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 that 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 economic growth at rates that may be the highest in history. Between 2002 and 2007, the per-capita 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 that 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 here 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 that America has not suffered another Sept. 11, and that it 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 two-to-one 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.