Tag Archives: Happiness report 2017

American happiness is broken

24 Mar

Heres a stat that will blow you away. American students owe $1 trillion in college loan debt! Starting working life in debt creates anxiety before real life adult pressures really set in. Once again the world happiness report 2017 has come up with some interesting research. Jeffrey D Sachs has looked at the declining happiness levels in the worlds biggest economy and what is causing them, Let’s have a look.

American economic growth

Since the 1960’s American Income has increased 3 fold. Per capita GDP in America is still on the rise. But happiness levels are dropping. As noted in my post on “What creates a happy society“.we know that happiness when calculated is broken down to 6 foundations. GDP per capita,social support,healthy life expectancy,generosity absence of corruption.

In the top ten countries in the world for happiness 5 of them are Nordic. Finland, Norway, Denmark,Iceland and Sweden. If we mirror the results of these five happy countries against the USA we see this

Superwhite

 

As we can see from the data above. The GDP of the USA is higher on average than the Nordic average. When we look at Social freedom we see a marked difference between the Nordic countries and the USA. The question “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what to with your lives” is given an overwhelming positive reply from the open and trusting Nordic’s, Less so from the USA where inequality strives.

Social support and having someone else to rely on when things get difficult also sees a lower score for residents of the USA where fear of your neighbour has become a common theme since 2001.

Corruption has as we see been experienced by the citizens of Iceland during their financial crash. They began immediately taking matters into their own hands and let the toxic banks fail but they still feel the repercussions. Even with the high Icelandic score perception of a corrupt society is quite low in the Nordic average, It’s exactly half of what citizens of the USA perceive to be the level of corruption for them.

Americas crisis is not an economic crisis but a social one.

It seems that all the rhetoric that comes from Central government in The USA is that if the Economic growth rate is higher than all American woes will end. And the once elusive American dream will once again become a reality.

The truth couldn’t be further away.  Take corruption for example if America was to return to the perceived corruption levels of 10 years ago was 0.62 as opposed to the present level of 0.72 is the equivalent of raising happiness levels by 0.054( I know! there are lots of figures here but bear with me) If like at present the present administration hope to make American citizens happier by more iconic growth and greater GDP. It would take an increase of GDP from $53,000 to $62,000 to provide the same gain.

Simply by providing the citizens with  a more open society with less involvement of corporations and banks and the need to run multi Billion dollar campaigns to get elected the USA would see rise in Happiness levels equivalent to an $9,000 increase in GDP. Listening to some of the positive governance  attributes that the Nordic countries put into practice would also make a difference.

Lack of social support

 

Make America love again

Simply (without going back into mathematics again) put, the decline in Social networks and support would take an even greater chunk of GDP. To offset this decline would mean an increase from $53,000 to $82,000 in GDP , simply to return to the levels of social support felt in 2006/2007. This would take decades to achieve. Yet no one talks about finding ways to create greater social supports in any political debate. The debates go the other direction and if you are on your  knees it’s generally seen that you did not try hard enough. Social supports in Nordic countries involve free health care, education and welfare supports in times of difficulty for their citizens. All of these are sen as luxuries that citizens of the USA should not see as a right and should be only accessed by those who can afford it.

This is the cost

In all four areas that America lags (far in some cases)behind the Nordic countries on, social freedom, corruption, social support and generosity. The Nordic countries excel. The equivalent cost to American citizens from this is a 0.31 points drop in happiness levels that in Economic terms would have to have GDP rise from $53,000 to $133,000 to offset the drop in Social capital.

Tackle corruption, provide greater social supports and greater social freedoms and an increase in generosity( where it is shown to greatly increase human wellbeing) and you have the formula for a happier United States.

Inequality has increased

The rising difference between rich and poor is ever more evident in American society. The gap between rich and poor continues to grow and all the studies point towards greater levels of unhappiness in societies with greater inequality. The top 1% of those in America have 23% of the country’s income while the bottom 70% share the same amount between them.

Pro social behaviour is declining

Mortality rates are also rising among middle-aged white men and women in the US compared to a decline in Western Europe and a decline in USA’s northerly neighbours in Canada. It is not simply a health crisis but a social crisis.

Other factors

  • The belief that the American government does not have its citizens welfare at heart but more so powerful lobbies, corporations and the wealthy.
  • The destruction of supports such as unions for workers, social welfare for the poor and health care and education for all has played a major role in the social decline.
  • The constant feeling or expectation that fear is just around the corner for the average American. The wars with Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and Syria have contributed to this. The constant need for surveillance and racial profiling have made it very difficult for Americans to feel less threatened,stressed or experience greater freedom.
  • The Education system has declined rapidly. With a huge gap between those with college degree education and those without. In Denmark and other Nordic countries a life without a University education is not frowned on but in some case other options are encouraged. If a University education is the chosen route of their Nordic counterparts it is available free to all who do so. A third level education in America will leave many students in debt for many years after they have finished college. The result as I said earlier is $1 trillion of student debt which can only impact negatively on those struggling to pay back their loans.
  • Not one of the countries in the top ten happiest countries has a history of constant war or invasion of others. Given that the Viking age of plundering is well past, all these countries live a life of relative peace. Iceland does not even have an army and Sweden, Finland and Switzerland all have neutrality status.

Going down the wrong road.

Wrong road

It’s like looking for your socks in the refrigerator you know it’s futile and you know you won’t find them. America is chasing something that will not provide happiness (constant economic growth) while ignoring exactly what will.

The answers to what they should do are very close to them. The USA just needs to look at the way their northern neighbours in Canada treat multiculturalism and immigration. How they provide a healthcare system where everyone matters and no one is left behind which allows Canada a constant place in the top ten happy countries index.

Or look to Norway with high levels of transparency. Where they have every citizen including the prime ministers salary and tax paid available online for everyone to see. When citizens of the USA are not even sure if their president has paid any tax.

Iceland decided that a society that rewards the banks and shackles its populace is unjust and unfair and decided that the citizens of Iceland mattered more. The financial woes that Iceland have felt should have sent them nearer number 87 on the happiness index with Greece but it didn’t. They felt someone had their backs and it felt good.

America has the solutions but it also has the problems. It has to decide what does it really want….Wealth and power at any cost, or a constant declining happiness for its people.

 

 

 

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