Unhappy Prosperity

  colson2On June 27, Tony Blair left office after having been Britain’s prime minister for 10 years. His next job will be that of envoy for the so-called “Quartet” of Mideast negotiators: the United States, the U.N., the European Union and Russia. Let’s hope that his new employers appreciate him more than his old ones. Blair leaves 10 Downing Street with the dubious distinction of having been the “most unpopular Labour Prime Minister of modern times.” Last November, his approval rating sank to 26 percent. In other words, Blair is less popular than the Labour leaders who presided over Britain’s economic collapse of the 1970s: when inflation ran as high as 24 percent a year and the British economy was paralyzed by frequent strikes. In contrast, Blair’s tenure saw the “longest uninterrupted period of [economic] growth in 200 years,” not to mention the end of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland. Don’t get me wrong: There are many issues, especially cultural and right-to-life ones, in which I strongly disagree with Blair. But I still think that he’s getting a raw deal from the British public. The British aren’t unique in this regard. If you compare conditions in the U.S. today to those during the 1960s and 70s, you would have trouble understanding President Bush’s historically low approval numbers. Even with the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, Americans are by any reasonable measure, far better off today then they were back then, or in 2001, for that matter. And there hasn’t been another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Yet, like Blair, the president is vilified. What’s going on? Part of it is that higher standards of living aren’t a guarantee of personal happiness. A recent study of Americans found that “Americans are less happy today than they were 30 years ago.” The researchers concluded that any happiness produced by an increased standard of living was more than offset by a “drop in the quality of relationships” during that time. The same is true in Britain. Although real incomes have tripled since the 1950s, the number of people who described themselves as “very happy” has dropped dramatically from 57 to 36 percent. While there are many reasons why unhappiness is on the rise, people on both sides of the Atlantic expect government to do something about it. The same poll that measured Brits’ unhappiness found that 80 percent of them believed that the “government’s prime objective should be the ‘greatest happiness.’” We have succumbed to the illusion that every problem has a political solution. All that’s needed is the right combination of expertise and political will. Of course, the idea that government can promote or create “happiness” is absurd on its face: a New Scientist survey found that Nigerians and Mexicans, whose countries aren’t known for stellar governance, are the happiest people in the world. Yet this is the standard to which we hold our leaders? If we’re unsatisfied with our lives, we get angry with them and blame the government. There is, however, one group of people who will have good cause to be unhappy: whoever succeeds Blair and Bush. Things will be the same for them. Until, that is, people realize that neither wealth nor government can ever be the source of true happiness.    
Today's BreakPoint Offer
Chuck Colson, God & Government (Zondervan, 2007).  
For Further Reading and Information
Rob Gifford, “Blair Steps Down, Takes up Mideast Peace,National Public Radio Online, 27 June 2007. Mark Lavie, "Blair Takes on Hard Job As Mideast Envoy," The Associated Press, 27 June 2007.   Mary Jordan, “Blair Leaves Office Defending Iraq Role,” Washington Post, 28 June 2007.   Tom Hundley, “Blair Finishes Decade at No. 10,Chicago Tribune, 28 June 2007.   Tom Baldwin, “World Crisis of Confidence in President Bush,Times Online, 28 June 2007. Eric Weiner, "Britain's Blair to Depart June 27," National Public Radio Online, 10 May 2007.   Deepa Babington, “Americans Less Happy Today Than 30 Years Ago: Study,” Reuters, 15 June 2007. Mark Rice-Oxley, "New quest in British politics: public happiness," The Christian Science Monitor, 17 January 2007. University of Leicester, "Psychologist Produces The First-ever 'World Map Of Happiness,'" Science Daily, 14 November 2006. Brendan Anderson, "Tributes paid to Blair's NI work," BBC News, 10 May 2007. "In pictures: Blair and the UK economy," BBC News. George Jones, "Blair is most unpopular Labour PM,", 5 November 2006.     “Nigeria Tops Happiness Survey,” BBC News, 2 October 2003.     “Are We Happy Yet?” Pew Research Center, 13 February 2006.   Jim Tonkowich, “The Limitations of Politics: Change Culture to Change the Law,” Breakpoint Worldview, 7 June 2006.


Chuck Colson



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