Constant political obsession with who has how much money, salary differentials, and wealth disparity is actually a distraction from the real negative effects of distant elite control of the government — loss of respect for individual rights and relationships. Happiness in life comes from good relationships and the respect of your fellow citizens as demonstrated in family ties, private social organizations, and respectful treatment from those rare interactions with government. Sources of unhappiness include: The middle-class family whose home is trashed and dog shot by a SWAT team by mistake. The imprisonment of millions of people whose only crime was a weakness for drug use and being too poor to evade the system. The cancellation of millions of suitable health insurance policies, freely chosen, to be replaced by a government-run scheme for subsidizing some at the expense of others — with some of the subsidized being more wealthy than the subsidizers. The bailouts of bankers and the preservation of government jobs at the expense of taxpayers which raised the debt to $17 trillion. ….
Many people unconsciously assume that having less money means unhappiness, so redistributing money would equalize happiness. But true happiness comes from self-respect and self-reliance.
An excellent piece by Andrew Quinn in The Federalist riffs on Louis C. K.’s reminders of what really matters to happiness:
The thrust of the monologue is that you, I, and everyone around us are spoiled brats. After all, we are surrounded by amazing technologies that provide us with a quality of life beyond anything the vast majority of humans could ever have imagined. We can connect with our friends instantaneously and traverse hundreds of miles in a single hour, just to name two modern marvels. Of course, Louis could also have mentioned air conditioning, refrigeration, medical technology, or a thousand other innovations that touch our daily lives.
Read the monologue’s punch line again: “Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy.” What does Louis mean by “everything”? He talks exclusively about material innovations that make our lives more convenient. Every advantage of modernity he cites is something that money can buy. Consumable goods and services are amazing, but nobody’s happy! When it’s stated that way, the conclusion hardly sounds revelatory. Did anyone really expect that electronics and easy travel were sure paths to deep contentment?
If anyone did, he was fooling himself. A substantial social science literature demonstrates that self-centered materialism is far less relevant for happiness than we might imagine…. the most significant determinants of life satisfaction have nothing to do with money at all. We can see this on an international scale, as academics continue to puzzle over the finding that countries that get richer do not tend to get happier. This phenomenon is linked to “hedonic adaptation,” the concept that humans are quick to adjust our expectations upwards. Today’s delightful surprise becomes tomorrow’s baseline. Louis C.K. encapsulates this in the man who becomes outraged when the brand-new in-flight WiFi crashes: “How quickly the world owes him something that he knew existed only ten seconds ago!”
The same trend holds at the individual level. Once abject poverty is taken off the table, the data clearly show that one’s level of material prosperity is not a major determinant of life satisfaction. It just isn’t. Arthur Brooks, a behavioral economist and my boss at the American Enterprise Institute, uses survey data to construct men who are identical in every aspect, including income, except the depth of their involvement with faith, family, community, and work. Their happiness varies wildly. If Louis is right that nobody’s happy, we can blame our underinvestment in those age-old institutions, not our failure to be grateful for gadgetry. The materialistic premise that cool stuff should mollify men’s restless hearts falls flat in the face of the evidence.
Yet Many Progressives Think In Materialistic Terms
Unfortunately, the political world seems to have missed this memo. Politicians and pundits continually imply, if not explicitly state, that spending money on people through government is morally synonymous with caring for them. In the minds of many pundits, enlarging the size and scope of the welfare stateproves you want what is best for low-income Americans. If you pause to ask such minor questions as whether a proposal would be efficient or effective, you are in danger of unmasking yourself as an uncaring Scrooge. And should you pose the even larger question of whether a transfer payment will help people lead happy and meaningful lives, well, then you’ve outed yourself as completely coldhearted.
In a sensible political conversation, the conceit that no human problem lacks a financial solution would be widely recognized as a condescending and cynical view. The alternative position—that some problems are ripe for a pecuniary fix but many others are not—would be regarded as the nuanced and humane perspective. Unfortunately, we do not have a sensible political conversation, and the popular press delights in making precisely the opposite judgment.
If one book encapsulates what the political Left thinks of conservatives, it is What’s The Matter With Kansas? by the journalist Thomas Frank. In the decade since the book’s publication, Frank’s title has become synonymous with his primary thesis: Conservative politicians strategically use social issues to get blue-collar conservatives hot under the collar, then turn around and enact economic policies that do not actually benefit those voters. This is a perpetual frustration to right-thinking liberals, and a constant refrain in the op-ed pages of their right-thinking publications. How tragic that the low-income populations of red states should be so distracted by “values,” and withhold their votes from the party that would redistribute more resources to them.
What a rube one must be to prize morality more than money! Ranking one’s priorities thus used to make you honorable. Now, in the eyes of coastal cosmopolitans, it simply makes you a sucker.
Conservatives Are Often Materialistic, Too
Progressives are not the only ones building arguments on the faulty foundation of materialism. Scrambling for a rebuttal to Occupy Wall Street and the Left’s focus on inequality, many right-of-center economists have fallen in love with data on economic consumption. This chorus, which includes some impressive conservative thinkers, argues that being poor is not as bad as liberals intimate because poor people have lots of cool stuff.
In a representative op-ed from 2013, economists Donald Boudreaux and Mark Perry purport to debunk the myth of middle-class stagnation using consumption data. “While income inequality might be rising when measured in dollars,” they write, “it is falling when reckoned in what’s most important—our ability to consume.” Those last seven words are telling. The authors insist that the “food, appliances, clothing and cars” available to low-income people make inequality a moot point. A 2011 Heritage Foundation report offered the same general conclusion, as its title makes painfully obvious: “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?” Plenty of other sharp economists, such as Scott Sumner, echo the point. These conservatives agree that consumption data deserve more attention than they receive.
Both Left and Right owe America better than the false premise of materialism. Common sense, ancient wisdom, and modern research all converge to tell us that a thousand things are more important to people than the contents of our homes and our bank accounts. We should celebrate this fact. People are not money-crazed automatons. Politicians and pundits should stop talking as if we were.
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations
[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations, available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]
Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”
Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.
For more on encroaching government, Social Justice Warriors, and modern feminists:
Divorced Men 8 Times as Likely to Commit Suicide as Divorced Women
Life Is Unfair! The Militant Red Pill Movement
Leftover Women: The Chinese Scene
“Divorce in America: Who Really Wants Out and Why”
View Marriage as a Private Contract?
Madmen, Red Pill, and Social Justice Wars
Unrealistic Expectations: Liberal Arts Woman and Amazon Men
Stable is Boring? “Psychology Today” Article on Bad Boyfriends
Ross Douthat on Unstable Families and Culture
Ev Psych: Parental Preferences in Partners
Purge: the Feminist Grievance Bubble
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Modern Feminism: Victim-Based Special Pleading
Stereotype Inaccuracy: False Dichotomies
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
Red Pill Women — Female MRAs
Why Did Black Crime Syndicates Fail to Go Legit?
The “Fairy Tale” Myth: Both False and Destructive
Feminism’s Heritage: Freedom vs. Special Protections
Evolve or Die: Survival Value of the Feminine Imperative
“Why Are Great Husbands Being Abandoned?”
Divorce and Alimony: State-By-State Reform, Massachusetts Edition
Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!
Why We Are Attracted to Bad Partners (Who Resemble a Parent)
Gaming and Science Fiction: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Culture Wars: Peace Through Limited Government