Politics Monday: How Governments That Support Society Make Us Happier

I’ve seen inequality widen, the social fabric decay, the racial wealth gap increase. Americans are rightly convinced that the country is broken and fear it is in decline.

David Brooks, The New York Times

The coincidence of the pandemic’s one-year mark, President Biden’s gargantuan COVID relief bill, and the annual World Happiness Report makes me hope that America may be ready to acknowledge that society’s health and wellbeing comes before individual wants.

Americans need government help

In his recent column, The Biden Revolution Rolls On, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes that President Biden’s epic spending plans — the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package followed by a $3 trillion package of jobs, clean energy and infrastructure proposals — raise a fundamental question.

Should the government redistribute money to the disadvantaged for the sake of common decency and to restore social cohesion?

David Brooks, The New York Times

FDR’s post-depression social welfare programs gave us Social Security, and LBJ’s war on poverty and civil rights work gave us Medicaid and Medicare. Still, America spends far less of welfare-state programs for the young, the old, the sick, and the disadvantaged than do other developed nations.

Americans distrust government

As compelling as our current crisis makes me say YES to government support, the notion goes against our grain, Brooks writes. Our origin story, our revolutionary break with a central power, make us distrust The State. The government as provider of social benefits conflicts with The American Dream gospel that individual hard work leads to success.

Northern European countries outrank us

The World Happiness Report is out, reported David Keyton of the Associated Press. The respondents ranked much social support they feel they have if something goes wrong, their freedom to make their own life choices, their sense of how corrupt their society is and how generous they are. The top 10 countries are Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Austria.

We find year after year that life satisfaction is reported to be happiest in the social democracies of Northern Europe. People feel secure in those countries, so trust is high. The government is seen to be credible and honest, and trust in each other is high.

Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University

When I first wrote about the World Happiness Report in 2018, I was not surprised to see America far from the top ten countries: we are number 18. With American’s distrust of each other, community is challenging to build and government seems ever more alien. The report notes that American culture prizes signs of wealth such as big houses and multiple cars more so than other countries.

Material things don’t make us happy.

Sonja Lyubormirsky, UC-Riverside, author of The How of Happiness

Support, generosity, honesty = happiness

Supporting first responders. Lending neighbors a hand. Volunteering at food pantries. Haven’t we learned that community is all that matters? After all, just being here after this crushing year is pretty darn good.

Editorial Cartoon by Kevin Necessary, Cincinnati Enquirer. Masked man says: “The sun has been shining, it’s getting warmer, and the vaccine is rolling out. Now I have this weird feeling. What’s the opposite of despair?”  Masked woman says: “I think you mean ‘hope.’”
Editorial Cartoonist Kevin Necessary, Cincinnati Enquirer

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