- - Sunday, December 2, 2018


Donald Trump’s economic optimism bemused the economists (and irritated Democrats) when he remarked during the 2016 presidential campaign that America would soon produce too much abundance. “We’ll have so much prosperity you’ll say it’s too much.”

Well, times are certainly good, though there’s rarely too much of a good thing. “We’re enjoying one of the best economies of our lifetime,” observes columnist David Brooks in The New York Times. “The G.D.P. is growing at about 3.5 percent a year, which is about a point faster than many experts thought possible. We’re in the middle of the second-longest recovery in American history, and if it lasts for another eight months it will be the longest ever. If you were born in 1975, you’ve seen the U.S. economy triple in size over the course of your lifetime.”

And yet, he asks, are we happy? A new Gallup poll suggests not. Gallup’s researchers asked 160,000 adults about their financial security, social relationships, sense of purpose and something called “connectedness to community,” and last year, Gallup says, the year 2017 was judged the worst year for well-being since this category was added to their polling a decade ago. The data, as the sociologists call it, is naturally skewed by the melancholy and self-regard of the millenials. Noah Smith of Bloomberg News thinks it’s the result of the collision of the well-educated young and harsh reality. “They graduated from college, saddled with debt, and naturally expected the world to embrace them as their parents and schools had done. Instead, many entered into the gig economy, where a lot of work is temporary and insecure. Normal professions for liberal arts grads, like the law, are drying up.”

What a lot of people are discovering is what their parents, and certainly their grandparents, discovered a long time ago. Man and his mate do not live on bread alone. There’s a lot of bread out there, often with an abundance of butter and jam on it, and it’s not enough. There’s reality fatigue abroad in the land, and why wouldn’t there be? Every bump and bruise in life is presented as a crisis, something to blame on someone else and begging for a government solution.

The latest crisis of the sociologists is what they’re calling a “crisis of connection,” and this time maybe they’ve got it right. People have been taught, first by their teachers and professors and then by the media with its inexhaustible supply of disasters, whether the changing weather or the election of a president nice people don’t approve of. The lesson is that the world is just no darn good.

Now comes the news from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that life expectancy continues to decline in the United States. If life is so bad we can, we suppose, take heart that there’s not as much of it as there used to be.

Once upon a time there was the spiritual sustenance of religious faith, the treasures of friendship and connections to neighbors, the comforts of marriage and devotion and deference of men and women to each other, to count on in times good and bad. A childhood rhyme had advice we can use today in the midst of abundance: “As you ramble on through life, brother, whatever be your goal: keep your eye upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole.” Simple but sage.

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