Thursday, February 07, 2013

Happiness quantified in an unhappy empire

Adam Davidson, a Planet Money guy, has written an interesting piece on "Happiness Quantification." Apparently economists are now studying what makes us happy and have noticed that having more money makes people around the world happier. Yay for proving the apparently obvious!

Except that their conclusion may not seem so obvious from where we sit: alone among nations, citizens of the United States are not getting happier as the country has become richer.

… most rich countries have reported increases in happiness as they become richer. There is one strange exception. The U.S. is nearly three times as rich today as it was in 1973, when Easterlin was collecting his data. According to nearly every survey, though, Americans are not at all happier than we were back then. This is explained, in part, by the fact that many Americans have not shared in the increased wealth. With the disappearance of pensions and the increased volatility of labor markets, many workers face more uncertainty than ever before.

But the decline in happiness may suggest a more deeply rooted issue. So much debate over government policy is based on economic statistics that come out of the market. But the goal of government is not just to maximize revenue. It’s also to make citizens better off. There is no standardized way for it to see how its decisions influence our well-being. What if government is spending money on things that don’t make us happy?

My emphasis. Who says we need a military budget amounting to 40 percent of all global arms spending and "six to seven times larger than the $106 billion of the military budget of China and is more than the next 20 largest military spenders combined."

Of course we need that military budget only because we (or our elites) are bound and determined to be Top Empire. Today Digby reproduced an Oliver Stone disquisition that speaks directly to how we might get back on track to enhancing the national happiness:

As we close out this series we must ask ourselves humbly, are we so happy to be number one?  Are we right to try to police this globe?  Have we helped others?  Have we helped ourselves?  Look in the mirror.   Have we perhaps in our self love become the angels of our own despair?  The atomic bomb dropped on Japan was the founding myth of our national security state, and we have as Americans benefited from that.  The bomb allows us to win by any means necessary; which makes us, because we win, right.  And because we are right, we are therefore good.

Under these conditions there is no morality but our own.  And if we hurt or interfere in other nations, the bomb allows us to be forgiven and apparently live without the consequences of our mistakes.  Thus life becomes the law of the jungle and the one with the biggest club feels good because he's right.  That is the law of brutality that governed Earth at it's origins many thousands of years ago.

Six empires have collapsed in the lifetime of a person born before World War II; Britain, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union.  Three more empires earlier in the 20th century; China, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.  By the laws of history, therefore the United States will fall sooner or later.

Alfred McCoy suggests our empire just might win this bet with the gods and through space and cyberspace dominate the globe; at least until the mid-decades of the 21st century.  But if so, we will be hated as a tyrant and no tyranny can last.

As an empire we must ask is it not possible still to retract, grow old and wiser without dispair and violence assetting it?  Could not our empire accept the idea now that there is no need for an exceptional mission blessed by divinity; that to be human is enough.  That to fail is not tragic.  To be human is.

…Let's surrender our exceptionalism and our arrogance.  Let's cut out the talk of a dominant America.  Surrender that word 'dominate'.  Hardliners will object and scream, but theirs is proven not to be the way.  A young woman said to me in the 1970's, "We need to feminize this planet."  I thought it strange then, but now I realize there's nothing wrong with love.  Let us find a way back to respect the law that is the first principle of civilization.  It is the law not of the jungle, but of civilization; when we come together and put aside our differences to preserve certain things that matter.  There is in most all of us a conscience, a higher knowledge of a force that is greater than ourselves, that includes us but is greater than all of us combined.

There's more and it is all good. Click on over to Digby or Oliver Stone's TV series for more to ponder.

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