by noting that "everyone has a certain asset, which is the present value of his expected future life." But "all years are not alike." The years that come later in life can have special richness because one has learned things that enable one to appreciate each year more.


Stein noted that the question about being "better off" is thought to be about facts rather than feelings. But feelings are facts. Facts such as delight, serenity and gratitude have values not easily priced in cash.


The people asking and those answering the "better off" question seem to assume that the only facts that matter are those that can be expressed as economic statistics. Statistics are fine as far as they go, but they do not go very far in measuring life as actually lived.


We do, unfortunately, live, as Edmund Burke lamented, in an age of "economists and calculators" who are eager to reduce all things to the dust of numeracy, neglecting what Burke called "the decent drapery of life." In this supposedly rational and scientific age, the thirst for simple metrics seduces people into a preoccupation with things that lend themselves to quantification.


Self-consciously "modern" people have an urge to reduce assessments of their lives to things that can be presented in tables, charts and graphs — personal and national economic statistics. This sharpens their minds by narrowing them. Such people might as well measure out their lives in coffee spoons.


In 1934, long before mankind strode jauntily into what it contentedly calls "the information age," T.S. Eliot asked:


Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?


So, are you better off than you were four years ago? That depends. On what? That, too, depends.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

George Will's latest book is "With a Happy Eye but: America and the World, 1997-2002" to purchase a copy, click here. Comment on this column by clicking here.

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