Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fewer long faces 

Those Social Responsibility bulletin boards in the post just below remind me of an old saying, "if you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention." In today's Wall Street Journal, Arthur Brooks says we simply aren't so outraged, unless we're very liberal.

In May 2008, the Gallup Organization asked 1,200 American adults how many days in the past week they had felt "outraged." The average number of angry days was 1.17, and 54% of those surveyed said none. Only one in 20 reported being outraged every day. Despite the litany of horrors presented to us daily by campaigning politicians, most of us appear to be doing really quite well managing our anger.

Indeed, we are less angry today than a decade ago. Let's look back to the glory days of the 1990s, when -- according to the media narrative -- we enjoyed uninterrupted peace and prosperity. In 1996, the General Social Survey asked exactly the same "outrage" question of 1,500 adults. Then, only 38% had not been outraged at all in the past week. The average number of angry days was 1.5 per week, 29% higher than at present.

Virtually every group in the population is less angry in 2008 than in 1996...
I haven't been able to find the poll itself, though Art's work has been largely using the GSS data, so I would think what he's talking about is in there.

One-in-seven respondents who called themselves "very liberal" are angry seven days a week. These may be the people who do not recognize what most Americans do, in Brooks' view:

In some countries, a depressed economic climate means mass unemployment, political instability and large-scale deprivation. In America this decade, we have reached the point at which even in a down economy, our unemployment rate does not reach 6% (lower than the rates in Canada and the European Union, let alone those in the developing world). Any unwanted unemployment is terrible; but it is worth remembering that this stability especially benefits the economically vulnerable.

Furthermore, no matter what the state of our economy, we can realistically count on uninterrupted provision of critical public services, high business start-up rates, the world's highest levels of charitable giving and volunteering, and countless other benefits that come from living in a successful nation.

I recommend, by the way, his new book, Gross National Happiness. Recognizing these blessings of living in the US reduces the demand for programs like social responsibility.