Tyrone on American unhappiness

Tyrone wrote to me:

1. It is a mistake to focus on the survey evidence on happiness; maybe at first it shocks Americans that their country doesn’t come in a clear first, but America is bound to end up in the top tier and that will prove hard to counter.  The Easterlin paradox, which turns purely on the meaning of words over time, is also weaker than is commonly believed and of course Tyler and Will were going to be ready for that.

2. Start with the disproportionately large number of Americans in prison.  They are not happy.  Furthermore they don’t get to answer most questionnaires.

3. Then ask: given how rotten prison is, why did those Americans take the chances that might put them in prison?  How many people were just as unhappy, or nearly as unhappy, but didn’t chance a crime or end up in prison?  What does the distribution of the process have to look like, and what are the implied levels of unhappiness, to place so many people in prison?  The answer to those questions will be ugly.

4. Then move to race and cite those studies showing that many white people say they wouldn’t want to be black for a million dollars.  There are a few different ways to interpret those answers, but none of them are favorable for the pursuit of happiness in America.

5. Cite statistics on how many Americans are obese.  Some of this is genetic variation, but still the happiness-generating process has to be pretty badly skewed to generate so many pounds.  Ask Tyler whether he thinks that most truly obese women are happy.

6. Ask Will to provide a running stream of consciousness of what runs through his mind when he visits a K-Mart in rural West Virginia.

7. Paint a convincing portrait of Americans as the people most prone to self-deception, self-puffery, and the most likely to lie about their own levels of happiness.  Attack the reliability of happiness studies.

8. Present moderation as a prerequisite of happiness, and argue that America is anything but a land of moderation.

9. Cite the millions of Americans — now one out of every ten women — who take Prozac or other anti-depressants.  Yes, there is strong evidence that Prozac makes people happier.  But surely such people can be said to have "failed in their pursuit of happiness."  They didn’t start off wanting to be happy by taking a drug.

10. Don’t push income volatility or poverty too hard.  It will collapse into "things aren’t perfect" and allow the other side to focus on America’s very considerable economic achievements.  Nor put too much blame on America’s relatively weak welfare state.  That is a symptom of American social illness, not a cause, and more fundamental is that the poor themselves don’t care enough about their own fate (so why then would anyone else either?).

11. And why do European women seem so much more self-assured than do American women?

Yes, that is what Tyrone thinks.  Poor, poor Tyrone.  No wonder he is so unhappy.  He thinks he is surrounded by so many other unhappy people.  That makes him contrarian by nature.

Some people say that the debates between Tyler and Tyrone are the most interesting of all.  But I know better.  When such debates end, Tyler is always happy, and Tyrone always unhappy.  Doesn’t that alone show that Tyler usually has the better of it?


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