145 Comments

One of the reasons people are so pessimistic is because we have been so disappointed by our government over the years.

It's also heartless for you to continue sharing data without considering the fact that it's the averages that look good, not the reality on the ground for millions of people.

How are "essential workers" faring in liberal blue cities?

What are housing costs in liberal blue cities?

What's the crime rate in liberal blue cities (even in Red States, cities are run by Democrats and the crime is much worse than in GOP controlled areas - but neither the Dems nor the GOP are tough enough on crimes against children and women)

You are part of the problem Noah.

Half the country is thriving while the other half, the "essential" half, is drowning in this economy.

These are the people who have been erased by data like yours for decades.

The Dems long ago decided that working class people are not worth caring about, mainly because of their "silly" religious beliefs and refusal to learn how to code.

It's thanks to Biden that you can declare bankruptcy on the purchase of a yacht, but not on the purchase of an education. Which class of people are most affected by that?

I'm a lifelong Liberal Dem and I will not be voting for Biden in 2024.

The Democratic party has betrayed the poor and working class, which is evident in every Democratic controlled city.

It's also evident in your cold blooded reference to data points rather than people, and your going back 43 years to compare Biden to Reagan, which is silly.

There is real human suffering going on in this country, and covering it up with data points only causes more despair.

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. . . "after the coup attempt, the riots, the street battles, 'cancel culture', and the surge in crime." It was not a coup attempt, much less the oft-trumpeted "armed insurrection" . . . and those fomenting or at least ignoring if not cheering the riots, street battles, cancel culture, and surge in crime are from the left. And we will not be "moving on from that" as long as the same people who caused the disruption are still running the show.

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And, as in the last essay by Noah attempting to show how well off our economy is, the problem of our national debt is not even mentioned. Due to my work, I move in circles from corporate executives, small business owner, tech startups, tradesmen to retirees and there is a nagging concern from all of them that our level of debt is unsustainable and that much of the money being spent is wasted. I know no one who honestly believes that their children's lives will be a little bit better than their own and that is the cloud casting a pall over every other consideration.

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Regan pulled the wool over many people’s eyes. Being president was his greatest acting role.

Here are two examples of how many of today’s problems are directly related to his sly shenanigans:

Sundial (Northridge, Los Angeles, Calif.) 1966-10-14 - Daily Sundial - CSUN University Library Digital Collections: A. S. President John Cagle, along with 14 student leaders from Southern California have come out against gubematorial cand­idate Ronald Reagan's proposal to charge tuition in the State's colleges and universities.

https://digital-collections.csun.edu/digital/collection/Sundial/id/4687/rec/510

The Great Eliminator: How Ronald Reagan Made Homelessness Permanent -

https://www.sfweekly.com/archives/the-great-eliminator-how-ronald-reagan-made-homelessness-permanent/article_92c9b2ac-e881-502a-ae9d-5266cac03404.html

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Excellent article. I lived through that era as well and despised the ad. Morning in America had quite a lot more to do with national confidence in the ability of political leadership to take us further away from where we had been in 1980 -- paralysis with Iran, inability to handle Soviet aggression, and the galling aimlessness of the 70s. The economic reality was that deindustrialization was well underway. Two other big differences between then and today: (1) national debt is substantially higher across all metrics than it was then, and moderate, sane voters know there is a reckoning ahead for us in one form or another, and (2) a majority of respondents to polls today would be unrecognizable to adults in the 80s - either complete reality-deniers who will say and believe anything to reelect Trump (40% or so of all respondents), and another 25-30% of respondents who are socialists and who, without basis, expect equal outcomes and endless government spending and who remain convinced that our country is fundamentally racist, our economy rigged, and our politics run by wealthy elites. Why else would we expect these respondents to tell us they think things are going well?

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Interesting to see that consumer sentiment and general satisfaction seem to follow along the same path relatively well until 2010-2020 where consumer sentiment climbs but satisfaction flatlines. Perhaps supporting the idea that its not necessarily economic reasons behind recent dissatisfaction.

Also, I think the proportion of income spent on mortgage servicing is a better indicator of housing affordability rather that just the mortgage rate. House prices have risen quickly over the past decade meaning that many household spend as much or more of their income on mortgage repayments despite the lower interest rates.

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Inflation is popular to talk about. But inflation is the first derivative of prices, and prices is what actually matters to people. Nominal prices probably look like a fairly smooth increase in the Reagen years but look pretty flat with a sudden jump recently.

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Noah is a hammer looking for nails.

As long as you're confining your analysis to overall economic measurements, you will be mystified by the disconnect between American GDP and happiness. But most of Maslowe's hierarchy of needs isn't purchasable. Once you're not starving and freezing, most of what drives human happiness is social and cultural, not economic (just look at Maslowe's list.)

That's how a society with soaring GDP numbers can be so miserable. We're doing well financially (at least the top 30% are, the not-college-educated not so much), but our social and cultural stability is collapsing. What makes people happy is being able to raise families with reasonable economic security, in a peaceful society, within a broadly shared moral order. This applies to essentially EVERYONE in the world, no mater their standard of living or nationality.

The problem is that Mill's modern liberalism corrodes that shared moral order in the name of ensuring maximal individual autonomy. He admits this in On Liberty -- tearing down all constraints on human action (other than harm to others) is his admitted agenda. However, a society that agrees on nothing except "my rights only end at your nose" is probably only appealing to libertarian economists.

Most people need shared moral and cultural and social commitments in order to thrive. Western elites reject shared norms as tools of oppression. Until we square this circle, no uptick in economic indicators is going to move the happiness meter.

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Something that gets lost in the inflation-wages discourse is that the increase in real wages is concentrated in the lower levels of the income distribution. I'm salaried and earning a middle class, professional income, and I'm not as well off as I was in the Obama-Trump economy or during the pandemic. It turns out that as much as we talked about how much we wanted the income distribution and wealth to be more equal, us liberal professionals kind of liked all the cheap service labor that was available during the 2010s! We went to restaurants whenever we wanted and took Ubers all over the place, and now we have to be kind of conscious of how we spend money and change our habits to meet budget goals! And guess which class is writing editorials about how terrible everything in the economy is?

Just something that pisses me off about young Americans in the upper half of the income distribution. Many of us aren't as rich as our parents were at our age, and we have confronted crises in the past fifteen years that no one really prepared us for, but we really don't have it that bad at all. Our disposable income is greater than nearly every other country. Possibly unpopular opinion - I think another major difference between 2023 and 1984 is frankly that a lot of voters in 1984 had lived through truly hard times - the Great Depression, WWII/Korea - and had some fortitude that we don't really anymore.

I think the real grievances are just the dual psychological hangover of the pandemic and housing costs.

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Obviously it's about the _trend_. In 1984 the economy wasn't great but conditions were improving.

If 2024 sees a recession is anybody going to make the argument that economy is doing better compared to the previous year? At least inflation should be down.

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Average is not typical. Try incorporating just about any measure of income or wealth inequality into your analysis (FRED's Share of Total Net Worth Held by the Top 1% is an easy place to start). Also, consider this: Is it possible that inequality makes *no* difference in public sentiment? I lot of serious people think not. A lot of other, very angry people also think not, btw.

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Lots of choices on Substack but you manage to convey important ideas with remarkable skill. Lots of graphs and statistics and a wonderful read. My sense is Reagan (and Thatcher) at pivot points of dissatisfaction snatched neoliberalism from the ash heap of history where it rightly belonged. It had delivered econoomic and social instability and nearly destroyed the first world in the previous 100+ years. I think we came to the fork in the road and took the road less traveled. I also believe the democracies we fashioned in Germany and Japan were genuinely Democracy 2.0 -- When the key moment of choosing the road to pursue, we chose the moribund neoliberalism when we could have embraced social democracy that worked so well and we guided in the building of. I believe Bidenomics is Democracy 2.0 -- the turn we missed in 1980. Further validation of my thesis -- look no further than the asinine path Britain went with North Sea Oil and what it has wrought. Equinox (formerly Statoil) and the Norwegian sovereign fund is objectively better in every way. Same boundary conditions. One system of thinking delivered misery while the other delivered stability. This is what Democracy 2.0 looks like. The Brits and Americans chose the road less traveled. A shaky democracy 45 years later is the result.

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Thank you for reminding us that no rational accounting accounts for our preferences and behavior. It was never "just the economy, stupid".

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Data suggest that people’s views of the state of the economy are strongly influenced by their political affiliation: when the incumbent President is a Democrat, Republicans take a much dimmer view of the economy; conversely for Democrats. I suspect that such polarisation was less pronounced at the time of President Reagan, but I do not know whether there are data to back this up. At the same time the steady rise in the share of non-affiliated voters should be helping President Borden’s re-election efforts, if the encouraging figures on the objective state of the economy hold or improve.

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This is why Americans have trouble believing "Happy days are here again” in 2023.

People believed Ronald Reagan was right in 1984, because they had seen three solid years of economic upturn.

Americans have only seen one year of upturn in 2023, and they are still recovering from PSTD from a number of crises: COVID, political turmoil, as well as the economy. While the hangover headache is still throbbing, you're not going to feel positive about much of anything.

Why Noah can't understand this is puzzling to me. He tends to live in his charts and doesn't seem to view events in the light of their antecedents which set the public mood.

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Noah glosses over this, but men report being much happier when they're married or in stable partnerships, and have better self-reported health and ultimately live longer. You can cite all the economic data you want, but people see the world through the prism of their own experiences. The gender divide in political support has only widened, and Trump's support is drawn overwhelmingly from men, especially non college educated men. This is a bit of a chicken or an egg problem, men who are married or dating someone probably have qualities that women want in a relationship, but nobody is born embodying these qualities, they have to learnt from other people, and it's probably going to have to be other men. For people pining for the "good old days", the dating market has changed in such a way that the economic coercion that women faced to get married dosen't exist anymore. I don't know what the answer is, but a society that has lots of unattached men, is going to be fertile soil for anti-democratic movements and demagogues. Someone brought up Mill's conception of human liberty earlier, and maximal human autonomy and unlimited choice(Tinder, Instagram, Pornhub) but taken to an extreme, leads to an atomized society with deeply unhappy people.

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