How about I ask you if you "feel" like you make enough money each year? Let's say you make $48,000 a year, OK? (That's the median household income in the US) You'll likely tell me, then that you "feel" you need more. Now, from this, can I conclude that you are "struggling in life" as a citizen of the USA? Not if you use actual data instead of "feelings" to determine what "struggling" means and not if you then try to add context to what we all have compared to what others in the world have, of course. But, this is exactly the sort of nonsensical "survey" that Reuters gravely warned us about this week. Without bothering with any statistics or context, Reuters excitedly reported that "Many Americans struggling in life, survey finds", and decided that everyone is downtrodden and filled with "suffering" in the United States today.
But this is just another so-called survey that is reported backwards. It turns out that, even by their unscientific criteria, 49 percent of the Americans they surveyed said that they were "thriving, with few health or money worries." So, why is this reported as if the preponderance of our fellow citizens is claiming to be "struggling"?
Here is how Reuters begins their report:
Many Americans are struggling through life but only 4 percent are truly miserable, with no hope for the future, according to a survey released on Tuesday.
Nearly half -- 49 percent -- describe themselves as thriving, with few health or money worries, according to the researchers at the global polling organization Gallup and health consulting firm Healthways.
Then the report goes on to say that 47 percent claim they are "struggling" and that 4 percent are without hope.
So, why did the survey get reported that Americans are "struggling" when most said they were doing just fine? Why, because it makes for a better beat-up-America story, that's why.
So, to “prove” it’s all doom and gloom, Reuters assures us that this is America and we are all in dire straits. "You are getting the detail of what it is like to live in this country," Reuters reports Daniel Kahneman, a professor emeritus at Princeton University in New Jersey, as saying.
I find it a bit hard to believe that this gives us any "detail of what it is like to live in this country," though. According to what Reuters is reporting, the results of this survey were obtained by "... asking 70 different questions about well-being. These include questions about diagnosed diseases and daily physical discomfort, employment and income but also subjective questions about mood and happiness." In other words, the claims presented here are based on the "feelings" of those surveyed, not on scientific and economic data. In fact, no data but what people claimed on the telephone seem to have been used to formulate the results of this report.
So, when we call someone on the phone and ask them if they "feel" they are struggling, is this "feeling" based on anything concrete, or is it based on the "feeling" that Americans want to do better and are frustrated that they aren't? Further is it even legitimate when compared to what is going on elsewhere in the world so that we can measure what "struggling" might even mean?
In Australia, for instance, the median household income is about $38,000 and it's about the same in New Zealand. In Hong Kong it is $31,000. In Israel, $37,000. In Ireland and Scotland it's around $35,000. But in Canada it is about $43,000 and in Switzerland $54,000. Still, when looking at these western nations (or a western styled economy in the case of Hong Kong), the US fares pretty well. So, comparatively on the basis solely of income, the average American household has little to "feel" despondent about.
On the other hand, in China you'd be lucky to make $2,000 annually. In India $4,500 is the number. It's $2,000 if you are a citizen of Mexico and somewhere near $9,000 in Brazil. Let's ask Americans what their "feelings" would be if they made that amount annually?
Naturally, the people conducting this "survey" want to use it to push their political agenda.
Dr. Virginia Gurley, senior medical director of Healthways, said the results can directly inform the political debate on health care, the future of programs such as Medicare and even international trade. "We are having trouble competing because of the cost of health care and its effects," Gurley said.
Ah, there you have it. It isn't that Americans are really doing so badly when compared to folks in other western nations, and it is for sure that Americans aren't doing as badly as those in second tier and third world nations. It's really that these people want a platform so that they can use these so-called results to push their ideas to "inform the political debate" in the US. And Reuters is happy to comply.
So, let's push American's uninformed "feelings" that they are in worse shape than ever, that they are downtrodden and misused by those eeeevil rich folks, and let's play on those "feelings" so that we can create socialist programs that give people like Dr. Virginia Gurley the power she craves.
Thanks, Doc, but I think your prescription is nothing but placebo pills while you wring your hands in expectation of killing the patient! And thanks to Reuters for chasing the ambulance.
(Photo credit: from davemanual.com)