Illustration: Prosperity, Affluence

In his Jan. 11, 2004, column, George Will points out that despite the hand-wringing found in much of the media, life in America continues to improve on a material basis. He draws on date from Gregg Easterbrook's new book The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse.

Will says, "Easterbrook, a Washington journalist and fellow of the Brookings Institution, assaults readers with good news. American life expectancy has dramatically increased in a century from 47 to 77 years. Our great-great-grandparents all knew someone who died of some disease we never fear; as recently as 1952, polio killed 3,300 Americans. Our largest public health problems arise from unlimited supplies of affordable food.

"The typical American has twice the purchasing power his mother or father had in 1960. A third of America's families own at least three cars. In 2001 Americans spent $25 billion -- more than North Korea's GDP -- on recreational watercraft.

"Since 1970, the number of cars has increased 68 percent, and the number of miles driven has increased even more; yet smog has declined by a third, and traffic fatalities declined from 52,627 to 42,815 last year. In 2003, we spent much wealth on things unavailable in 1953 -- a cleaner environment, reduced mortality through new medical marvels ($5.2 billion a year just for artificial knees, which did not exist a generation ago), the ability to fly anywhere or talk to anyone anywhere. The incidence of heart disease, stroke and cancer, when adjusted for population growth, is declining.

"The rate of child poverty is down in a decade. America soon will be the first society in which a majority of adults are college graduates."