Not that you would know it from the media, but lots of things have gotten better.
Between 1964 and 2004, the number of Americans who smoked fell every year. In 2004, the decline bottomed out at 20.8 percent. It stayed there through the end of 2007. I think that it is about the same today. Why did the decline stop? Who are the smokers? Partly a bunch of self-destructive dopes; partly a bunch of libertarians fed up with an intrusive nanny-state?
Like crime rates, the number of homeless people has been declining. The number fell by about 11 percent from 2010 to 2015. At the same time, and again like crime, homelessness has become increasingly concentrated in a few big cities. Increases in homelessness in New York City (42 percent), Los Angeles (24 percent), and San Francisco (16 percent) indicate that these places have become the “destination shelters” for the homeless.
Between 1990 and 2010, the abortion rate in the United States fell by 35 percent, thanks in large part to wider user of more effective contraceptives like IUDs. It is now at the lowest level since 1976. Restrictions on access to abortions appear to have played a smaller role—if any. One doesn’t have to be opposed to a woman’s right to choose to think that fewer abortions is a good thing.
The use of capital punishment has declined in the United States. It fell from 98 in 1999 to 35 in 2014 to 20 in the first two-thirds of 2015. Extrapolating from that latter figure, there would be 30 in all of 2015. Even in Texas, the state most prone to impose the death sentence, no one had been sentenced to death by September 2015. (In contrast, the total number of executions carried out world-wide doubled from about 8000 in 2014 to 1,634 in 2015. Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia visited the Wrath of Allah on a lot more people last year.)
The war on drugs is being lost say 84 percent of Americans; being won say 3 percent of Americans; and “don’t know” say 13 percent of Americans (the latter two groups apparently don’t have teen-age children).
In early 2015, 60 percent of Arabs aged 18 to 24 had an unfavorable view of ISIS. By early 2016, 78 percent of that group had an unfavorable view. Are we winning “hearts and minds” in Muslim countries? Or is ISIS just losing them? (Or is the 18 percent difference just a reflection of how many from that demographic have gone to fight for ISIS and are unavailable to be polled?)
A Yale University study reported that people who use the internet feel much smarter than they actually are.
Men who had lots of friends in high-school went on to be much more successful in life than did shy nerdy kids. One additional friend could off-set half of the income gain resulting from an extra year of education. So, perhaps the solution to our current problem with stagnant incomes is to be found in Dale Carnegie and Arthur Murray? Just trying to help.
 “Noted,” The Week, 23 November 2007, p. 16.
 Disclaimer: I’ve been chewing tobacco for 30 years. I wish I could quit, but how would I gross out people?
 “Noted,” The Week, 19 February 2016, p. 18.
 “Noted,” The Week, 25 December 2015, p. 20.
 “Noted,” The Week, 25 September 2015, p. 16.
 “Noted,” The Week, 22 April 2016, p. 18.
 “Poll Watch,” The Week, 22 August 2014, p. 17.
 “Poll Watch,” The Week, 22 April 2016, p. 19.
 The Week, 10 April 2015, p. 4.
 “Popularity,” Institute for Social and Economic Research. Atlantic, May 2009, p. 15.