One of my favorite lessons from Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard psychologist, is that the future is rarely as hellish or as heavenly as we imagine it to be. It's not an argument for ignoring future realities—savings are still crucial, global warming is still real—but rather a caution about overreacting to faraway fears when there is so much that deserves our attention today. "If you can adapt surprisingly well to negative events," he said when I spoke with him in 2011, "then you probably need less insurance than you're buying."
It's funny that Gilbert mentioned insurance at the time, because it is this week's health-insurance news that made me think about Gilbert's advice, again.
Five years ago, with federal deficits soaring to record highs, it was easy to say that the future of U.S. healthcare would be hell. This view argued for dramatically restructuring the way the government spent money on medical care and other services. Projections shared by responsible economists said federal healthcare spending was on pace to gobble up half of the budget within a few decades—or $1 in every $10 of GDP by 2035. Some analysts said that if we wanted to preserve our future, our very way of life, it was necessary to make deep, painful, and brave cuts to benefits. It was a compelling argument.