Americans Happy, but Think Country's on Wrong Course

This new AP-Yahoo! News poll shows that while 66 percent of Americans say they are happy, 77 percent think the country is heading in the wrong direction. This is, in a nutshell, why Sachs-Stevenson lost the Economist happiness debate. Right now, many Americans are unhappy with their position in the political and economic cycles. But Americans are a happy people, with a sense of control over their lives. This high level of personal satisfaction is the consequence of an optimistic culture and stable institutions that create wealth and opportunity. Dissatisfaction with the way things are going will change soon enough, Americans know it, and that's why it doesn't actually get us down.

20 Replies to “Americans Happy, but Think Country's on Wrong Course”

  1. I agree with those who say that “N+1” is not specific enough. I also agree with Ryan’s comment that it didn’t imply a significant tradeoff. “N+1” seems small, seems to imply a small difference.
    The question might better be asked as “Which do you prefer, a society with a moderate welfare state and drug prohibition, or a society with a very extensive welfare state and no drug prohibition.
    Personally I’m against both extensive welfare states and drug prohibition, but if I had to choose I supposed I’d accept the moderate welfare state and drug prohibition.

  2. First they’ll bloat the welfare state so that they can get their hands on some weed, then they’ll shut down free trade for a free bag of Fritos.

  3. Will,
    My interpretation of the original NRO post that led to your poll was more generally: do libertarians think “social” or “economic” liberty is more important (if they can have one and not the other). I’m not sure phrasing the question this way would change the outcome of the poll, but it might.

    1. The question wasn’t “Is the drug war justifiable?” Even those who voted small welfare with drug prohibition (like me) wouldn’t make that claim. And my vote caused me to have philosophical distress; it wasn’t an easy choice.
      I think I chose the way I did because it’s easier for me to break drug laws than it is to break tax laws. Of course the philosophical distress is caused by the focus on ME in that instance; it ignores the consequences for the entire society, which I certainly wrongly assume to be similar to my own consequences. I also ignored the cost of the Drug War compared to the cost of the welfare state. It’s not a decision I’m proud of. I console myself by telling myself that the question was vague.
      Anyway, no, I do not attempt to justify the War On Some Drugs.

      1. Have to disagree there. Milton Friedman at least would always say that free markets and free trade were a necessary (although not sufficient) condition to have a free society. Taking that to heart I went with economic freedom first, as it would be much easier to get the social freedoms later than it is vice-versa.
        So obivously both are bad, the poll is merely asking priorities.

      2. No they aren’t mutually exclusive, but the idea that Hayek and Friedman called for a bigger welfare state is a rather questionable one. Both made positive or at least accepting statements about some welfare state ideas, but that doesn’t amount to supporting or wanting a welfare state bigger than what we currently have.

      3. Hayek unquestionably left room in his thought for a “bigger welfare state” as society grows wealthier, because he was skeptical of the idea that we’d ever find the “best” institutions for making markets work most efficiently. And I don’t recall anything in Friedman that would indicate an in-principle objection to a “bigger welfare state,” particularly if that was paid as the cost of a net increase in freedom. Falcon asked “in what universe could a libertarian possibly justify a bigger welfare state. The answer is, “in this one,” and both Hayek and (probably to a lesser degree) Friedman could do so rather easily. Note I don’t say that either “called for” a bigger welfare state, but that each could “justify” it.
        That said, after thinking about it a bit more, it’s not clear to me that Hayek would have necessarily opposed drug prohibition. It’s been a while since I’ve dusted off my Hayek books, and I haven’t read them all, but I don’t recall any lengthy discussion of drug prohibition in them. I think one could make a reasonable argument that prohibition fits Hayek’s general requirements for legislation. However, my reading of Hayek generally is that he’d prefer the bigger welfare state to the drug war, particularly in a very wealthy society like ours.

      4. Neither “Leaving room in your thoughts” for a bigger welfare state, nor not stating an objection in principle to a bigger welfare state, doesn’t equal supporting a bigger welfare state.
        So even if your statement about their opinions and statements is correct, it still doesn’t support the idea that the idea that Hayek and Friedman called for a bigger welfare state.

      5. Of course my statement about their opinions and statements is correct, and I haven’t claimed that either “supported a bigger welfare state.”
        Here’s Falcon’s original question: “In what universe can a libertarian possibly justify a bigger welfare state?”
        I answered that question. Note that my answer isn’t saying that either Hayek or Friedman “called for” or “supported” a bigger welfare state, only that each could “justify” it.
        I’m not sure this should be at all difficult to grasp, but I guess it is.

      6. So your hung up on justify vs called for, or supported?
        OK, then I change my statement to –
        So even if your statement about their opinions and statements is correct, it still doesn’t support the idea that the idea that Hayek and Friedman justified a bigger welfare state.

      7. Come on, Tim. Are you being intentionally obtuse? The question wasn’t, “was Hayek’s justification of a bigger welfare state right?” The question was, “could any libertarian (qua libertarian) offer an intellectual justification for a bigger welfare state?” Unless you’re willing to write off F.A. Hayek as a libertarian (and you’re free to do that, of course), the answer is overwhelmingly and obviously yes.
        Are we through here, Tim?

      8. In the broadest sense of the word libertarian I suppose some libertarian could be found that would justify a noticeably bigger welfare state than what we have now (I suppose you could still call them libertarian in a very broad sense if they are going to slash just about every other aspect of government).
        But to use Hayek as an example of that you have to establish that he did in fact make such a justification, and you haven’t done that.

  4. I think a more interesting question at this point would be: Would you rather have Libertarians in charge of the economy right now and the drug war in place or Pelosi and Co. in charge and no drug war.

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