Our na­tional funk

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - MICHAEL BARONE

Not all is gloom out there. That’s the dom­i­nant mes­sage from the most re­cent Pew Global At­ti­tudes Project’s poll of 47 na­tions. Pew found there is ris­ing or con­stantly high con­tent­ment all over the globe with one’s qual­ity of life and fam­ily in­come. Sat­is­fac­tion tends to be high­est in the United States and Canada, but not far be­hind are West­ern Europe and Latin Amer­ica. Even in East­ern Europe, Asia and Latin Amer­ica, about one-third are highly sat­is­fied with their qual­ity of life and in­come.

As the Pew Global an­a­lysts point out, there is a high cor­re­la­tion here with eco­nomic growth — and the world is pro­duc­ing what may be the high­est eco­nomic growth rates in his­tory. Be­tween 2002 and 2007, the per­capita gross do­mes­tic prod­uct in­creased 11 per­cent in the United States, 6 per­cent in West­ern Europe, and be­tween 17 per­cent and 36 per­cent in East­ern Europe, Asia, Latin Amer­ica and Africa. In that pe­riod, con­tent­ment has risen roughly in tan­dem with the econ­omy.

But can money buy you love? Not nec­es­sar­ily. Al­though ma­jori­ties in most of the 47 coun­tries think their economies are in good shape, ma­jori­ties in most say they are not sat­is­fied with the way things are go­ing in their coun­try.

It’s not un­com­mon for peo­ple to ex­press more neg­a­tive feel­ings about na­tional trends than about their per­sonal lives, and the ques­tion in­vites re­spon­dents with any com­plaint about pol­i­tics or cul­ture to an­swer in the neg­a­tive. And in most of the coun­tries, opin­ion on the di­rec­tion of the na­tion is more pos­i­tive than it was five years ago.

Most strik­ingly, only 25 per­cent of Amer­i­cans are pos­i­tive about the di­rec­tion of the na­tion, down from 41 per­cent in 2002. In only a hand­ful of the 47 na­tions are there de­clines of sim­i­lar mag­ni­tude — Uganda, the Czech Repub­lic, France, Canada and Italy. Ob­vi­ously, one fac­tor is the de­cline in the job rat­ing of Ge­orge W. Bush and of Congress (and the re­sponse in other coun­tries to squab­bling politi­cians in Prague, Paris, Ottawa and Rome).

It’s partly a par­ti­san re­sponse: Al­most all Democrats are neg­a­tive about the na­tion’s fu­ture. But when one con­sid­ers Amer­ica has not suf­fered an­other Septem­ber 11-type ter­ror­ist at­tack and has en­joyed a surg­ing and pros­per­ous econ­omy, it’s hard to avoid the con­clu­sion that cit­i­zens of this most blessed coun­try are reg­is­ter­ing a ver­dict that is in ten­sion with re­al­ity.

That’s my re­ac­tion as well to the find­ing that by a 2-to-1 mar­gin Amer­i­cans say their chil­dren will be worse off than we are. There’s a sim­i­lar re­sponse in Canada, Bri­tain and Brazil. The even more neg­a­tive ver­dicts in West­ern Europe and Ja­pan can be ex­plained as a cool as­sess­ment of the com­bi­na­tion of low birthrates and over­gen­er­ous wel­fare states.

But what ba­sis do Amer­i­cans have to sup­pose that, for the first time in his­tory, a younger gen­er­a­tion will be worse off than their par­ents? Per­haps it’s just a feel­ing that things can­not pos­si­bly get any bet­ter. In any case, we ple are bet­ter off with free mar­kets. (The high­est per­cent­age was in Hugo Chavez’s so­cial­ist Venezuela.) In Africa, most ex­press great op­ti­mism in the fu­ture — a sign that the world’s most trou­bled con­ti­nent may be at last turn­ing around.

Per­haps most im­por­tantly, the Pew Global sur­vey showed sharply re­duced num­bers of Mus­lims say­ing sui­cide bomb­ings are of­ten or some­times jus­ti­fied as com­pared with 2002. That’s still the view of 70 per­cent in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries. But that per­cent­age has de­clined from 74 per­cent to 34 per­cent in Le­banon, from 43 per­cent to 23 per­cent in Jor­dan, and from 33 per­cent to 9 per­cent in Pak­istan.

We have been in­structed by many sages that the rest of the world hates us and does not want to fol­low our ex­am­ple. The Pew Global num­bers tell us some­thing dif­fer­ent.

Peo­ple around the world may op­pose Amer­i­can in­ter­ven­tion in Iraq, but they also want many of the things we do. Per­haps we should take a cue from the op­ti­mism of the de­vel­op­ing world and ap­pre­ci­ate what we have — and get out of our na­tional funk.

Michael Barone is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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