Middle age is rubbish, there’s no question about it. Happiness levels start to sink in your thirties and the average only starts rising again among people in their fifties, partly because a lot of the most miserable are dead by then.
Bear with me, this post does get cheerier.
Since the election results last week I’ve felt a mild sense of anxiety that the Conservative Party is going to fail all its new voters, and that the What’s the Matter with Kansas? theory of social deception will prove correct.
If that happens, then all the talk of national solidarity and patriotism will turn out to be a lie, the whole thing a trick – especially Brexit.
We all want this new Revived One Nation Toryism to deliver, but what metrics could we use to measure it?
One suggestion might be to focus on suicide rates among men in their 40s, the group who by the bluntest measurement are the unhappiest – although this is far more acute among unskilled men, because while money can’t buy you happiness, poverty can be relied on to deliver the opposite.
The average suicide in England/Scotland/Wales is a man in his mid-40s who is unemployed, not married, living alone and likely to have a drug/alcohol prob. I wonder what a combination of ultra-economic/social/cultural liberalism offers to such individuals?https://t.co/8OD8egpt8T pic.twitter.com/XODTYFir1f
— Post-Liberal Pete (@post_liberal) December 19, 2019
In my view one area where conservatism has gone wrong in recent years is in focusing too much on the extraordinary and the exceptionally talented; Tory politicians like to recount rags-to-riches stories, of people who went from extreme poverty to great wealth because of “opportunity”, but those types are very rare. Most of us aren’t capable of such feats, not just because of background but because things like intelligence and even grit and determination have a very large genetic component.
Conservatism should be about helping the “average man” – l’homme moyen as French statistician Adolphe Quetelet called it – and making life good and even enjoyable for people who are on the average salary.
But it won’t be easy; social alienation, loneliness and despair are heavily linked to declining rates of marriage and more people living alone, but the unspoken problem is that marriage rates are themselves related to average male incomes, which at the lower end of the economic spectrum have stalled.
And the ratio of male-to-female incomes is especially correlated with marriage rates, so in this case sexual equality has a trade off with class equality.
Back in the 1990s “single mums” and “welfare queens” were a big theme in Right-wing politics on both sides of the Atlantic, but when men are unable to afford the role of husband and father, marriage rates collapse; free-market conservative politicians so far have been unable to address this problem meaningfully because these economic changes have been on their watch, and it is a massive problem.
Liberals obviously can’t address it because nonjudgmental personal freedom and equality between the sexes are both sacred absolutes, and people generally don’t like trade-offs, in particular the trade-off between freedom and equality.
But if the Tories can make some difference to this most vulnerable of demographics — and I’d be interested in what other measurements we might use — then the project won’t have been a complete failure.