How upset are the Brits really?

There has been lots of talk lately (including by me) about how unhappy and divided the UK is. The vote for Brexit is often described as a cry of pain from suffering people.

So I was stunned to see the chart reprinted below, which comes from the independent Resolution Foundation think-tank and shows that self-reported British life satisfaction is the highest since surveys began in the 1970s. About 93 per cent of Britons now say they are “fairly” or “very” satisfied with their lives.

Resolution reports “a very marked upward drift” since 2000, despite stagnating satisfaction during the financial crisis and since the referendum. Academic experts tell me they believe these findings. Nancy Hey, director of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, says that, contrary to Britain’s doom-ridden national debate: “For most people, things have been getting gently better.”

Here is more from Simon Kuper at the FT, via Yana.  In management, it strikes me as an interesting and underexplored question to what extent people, when things are going relatively well, turn on each other, or not.


Without access to the methodology, key assumptions and data, I'm going to wonder if they controlled for an aging population where we have other surveys showing that as populations get older people report greater life satisfaction relative to their younger self.

Regarding TC's last sentence, whether people turn on each other when things are going well, it's true. According to Professor Philip Daileader of The College of William and Mary, an expert on medieval history, the persecution of Jews only increased in the late medieval period (1000-1300 AD is the late medieval period) a time of relative prosperity compared to the earlier medieval period. It's almost like ethnic strife is a normal good.

But didn't we have other stuff here showing pogroms coincided with crop failures?

Marginal Revolution needs to make its mind up about to Anti-Semitism as a normal or inferior good!

So surprising and so much welcomed.

When recently walking on Fleet Street London and hearing a 7 to 8 years old girl asking “Mommy, what’s worse, murder or Brexit”, and then later encountering Extinction Rebellion rebels, one could sure have thought otherwise.

Life satisfaction measures tend to be saturated in the 90s since at least the, er.... 90s. This is true across a number of countries as living standards breach the $20k per capita barrier. Doesn't have any relationship with political division. Partisanship today nothing much new compared with recent past when life satisfaction measures basically the same (1990s) or when lower (1960s-1970s, etc).

And to add, anyone who thought brexit would change the basic consumption/GDP and satisfaction relationship didn't have a good sense of data. Those that think high life satisfaction would provide more justification not to implement brexit don't understand democratic politics.

I'd add there is a difference between life satisfaction, satisfaction with political class, and feelings of national unity.

I've never been happier, personally. But I've never despised parliament more.

Perhaps our feelings about our government don't really matter that much, if they don't affect our actual happiness.

"In management, it strikes me as an interesting and underexplored question to what extent people, when things are going relatively well, turn on each other, or not."

To re-use a related thought:

Free riders are possible with any system of government, but perhaps perversely, they multiply when governments keep you safe and prosperous for generations.

It's been a while since the WWII, and the existential threat. It's easier to think everything will be fine "because it always has."

So broken government, why worry?

Perhaps to some extent that's the post cold war world. Drift to crazy leftism - why worry? Weak on China -why worry? Mass migration completely changing demographic base - why worry? Invade Iraq and kill hundreds of thousands - why worry? &c.

Your list does not map perfectly to maintenance of the machinery of democracy, which was my point.

No matter where you stand on any policy question, will you work within your nation's system of law? Or will you declare your desires more precious?

Certainly, if Parliament ultimately thwarts the Brexit referendum, I suspect there may be political backlash from the exposed rift between the government and the governed, but whether this will affect the overall national mood may be a different question. Most people aren't as consumed by politics as we internet commenters are.

A point obliquely made if made at all. As far as I could tell Tyler said something rather airy about prosperous times making people turn on each other (which is fairly clearly wrong), then you seemed to conflate this with a general sort of complacency and 'free riding' on the government (and for some reason WWII and the distant German dictatorship as an existential threat, not the Soviet nuclear arsenal and actual armageddon), not any specific point about democracy (which in any case you seem to overly equate with "working within the law", which in any case was not at a high point circa WWII).

To be honest, the WWII-to-now transition seems to be from "democracy first" to "no, what I want first."

The EU has scored poorly in many surveys, in several member states, for years. It seems likely that Brexit happened simply because most people wanted to leave the EU. If anything, one might interpret it as a vote of confidence by British people for their own country and their own government, shifting power from Brussels to London. I still think it's a big mistake, but it needn't be emblematic of some malaise. The EU isn't very popular!

Risk aversion? The more satisfied you are with your life, the more afraid you are to lose what you have.

Also, feelings are short lived experiences. People tends to be anxious most of the time and satisfaction arises only when we stop to think how things are "not that bad".

The UK has very high labor market participation and low unemployment. I would guess that fact would trump any amount of anguish on Brexit. Not to again dump on the media, but their business model relies very much on exaggerating issues and concerns, they literally have no incentive to downplay Brexit or concerns over global warming, or the impact of the latest findings from the Trump investigation, and every incentive to over-hype. No news organisation can be trusted on this anymore. I have said this before on this site, probably about 30 years ago if you didn't read the newspapers and watch the news you were ignorant, nowadays the reverse is true, you lose intelligence and understanding of the world by reading the headlines.

Bingo. I was going to comment that "national debate" is reporter code for "the shit we are hyping up at the moment", but i like your response better.

“probably about 30 years ago if you didn't read the newspapers and watch the news you were ignorant, nowadays the reverse is true“

Wrong. People who don’t read are incredibly ignorant of the world.

Funny that you didn't read his comment, then. He talked specifically about avoiding newspapers and (TV) news, not eschewing reading altogether.

I read his comment. And I think he/she is wrong. Avoiding newspapers and TV only makes one more ignorant of what is going on in the world.

I somehow get to hear about the important stuff. Most of it via blogs like this where I can hear different perspectives about what it means, not just one voice.

+1. Exactly.

My media consumption has risen, but my TV and newspaper consumption has fallen massively over the past 2 decades.

Quit your trolling. Hot takes, hot garbage, naked partisanship, clickbait and the sheer vapidity of the 24-hour news cycle. If you're not avoiding it, you're part of the problem.

But you’re here every day. LOL

>Not to again dump on the media, but their business model relies very much on exaggerating issues and concerns,

I'd add the rise of the professional advocate (i.e., all the various interest groups, PR firms, NGO, etc that surround Washington). The only way to cut through the clutter and 'deliver' for their cause/client is to make everything a "crisis."

I am happy with my life but I am very unhappy with the EU. Three reasons: 1 It is an oligarchy, 2 It is an incompetent oligarchy, 3 It is an incompetent oligarchy run by foreigners.
In the briefest summary:
1 = Decisions are made by a cabal of politicians and bureaucrats.
2 = Just look at the euro, the migrants crisis, the failure to maintain adequate defence forces and German obeisance to Russia.
3 = I want my country run by my own people. Independence is good for the US, Japan and Jamaica but not for the UK?

Comparing the psychologists' measurement of subjective happiness to a principled objection to a socio-poliitical system is an oranges-and-lemons category error.

'I want my country run by my own people'

Strange - there just might be a majority of citizens in Northern Ireland and Scotland who feel precisely the same way. Assuming, of course, that an incompetent oligarchy run by what a number of Northern Irish and Scottish citizens seem to consider foreigners allows them to have vote on the subject.

Even more strangely, in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, a majority of citizens voted to remain in the EU, and yet that desire is being ignored. (Particularly in the case of the Scots, who did not vote to remain in the UK so that their EU citizenship would be later revoked.)

And equally, the most determined to leave the EU tend also to be the most determined that Scotland et al should remain part of the UK.

Providing yet another opportunity to highlight just how well the British government works in relation to an area such as Northern Ireland - 'Karen Bradley has admitted that before becoming Northern Ireland secretary she was profoundly ignorant of the country’s political divisions and “slightly scared” of the place.

She said she was unaware that nationalists did not vote for unionists and that unionists did not vote for nationalists – the most elementary fact about Northern Ireland politics.

“I freely admit that when I started this job, I didn’t understand some of the deep-seated and deep-rooted issues that there are in Northern Ireland,” Ms Bradley told House magazine, a weekly publication for the Houses of Parliament.

“I didn’t understand things like when elections are fought, for example, in Northern Ireland – people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa. So, the parties fight for election within their own community.

“Actually, the unionist parties fight the elections against each other in unionist communities and nationalists in nationalist communities.”

Theresa May appointed Ms Bradley to the post in January – succeeding James Brokenshire – at an exceptionally sensitive time because of Brexit and the breakdown in Stormont’s power-sharing government.

Ms Bradley’s admission prompted astonishment that she had risen so far in the Conservative party and government without knowing that Northern Ireland voters split along constitutional lines.'

I'm guessing that the Irish Times is being polite when using the word 'astonishment.' Especially since basically no one in Ireland is ever astonished at how the Conservatives view Ireland, whether as part of the UK or not.

The Scots need to be bloody careful, if they want to overturn referendum results in cahoots with the London elite.

Because then maybe the rest of the UK don't need to honour one where they want to go independent. Let the poor tartan darlings reflect on their "error" and the damage to their economy, let them realise how "reckless" and "difficult" it all is....and that no-one can agree on the right sort of independence.... and let them vote again...and again...and again...until they get it right.

Yeah. Sauce for the anti-democratic gander is sauce for the nationalist goose.

'The Scots need to be bloody careful'

Because what, the English will ignore them when making decisions the Scots can not change?

Clockwork, each Scot gets a vote of equal weight to every English person (in general elections, national referenda).
Scottish votes have had a deep and powerful effect - they're why Tony the Invader could win at all in the 2000s, and the Scottish fit of pique in voting for the SNP is why Ed the Red lost in 2015 (and the SNP have been almost totally ineffectual for doing anything at all for Scotland within Westminster). The Scots don't get the government they for every time, but neither does Manchester or Surrey.

The idea that there is a 'Scottish will' which must be treated coequally with an 'English will' in determining governments, international treaties is profoundly undemocratic, given if you require the votes of Scotland's population to have an order of magnitude more weight. It is akin to a set of American states with population 20m insisting their 'will' be treated as equal to the other 200m. If Scotland continues to embrace this profoundly undemocratic idea, then yes, ultimately they may have to expelled from British democracy to become a somewhat powerless satellite of the EU (perhaps they'll try for an Irish style tax haven).

@Nigel: "And equally, the most determined to leave the EU tend also to be the most determined that Scotland et al should remain part of the UK."

That'd be Irish ancestry Catholics in Glasgow, apparently. For Indyref:

"Total: 54.6 of the Scottish electorate voted No and 45.4 voted Yes
43% of Roman Catholics voted No and 57% Yes
69.1% of Non RC Christians voted No and 30.9% voted Yes"

For Brexit, by religious affiliation across the UK -

The Jews mildly Leave, good on 'em (and a sign of how rather more Toryish and sensible British Jews are than their American counterparts), the Catholics mildly Remain, only Muslims and C of E wildly different in (the Muslims probably because of greater suspicion of anything that smells like nationalism as not good for them as a much more visible minority). But these dynamics going to be stronger within Scotland (Catholics within Scotland probably swing more against the union than in Britain as a whole)...

(The en-masse emigration of the Irish passport eligible population to the RoI in the event of Brexit going badly is almost enough to make anyone a bit more positively disposed to it going badly. It won't, though, and even if it did, that wouldn't happen. Another Brexit fantasy ;) .)

Can you elaborate about "just look at the Euro"?

20 years before EUR/GBP was ~0.6 and today is ~0.9. Is this EU's fault?

Growth is squeezed out of the Italian economy by the euro. The Spanish boom and bust was ignited by the euro. Ditto re Ireland. Come the next crisis and euro tensions will burst the EU's flimsy bonds.

Before or after the Scots (re)join it?

EU bond problem is due to poor regulation, particularly of Italian banks, which serve as the piggy banks of wealthy right wing industrialists.

Don't worry, if they all go pear shaped, Germany will buy their loan book, just like Greece!

Of course, nothing is perfect.

But, which currency do you prefer for your savings and/or investments? GBP or EUR?

Patriots have a fixed answer but investors are more flexible.

The Greek stock market peaked just before 2008 at about 5000, it is now 734. This is in Euro's of course. The answer to your question is that I want to invest in a growing economy, not one that went through a massive recession. What the European Central bank have done to the PIG economies is nothing worse than criminal in my view, and all to save the German's from a bit of inflation. That is why the Euro is a failed idea. There are minor savings from the Euro in reducing transaction costs and a massive increase in systemic risk for member countries. It is not a good bargain.

Fiscal austerity is a bad idea. Got it.

The Germans and French knew the Greeks were a problem drinker before they let them into the bar. Sure they have to dry out (and be debt-enslaved?), but the EU core shouldn't have let them get so drunk in the first place for entirely selfish political reasons.

This was a good thread, and rather reinforced ChrisA's contention above.

Brits don't know what they believe. Neither do Americans. But they know what they know, which is very little indeed. Which would have a greater impact to world trade and economic growth: a trade war between Britain and the EU (i.e., Brexit) or a trade war between the U.S. and everyone else including China? As for the poll of Brits, what exactly does "fairly" satisfied mean?

Gallup takes two polls, one with only two possible answers: are you satisfied or dissatisfied. And one with more nuanced possible answers: are you very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, very dissatisfied, or somewhat dissatisfied. I suppose the "somewhat" is the British equivalent of "fairly". Today, about one-third of Americans are satisfied and two-thirds are dissatisfied, but fewer than 10% are very satisfied while almost half are very dissatisfied. If one adds up the poll results for the more nuanced poll, the math doesn't compute: shouldn't the "very satisfied" and the "somewhat satisfied" numbers equal the "satisfied" number in the simpler poll? [An aside, I tried to find the satisfaction/dissatisfaction poll for Ray's much younger girlfriend but couldn't find it. In all fairness, she should be allowed the more nuanced answer: very satisfied or somewhat satisfied.] Gallup has been taking a satisfaction/dissatisfaction poll since 1979 and the more nuanced poll since 1995 - of all Americans not Ray's much younger girlfriend. Look at how the mood of the country shifts:

Reminds of a hypothetical survey done in flyover country where someone in a rural exurb of Houston on what this country needs and wants in a candidate:

"Even though Bush did 9/11, I think it brought the country together."

During which the Gallup interviewer furiously writes, "National Security!"

Just a case of killing the goose that laid all those golden eggs.

"The vote for Brexit is often described as a cry of pain from suffering people."

It's no surprise that this isn't true. This line was never anything more than self-serving spin from the losing side to avoid having to engage on a policy level (similar to what we heard from a lot of Clinton voters after 2016). If it gets closer to actually happening, we'll start to hear that Brexit is secretly being driven by Putin.

One could argue this is why Brexit happened - not because the Brits are unhappy, but because the type of people who write for the FT are so out of touch.

> to what extent people, when things are going relatively well, turn on each other, or not.

It strikes me as interesting that you characterize the Brexiteers (presumably 'the other side') in that way.

I think Cambridge Analytica also has some research on this.

Comments for this post are closed