The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Can Americans Be Happy Again?


Reprinted with permission from Creators.

America is not a very happy place, and it is getting less so. Our downward trend in happiness precedes the election of Donald Trump, but sadly, there’s little in his agenda that would reverse this trend. On the contrary.

That’s because a boost in economic growth, though nice, wouldn’t get to where the trouble is. Per capita income is a factor in subjective well-being; make no mistake. However, it’s only one of six factors listed in the 2017 World Happiness Report, released by the United Nations.

The other five are life expectancy, social support, personal freedom, generosity of donations, and perceived corruption in government and business. America’s scores in these areas are all headed downhill.

“America’s crisis is, in short, a social crisis, not an economic crisis,” economist Jeffrey Sachs wrote in reviewing the report.

The happiest country is Norway, followed by Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia and Sweden in a tie. America’s 14th-place finish marks an ongoing deterioration. In 2007, the United States was the third-happiest country on the Cantril ladder.

“Income inequality has reached astronomical levels,” Sachs writes, “with the top 1 percent of American households taking home almost all of the gains in economic growth in recent decades, while the share of the bottom 50 percent plummets.”

The ills plaguing many of our Rust Belt and rural communities stem from increasing social isolation, as well as deteriorating economic status (especially painful when comparing with others). Struggling rural and factory towns are suffering losses in people, with their brightest and most accomplished children first to leave.

One cannot see how tax cuts aimed at the rich, paid for with cuts in federal social support programs — health coverage, above all — are going to add much joy to 99 percent of the population. Now, one could make the Trump/Paul Ryan argument that tax cuts would boost economic growth, the benefits of which would trickle down to ordinary folk.

There’s something to the notion that lower taxes can spur investment, but the questions remain: By how much? And who would benefit? George W. Bush oversaw the most ambitious tax cuts of his generation, and he left office with the American economy in a smoking ruin.

Government spending on such things as infrastructure and health care also stimulates the economy. In some of the most hurting parts of America, health care is the one bright economic light. What will happen if Trump and his allies go through with their plan to pull billions of federal dollars out of health care?

Using the happiness report’s measuring device, Sachs calculated how much economic growth would be needed to offset America’s recent decline in social support networks. To maintain the 2006 level of happiness, per-person GDP would have to rise to $82,000 from the current $53,000.

To offset the decline in happiness caused by deterioration of all four social variables (social support, freedom, donation, corruption), Sachs figured the per capita GDP would have to rise to $133,000 from the current $53,000. For comparison purposes, note that per-person GDP in the happier Nordic countries is $47,000, lower than ours.

But Americans don’t really need number crunchers to tell them that they’re feeling less happy with each passing year. What they need are political leaders who flatter them less but deliver policies that truly enhance their sense of well-being. Happily, Americans have the power to replace Trump and Ryan with leaders who can and will.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

John Eastman

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

The ABC, CBS, and NBC morning and evening news broadcasts have all ignored the revelation that one of then-President Donald Trump's lawyers authored a memo laying out how Trump could effectively pull off a coup.

John Eastman, a member of the conservative legal establishment who worked with Trump's legal team as the then-president sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election, wrote the document in the days leading up to the January 6 counting of electoral votes. His plan lays out various ways then-Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans could use that

Keep reading... Show less

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

It remains to be seen whether or not President Joe Biden's $3.5 trillion "human infrastructure" plan — which includes federal funding for health care, education, child care and combating climate change — will ultimately make it to his desk to be signed into law. The $3.5 trillion price tag is drawing resistance from Republicans as well as centrist Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. But 17 economists, all Nobel Prize recipients, have signed a letter endorsing the plan, which members of the Biden Administration see as crucial to his Build Back Better agenda.

Keep reading... Show less
{{ }}