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The Opposite of Happiness

Over the weekend, the Times published a report by Daniel Gross, "Invest Globally, Stagnate Locally." I urge everyone to read it. I wish I could propose something to do after reading it. A plan, perhaps, to bombard economists with demands that they think more creatively about avoiding the rendezvous with an iceberg of "democratic nationalism" that HSBC's chief economist in London, Stephen King, foresees. (And I suspect Mr King of seeing only the tip.)

Thanks to globalization and the opening of new markets, Mr. King said, "it's increasingly difficult to argue that companies themselves are attached to a country." He notes, for example, that Vodafone, the giant British telecommunications company, has more than 80 percent of its sales and employment outside of Britain. And as of 2002, Mr. King found, the 50 largest multinational companies had 55 percent of their employees and 59 percent of their sales outside of their home countries.

Let's say that Americans get fed up with being excluded from the benefits of capitalist prosperity at some point prior to the realization of Alan S Blinder's vision of a nation populated by investors and their servants. Let's say that "leaders" are forced to take protectionist measures against, oops, the countries that prop up the dollar. We cannot afford to take such protectionist measures, period, but that won't necessarily prevent their enaction. What if disgruntled French and German workers resolve to withdraw from the European Union? Nationalism is a deadly beast, fond of war. Human beings have not yet evolved to resist its appetite. Racial supremacists on both sides of the Atlantic keep the pilot light of hatred burning. Economic downturns threaten to take us right back to 1914, if not to something worse.

Has the air gone out of Western Civilization? Are we just coasting, comfortable for the moment but out of control? Every Monday morning, instead of a bleak office I confront this bleak prospect. I see a lot of good reporting - that's how I know that I've got something to worry about. Beyond that, however, I don't see much evidence of creative initiative. Much of the analysis that I see is spoiled by anger. Is this the inevitable consequence of a culture of "individualism"?

I myself am not angry. I've done the anger thing and gotten it out of my system. But I am unhappy. As Jeremy Denk noted a few weeks ago, the opposite of happiness is not sadness. The opposite of happiness is worry.


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