American Nightmare

March 21, 2024   |   Tags: , ,
American Flag blowing in the breeze | Joshua Hoehne / Unsplash

Are the kids all right? The annual World Happiness Report was released this week and for the first time in the decade-plus that the report has gone out, the U.S. failed to rank in the top 20 happiest countries.

The findings, which rely on Gallup polling data on self-reported happiness, show that it's Americans 30 and under who are responsible for bringing the average down. "Americans 30 years and younger ranked 62nd globally in terms of well-being," reported The Wall Street Journal, "trailing the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Guatemala. Older Americans ranked 10th." (The Nordics, a handful of Western European nations, Costa Rica, and Lithuania all rank above us in overall happiness rankings not separated by age.)

"Today's young people report feeling less supported by friends and family, less free to make life choices, more stressed and less satisfied with their living conditions," per a report editor's comment to Axios. A possibly representative tweet:

This comes on the heels of Jonathan Haidt's lengthy Atlantic feature "End the Phone-Based Childhood Now," which attributes mental health problems to cultural and technological shifts that have pivoted kids away from play and toward being plugged into their devices.

Some of this may be attributable to younger generations struggling to find meaning in their lives—possibly a temporary failure, not one that will plague them for the rest of their days—and taking for granted the massive gains that alter the world they've inherited. Or it is possible that they're legitimately unwell, en masse, or it could be some combination of all of the above.

But it's worth mulling the gains we've made. Work today is—on average—safer, less physically arduous, and more intellectually stimulating than the work of 30 or 50 years ago. Money kinda sorta buys some level of happiness, and our level of wealth and economic freedom in America is nothing to sniff at. "As many traditional, tangible sources of suffering disappear, the expectation that we should feel good all the time increases; when we don't, we suddenly start talking in psychiatric terms, even though stress and sadness are part of a good life," wrote Johan Norberg for Reason last year.

None of that is to dismiss legitimate reasons why youths in particular might be struggling: Schools have reported massive pandemic-induced learning loss and greater issues with disciplinary infractions. Math test scores and reading proficiency rates are in trouble across the United States. But it's possible that too much hay is being made of the happiness report, and that some of the problem lies with young adults' expectations. After all, it's the former Soviets that have seen massive gains in the happiness rankings—perhaps in part because their material conditions have drastically improved, but also because people appreciate the fact that prosperity and abundance are not certainties.

Copycat states: Earlier this week, Reason covered S.B. 4, the law that has not gone into effect yet but is being held up in court, which would allow Texas law enforcement to arrest those who've illegally crossed the southern border. On Tuesday, Iowa lawmakers passed a copycat piece of legislation that would make it a state crime for an illegal immigrant to enter Iowa after having been deported.

Now other states are toying with similar legislation. Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri are all considering similar bills, but the success of this strategy largely depends on what happens to the Texas law, the legality of which will most likely be weighed by the Supreme Court. Republican lawmakers in West Virginia, Mississippi, and Arizona have all attempted to pass similar laws but have faced opposition—like, in Arizona's case, a Democratic governor's veto—that thwarted their efforts.

Each state setting its own deportation policy seems unlikely to hold up legally, but that's not to say stunt bills won't work to curry favor with Republican voters and further embarrass the Biden administration, which has struggled to get the border influx under control.

Scenes from New York: More information may come out about this viral dispute between a property owner and some alleged squatters, but it's a pretty stunning example of what happens when a society fails to enforce property rights:


  • Though roughly 200,000 people left Hong Kong from the middle of 2019 to 2022, they've been somewhat replaced by mainland Chinese working professionals flocking to the island, where they can have slightly more political freedom than they're accustomed to and fetch higher pay. "If China is a big ship, then Hong Kong is a lifeboat," Will Wu, a banker who moved from the mainland, told The New York Times. It's a good thing mainland Chinese feel this way, because most Hongkongers feel like the boat is taking on water.
  • "Today, the teen babysitter as we knew her, in pop culture and in reality, has all but disappeared." (From The Atlantic.)
  • Possible updates coming in Julian Assange's legal saga (which Reason has covered on Just Asking Questions):

  • Did the pandemic change our eating habits and expenditures in a lasting way? Signs seem to point toward yes:

  • "The Swiss National Bank unexpectedly cut its key interest rate by 25 basis points, moving months ahead of global peers as policymakers try to prevent gains in the franc," reported Bloomberg. "The SNB's move foreshadows possible easing later this year by the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank, taking upward pressure off the franc and lessening the need for officials to resort to interventions that might further swell their large balance sheet."
  • Somali pirates are back.
  • Problems with forensics:

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