I am going to enjoy this persistent theme of Miserabilism over the next few months, knowing how it interests the Theodore Dalrymple fans over at http://www.thescepticaldoctor.com. (see previous posts)
The Economist this month discusses progress, but do a surprising job of dismissing material progress, as laid out in a superb looking Cato Institute book that will be a treasure trove for me in this dispute. One can anticipate the standard response: being richer does not make us happier. And status anxiety kicks in, normally a concern of the likes of Robert Frank. The more right-leaning Economist notes:
It is good to go up in the world, but much less so if everyone around you is going up in it too. Once they have filled their bellies and put a roof over their heads, people want more of what Fred Hirsch, an economist who worked on this newspaper in the 1950s and 1960s, called “positional goods”. Only one person can be the richest tycoon. Not everyone can own a Matisse or a flat in Mayfair. As wealth grows, the competition for such status symbols only becomes more intense.
Sure. But I am really glad that the chance of my kids dying before they are 18 is infinitessimally less than it used to be, and am happy to trade a little social disruption, envy and bad adolescent behaviour for that.
On the subject of which, what do you think has happened to teenage stabbing this year? Here is the answer.
Finally, what do you think of 2009? I am on David Smith’s side, not McRae’s: it was bad, but at times it looked like it would be much worse. As for 2010, I still can’t make up my mind. The latest GDP revision suggests we are further down the road to household-rebalancing than we had thought: hence the traditional motor of UK growth may get spluttering into motion soon. And if they fail? As Dan Pimlott says:
The Bank of England’s efforts to pump cash into the UK economy does not seem to be working as hoped, but the UK may be set for more robust growth in the near future, according to the latest minutes from the monetary policy committee.
So if that fails, and fiscal policy starts to row against growth, what do we have left?