Tuesday, January 12, 2016

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Kevin Drum notes in Mother Jones that in a recent Gallup poll, Americans reported near all-time highs in personal satisfaction simultaneous with near all-time lows in satisfaction with the state of the nation.

There is a story to be written about this massive disconnect. Normally, satisfaction with the country goes up as we recover from recessions. And we have recovered. Employment is up. Inflation is low. Gas prices have dropped. Taxes haven't changed for anyone even close to middle class. Broadly speaking, things are going pretty well.

The usual response at this point is to say that despite all this, wages are stagnant. And that's true. But wages have been pretty stagnant for a long time. What's more, over the past year we've actually started to see them rise a bit. Not a lot, but some.

So what's the deal? Satisfaction with the country started to show normal signs of increase in 2009, but then it suddenly collapsed—and it's stayed low ever since. Why? Has satisfaction with the country become unmoored from economic conditions? Is it all about other hot buttons these days? Are conservatives unhappy because gays are getting married while liberals are unhappy because income inequality is increasing? Have we all somehow conspired to be massively dissatisfied with the state of the country because our side continues to fail to get everything we want? Or what?

We don't live in nirvana. We never have. But by most standards, things are going pretty well. For liberals, we have gay marriage, Obamacare, and better Wall Street regulation. For conservatives, we have Citizens United, continued low taxes, and total control of Congress. For everyone, crime is down, school test scores are up, and terrorists continue to kill virtually no one here in America.
I honestly don't get it. America isn't a utopia, and America isn't a dystopia. It's recovering pretty decently from a huge recession and personal satisfaction with life is high. On other fronts, lots of things are going well and a few aren't. Same as always.

So why all the anger? Can it really be laid at the feet of the media? What's going on?

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