Are We Happy Yet?

I have trouble understanding all the unhappiness in the face of objectively good times. Virtually every economic indicator is up. People are living longer & healthier lives. Our environment continues to improve. Educational levels are rising. So why aren’t you happy yet?

Some people are never happy; others are happy most of the time. There is evidently a happiness set point. Just like some people gain or lose weight easier, some people are naturally happier. Twin studies indicate that this is genetically based. I bring this up just to acknowledge it and set it aside. Presumably genetics changes too slowly to explain ephemeral changes in happiness and there is not a lot we can do about it anyway. Let's stick to the things that might be changeable factors.

I blame the media for some current unhappiness. It is structural. Media covers mostly bad news and news that is sensational. There are lots of murders, robberies and accidents in a country of 300 million and we hear about the more spectacular ones every day. It can be very personal and make it seem part of our own experience. Most of us have little or no personal experience with murder, kidnapping or aggravated assault, but the immediacy of the media makes us feel like we do. Even good news is threatening. A recent story about the drop in cancer deaths probably had the effect of making people think about, and fear, cancer.

Another culprit is commuting and the automobile in general. We drive more and more in traffic. Traffic is stressful. We also miss the contact with the earth. When you walk, you have your feet literally on the ground and you are "grounded". A twenty minute walk to work provides time to think and be connected with the world around you. Twenty minutes as a road warrior leaves you stressed and tired w/o any benefit of exercise. People underestimate the stress this causes. Worse yet, commutes are getting longer. Those that hour you spend at the wheel each day make your eight hour workday a nine hour workday, and it is not much fun.

I think choice is an unexpected irritant in modern life. We have too many choices and some of us are constantly pursuing the best possible deal. The quest for excellence can be great, but most of time I think we need to satisfice more often. In my experience, I have often been more SATISFIED with some of the choices I didn't get to make but learned to love. You can't always get what you want, but even more often you don't even know what that is. Lighten up.

Related to this is the relentless creation of new needs and new uses for things. Like choice, this is a good thing unless taken too far. Here I blame e-Bay & Internet. You used to be able to give away or just throw out that old crap around the attic. Now some people are compelled to try to sell it on e-Bay, and when they make money, the rest of us feel foolish for not being more proactive. It is very stressful to know the price of everything. Give away that old table and your brother-in-law will ridicule you for losing ten bucks. The Internet makes that possible.

I also blame Wal-Mart. I am reading a very good book called the Wal-Mart Effect that I find disquieting because it is true. I like Wal-Mart for some things. It has single handedly knocked a couple points off inflation and has made the whole economy more efficient - maybe too efficient. The relentless price cutting has driven us to see everything as a commodity to be purchased as the lowest price. There is nothing wrong with this as long as it is not taken too far, and I fear it is being taken too far.

We need time for serendipity and even the occasional screw up. Modern life has become too efficient. We have too much, but never enough.

But the most important reason for unhappiness is the lack of a meaningful life. All these things I mentioned above contribute to this. We define ourselves by what we have and not by what we are. We spend our time trying to make optimal choices instead of seeking enriching experiences or getting to know good people. There is also a general breakdown of what it means to be a good person. Mere celebrity has replace eminence and people want to be famous even if it is for being a tramp or a crook. The guy who does the right thing is sometimes just called a chump, while the drug dealers and the whores have become icons.

If you base your life on what you have and the acclaim of others, you will not be happy. Pleasure and happiness are not the same and sometimes they are mutually exclusive. Our mainstream society has replaced the idea of internal values with that of external approval. We essentially take a vote about what is right and wrong. If the polls say something is good ... well vox populi e vox dei. You can run an economy on this principle. In fact that is the basis of the market, which is the best way to allocate goods and investment. We have done that very well. But it will not make you happy or morally centered as an individual. Maybe that is why, in spite of the good news in the economy, so many people are unhappy. They are just hollow. The circumstances are different, but the images of the poem are on target.

... or you can just blame George Bush.

Posted by Jack at February 1, 2007 6:22 PM
Comment #206202

Jack, perhaps you are the one who needs to lighten up. This is after all, a political blog. If many of us complain about what is happening in our country, or in the world, that doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t very happy in our personal lives. And, just because you tell us we should be happy because you think everything has been going great under this administration, doesn’t mean that you are right, or that we all have to agree with you.
Btw, I replied to you twice in your other thread. I hope this new article doesn’t mean you will neglect to read and/or respond to what I wrote there.

Posted by: Adrienne at February 1, 2007 6:55 PM
Comment #206203

“I have trouble understanding all the unhappiness in the face of objectively good times.”

~Who said we were unhappy? Sounds like a straw dog to me.

“I blame the media for some current unhappiness.”

The media works like any other free market commercial endeavor.
I am sure they have a marketing department that tells them that bad news sells. If good news sold papers what do you think they would print???

The better question might be why we like the tragic story?

You have studied Greek lit. This is not something unique to us. The news papers who’s job it is to make money capitalizes on this. Why do you blame them?

Posted by: 037 at February 1, 2007 6:58 PM
Comment #206208

Jack, since you and I both seem to love poetry, here is an exerpt from a poem I’d like to share with for you. It is from ‘Ode Pour L’election De Son Sepulchre’ by Ezra Pound (he was writing about WWI):

These fought in any case,
And some believing,
pro domo, in any case…

Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later…
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;

Died some, pro patria,
non “dulce” not “et decor”…
walked eye-deep in hell
believing old men’s lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.

Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
fair cheeks, and fine bodies;

fortitude as never before

frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

Posted by: Adrienne at February 1, 2007 7:06 PM
Comment #206217


Actually, I have not looked at the other post, but I will do so.

I know this post is a little off the politics, but I do notice that people blame politicians for lots of things that really are not their faults.

The way I see it, money does not buy happiness, but prosperity helps remove the impediments to happiness. In most of the Western world, we have achieved a general level of prosperity that should form the basis of happiness for most people. Yet it does not. Why not?

I think many people do not know how to be happy. They seek pleasure, but do not find happiness in that because they are looking in the wrong place.

Of course, the Hollow Men is also about WWI. I think that is a truly tragic war that destroyed a optimistic and promising civilization.

Posted by: Jack at February 1, 2007 8:25 PM
Comment #206223

Just how happier would you feel if you were saddled with more bills, if everything cost more, if those who charged you all this then turned around and made even all that difficult?

If you want economic happiness, make it less painful to live an average existence.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 1, 2007 9:11 PM
Comment #206226


The median income in American is enough to live a decent life.

Posted by: Jack at February 1, 2007 9:28 PM
Comment #206227

Well, I would argue that it is in the nature of many people to find misery in their situation, regardless of how logical it is. On the other hand, there are those who can find happiness in the face of adversity and seemingly difficult living conditions.

So I would not attribute it entirely to the political situation, although, if you want to talk of that, there are plenty of legitimate concerns. Relative or not, there are plenty of issues that need addressing.

Posted by: Zeek at February 1, 2007 9:32 PM
Comment #206231

Consumerism is our ideology; the gears of the machine turn because almost everything in our culture reinforces the belief that the purpose of life is to get more and more. Consumerism requires that we NOT be happy with what we’ve got. So we’re conditioned to long for HD TV, I-Pods, inefficient SUVs, and all the other crap we don’t need. How many of us work long hours away from our families simply to get stuff we are conditioned to believe we need, but don’t. Our economy relies on … crap. Then we die, no more enlightened than we were when we were teen-agers.

It is possible to resist. Study critical theory. Learn the deep meanings of ideology. Teach our children what is essential. Discard the false idols. Search for insight about the nature of desire. And never, never trust a partisan.

Posted by: Trent at February 1, 2007 9:44 PM
Comment #206247


Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 1, 2007 11:25 PM
Comment #206251
I have trouble understanding all the unhappiness in the face of objectively good times.

If things are so objectively good, then why did President Bush have to address economic disparity yesterday?

Seriously Jack, as gas prices, college fees, housing costs and just about everything else goes up, things are getting better for a few people and worse for the rest of us.

And don’t expect me to celebrate a national economy kept afloat only by the grace of Asian moneylenders. It’s un-American to be dependent like this.

Posted by: American Pundit at February 1, 2007 11:39 PM
Comment #206255

Trent is precisely right. We are bombarded non-stop with advertising messages trying to convince us that we’re unhappy because we don’t have whatever they’re selling. Meanwhile, we’ve become a nation of two-income families (with the predictable negative effects on the family unit) because we’re trying so hard to get more and more. Many of us are working 60-70 hours a week just to stay on the consumerism hamster wheel.

Posted by: Louisms at February 2, 2007 12:03 AM
Comment #206261


We are a nation of two incomes because we have a changed social structure. If people did the math, families with children might be financially better off with one wage earner and one stay at home, when you consider the prices of child care etc.


Everywhere around the country, except I suppose very expensive cities.


People are unhappy re economic differences. It doesn’t mean they are doing poorly, it is just that they see others doing better.

I never much liked rich people either, but that is not because I am doing poorly.

Re Asian moneylenders - yes, we consume too much. I do not care for that either. It is part of our national vice. But we have been doing it for generations. I do not really understand how it works, but it does. It also show the options we have. Anybody can choose to make do with less.


See above. We can choose to consume or not. The problem of our and all Western societies today is abundance. We have to learn to live with this. As long as we stick with the old paradigm of scarcity, we cannot adapt.

Posted by: Jack at February 2, 2007 1:13 AM
Comment #206263
It doesn’t mean they are doing poorly, it is just that they see others doing better.

Jack, I know it’s hard for you to believe as you jet set around the world or spend time on your wooded estate, but millions of Americans — more every year — are doing worse than they once were.

We’re getting laid off from good paying jobs and taking new jobs with lower pay because that’s all there is. We’re losing medical benefits. We’re losing pensions. And a college education for our kids is becoming an expensive dream.

It has nothing to do with envy and everything to do with policies that favor multi-national corporations and the hereditary wealthy over working-class Americans.

Posted by: American Pundit at February 2, 2007 1:34 AM
Comment #206266


Wooded estate? It is a tree farm with lots of little loblolly and a mess of hardwoods near the streams.

The facts just do not support this idea that people are getting worse off. Unemployment is low; median incomes rose last year in real terms and household net worth has never been higher.

So most people are employed and making the same sort of money they did during the “golden 1990s”. They have their share of debts, but their assets have grown faster, so that average family has a higher net worth than ever.

Like all times, some people are better off and some worse.

The other thing to notice is that our economy is subject to long term trends. Inequality grew FASTER during the late 1990s and actually decreased a little after 2001. This was not a good thing. It resulted from the economic slowdown.

Posted by: Jack at February 2, 2007 1:56 AM
Comment #206270

“Oh la la la” life in pink
The pink that we are offered, proposed
To have quantities of things
That make us envy other things
“Aïe”, we are made believing
That happiness is to have
To have our closets full of it
Derisions of us derisory because

Sentimental crowd
We’re thirsty for ideal
Attracted by stars, sails
Only non-commercial things
Sentimental crowd
You have to see how we’re talked to
How we’re talked to

From these cardboard boxes
Washed up people, out of order
Sad and without advantages
We are inflicted, imposed
Desires that afflict us
We are taken, talking nonsense, as soon as we’re born
For the idiots that we are

Sentimental crowd
With thirst for ideal
Attracted by stars, sails
Only non-commercial things
Sentimental crowd
You have to see how we’re talked to
How we’re talked to

We are (imposed) Claudia Schieffer
We are (imposed) Paul-Loup Sulitzer
Oh the pain that it is done to us
And that ravages the moukère
From the sky descends
A desire that pleases us
For tomorrow our pale children
Something better, a dream, a horse

Sentimental crowd
We’re thirsty for ideal
Attracted by stars, sails
Only non-commercial things
Sentimental crowd
You have to see how we’re talked to
How we’re talked to

— Alain Souchon, “Foule sentimentale”, lyrics translated in english.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at February 2, 2007 5:07 AM
Comment #206272

For about 100 million Americans, all that Jack touts as good news here is like having a fever of 105 and rejoicing that the fever has just dropped to 103 degrees. The patient still feels achy, headachy, and the doctors still don’t know what’s causing the fever. Or better, the doctors do know, but, the patient doesn’t have insurance and the treatment to restore full health will cost $30,000 more than the patient has.

That’s why Jack. But ignore them, because everyone else is feeling pretty good, well, except those will family in Iraq, or about to go there, that would 45,000 more American families.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 2, 2007 5:56 AM
Comment #206276
Our environment continues to improve.

Not really. It is true that certain pollutants have been reduced. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are facing environmental apocalypse. “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

Another culprit is commuting and the automobile in general. We drive more and more in traffic. Traffic is stressful. We also miss the contact with the earth. When you walk, you have your feet literally on the ground and you are “grounded”.

You sound like Al Gore you freakin’ hippie! ;)

I also blame Wal-Mart… The relentless price cutting has driven us to see everything as a commodity to be purchased as the lowest price.

You know you sound rather disgruntled, and in a left-wing manner I might add…

OK, enough mockery. The problem with your economic argument is that we live in the world’s richest third-world country. We can’t even provide basic healthcare to all of our citizens. If we could invest our money more wisely, people wouldn’t have to live in fear of losing their job and health insurance. That would take a lot of the edge off.

Oh, and traffic sucks too. I blame the other drivers. ;)

Posted by: Woody Mena at February 2, 2007 6:21 AM
Comment #206286


I was not disagreeing with you. In fact, your comment about my comment agrees with my comment.

The implications of everyone overturning the ideology of consumerism is economic devastation, at least by the terms we all measure our economy. The current nature of our economic system requires consumerism. The official and non-official institutions of our society reinforce this ideology not because of any sinister design, but because these institutions, in the main, always service the ideology that keeps the gears turning. This is not to say that there are not subversive elements — there are always residual and emergent elements. In time, emergent elements can transform, have transformed in the past.

This, by the way, is why Marxism is still relevant — not for its prediction of revolution, but for its critique of capitalism, and for its analysis of ideology. By reflex, many instantly discard any ideas associated with Marxism, and by reflex, assume any reference to Marxism must be in the context of advocacy for uniform economic equality. This is simply not true and demonstrates an utter unwareness of what modern discussions of Marxism in the academy are all about.

As far as desire goes, one need not turn to Marxism search for understanding. The psychoanalytic thinkers of the last century provide many insights into the nature of desire — how it is tied up with the creation of our psyches, how it is constantly deferred, how it is built into our very thought and language. One can also turn to non-Western modes of thought for insight. A main thrust of Western thought involves overcoming, domination, acquisition, and generally ascribes virtue (arete if you prefer) to those who acquire (retribution theology — i.e., the wealthy are blessed and the poor are cursed strand that runs through much of the Old Testament — it is no accident that the genocide that occured in what became our country was thought to be sanctioned by God). The desire for acquisition is built into Western thought. You may say other non-Western cultures also conquer, etc., and you would be right. But we have made a “virtue” of the baser elements of our natures.

Posted by: Trent at February 2, 2007 9:08 AM
Comment #206290

Things that contribute to my unhappiness that aren’t personal include our debt, our policy of torture, our policy of eavesdropping, our policies toward global warming, our situation in Iraq. There’s more, but I guess I just disagree with you about our general state of affairs.

Posted by: Max at February 2, 2007 9:41 AM
Comment #206292

I’m happy.

I don’t make a fortune, In fact I just looked at my w-2 form and I made less than 50k last year and I’m happy

I have a lovely wife of 37 years, 2 grown children who don’t get into trouble, a few hobbies and a good job and I’m happy

I have several friends to associate with and I’m happy.

Not to say everything in my life is going great, but overall I’m happy.

Posted by: tomd at February 2, 2007 9:46 AM
Comment #206293


I would expect that half of the families in the U.S. have an income below the median. About 20% fall into the lowest quintile and currently around 4.5% of the people looking for jobs cannot find them.

I would also expect that if you could find statistics on any previous time, you would find exactly these same statistics, except the unemployment rate would be a little higher. And if you look into to the future, from this day to the end of the world, these statistics will be exactly the same, again except for unemployment. It is a tautology. It sound ominous, but it is just the way is has been, is now and ever shall be.


I do not mind being mocked. I have said on many occasions that we often do not disagree on the goals, but on the means of attaining them and the feasibility of success.

Wal-Mart is a net negative for MY lifestyle and sensibilities, but I realize that many people like what it does. I do not expect everybody to want to live my unique lifestyle, just as I do not want to live theirs.

Re health care, I do not think that a national health care is currently feasible in the U.S. I think Americans would demand too much and our litigious society would give it to them. We have to make a systemic fix. I am not sure what that is. I like President Bush’s health saving plans and I think we will need some variation of that mixed with the kind of system Federal employees now enjoy. BTW – they do not get FREE health care. The details will be tough.

Re if WE invested money more wisely. Many people who do not have health care just do not want to buy it. They have other priorities. We should make it easier to buy and perhaps give tax incentives, but we still have a problem with a small number of miscreants who abuse and are abused by any system.


Most people want to be big consumers. I am going to be unabashedly elitist here, so if people want to give me a hard time I won’t fight back on this. Many people cannot really figure out how to get what they really want or even what that is. It is both a problem of education and cognitive ability. It takes a certain minimum level of intelligence to understand that you do not have to be a consumer. At least half the population just cannot understand the concept and there is no way to teach them. Of course, maybe they are right and people like you and I are just chumps. In any case, our consumer society piles riches at our feet. If you use them reasonably, it is not hard to have enough.

Re western and non-western countries, I think we just do not study non-western history enough. If you look at Chinese history, you find repeated very large scale death and destruction. The Moguls pretty much killed anybody who bothered them and the Great Khan made a science of raping women. Shaka Zulu formed his empire by murdering people all over the place. The Parthians managed the fine art of skinning people alive.

More recently, do you think it would be easier to live under American or Japanese occupation in WWII? How about the Cultural Revolution?

Actually, the west is remarkable for the level of individual rights it had, not its brutality. We hold ourselves to a higher standard. By implication that means we accept a lower standard from others.

Posted by: Jack at February 2, 2007 9:46 AM
Comment #206295

Jack, I don’t accept your idle speculations for convenience. Show me some statistics, and I will give your argument some due consideration.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 2, 2007 10:05 AM
Comment #206298

There appears to be some confusion here between “happy” and “satisfied”. I am happy. I am not satsified. Especially as it applies to this thread, the abysmal performance of this administration, and the shallow and short term nature of the so-called “numbers”. For example, multi trillion dollars added to our national debt, continuing federal deficit spending, negative savings rates (i.e. persoanl debt and deficit spending), increase in unemployment to 4.6% (good number, not robust situation), decreasing median incomes, trillion dollar trade deficits, an endless war (well maybe in ‘09 after the shrub goes back to his AA/NA meetings). Personally, I’m gald I have alot of euros. Maybe it’s time for more Yuans.
This nation is bleeding to death but some insist on ignoring the exsanguination and just repeat “good blood pressure”

Posted by: Dave1-20-2009 at February 2, 2007 10:19 AM
Comment #206302


Many Western notions I admire, individuality and the concept of human rights being among them. We do not always live up to admirable Western ideals, but the ideals themselves are noble. The Greeks were amazing for a number of reasons, not the least for attempting to make democracy work. But the Athenians were also imperialistic; it seems a major step to expand the ideas behind democracy to Others. They were smug in their belief of superiority — Aristotle, that amazing observer, could not get past the idea that slaves were naturally inferior. This is incredible to me since of course slavery in that time often had nothing to do with race or any other differences — I wonder sometimes if he really knew better but didn’t say it for political reasons — who knows. Plato thought better about such issues, though of course you have to be selective in passages to demonstrate that. We somehow use the notion of superiority to justify atrocity.

At any rate, I certainly do not condone brutality practiced by other cultures! Take the hellenistic rulers, for example — for the most part, they were simply grabbing what they could so they could be what we might now call Eurotrash at the expense of the populations they ruled (Alexander seemed to have more enlightened ideals than those who followed him.) And I certainly do not claim that our ideology is the only ideology that leads to acquisitiveness.

If as a species we ever grow up, what would that be like? Would it be so different from the Utopia Marx fantasized about? Does our current ideology stand in the way of maturity? But even as I ask those questions, I see I assume the reality of progress. If maturity in these matters is something that requires conscious effort, then is it possible for society as a whole to become mature. If our ideology changes, then are we not simply conditioning (that is, inculcating values below the conscious level of thought) populations to have new modes of thought? And if so, then they can be conditioned in other modes. I don’t know, Jack. Maybe this requires the evolution of the very structures of our brains. Individuals, of course, can through self-examination change themselves, but when we speak of populations, must we always be speaking of mere conditioning?

You and I are both agnostics, but also not particularly hostile to Christianity. I think some of the core ideals of Christianity are astounding, though of course in practice they get perverted (prosperity theology is an extreme example). And of course the church persecuted those who talked overmuch of the poverty of Christ. When people deny basic scientific understanding in favor of ancient words on a page, I think both you and I believe they misunderstand the nobler aspects of Judaic-Christian thought.

I think elitism sometimes gets a bad rap. You know your history well; it is not an error to realize you know more about some historical subjects than most people. (That’s not necessarily the same as smugness, after all.) When someone feels superior, however, because of circumstances he or she did not create, then it is a form of self delusion. I think we agree on that.

At any rate, we are all elite in various ways. My mechanic certainly understands my car better than I do.

In no way did I intend to defend the atrocities of other cultures.

Posted by: Trent at February 2, 2007 10:29 AM
Comment #206318


I’m generally a happy person. Due to my neurological ailment I believe I can say I’m exceptionally happy. I’m just smart enough to know that my medical condition could be much worse. I was originally told I had two months to live in late 2001 so I’m ecstatic to still be above ground.

I have a son that suffered a traumatic brain injury thirteen years ago and, while he’ll never fully recover, I’m happy that he’s finally reaching a level of acceptance that allows him to be happy. So I’m happy that he has rediscovered happiness.

I’m very, very happy that the USA has a safety net that caught my son and I on the long, hard fall into what would otherwise have been stark poverty, homelessness, and ultimately an untimely demise. Thanks taxpayers, without you my son and I’d be screwed.

I’m happy that my other two children are healthy and gainfully employed. I’m happy that my grandchildren appear to be happy and healthy.

Now that I have all the warm fuzzy stuff out of the way………….

Jack, you know very well where we disagree on political issues so I see no real point in rehashing all of that, besides several others have done so quite well. Our disagreement there is at times so blinding it’s almost as though we’re talking about two different Americas.

But, I actually agree with you on a large part of what I’d call the “consumerist” approach to happiness. I guess it could all be summed up in the stupid saying, “he who dies with the most toys wins”. My son-in-law prescribes to this line of thought. So much so that my daughter basically controls the purse strings in their household.

Things, beyond one’s basic needs, can’t help someone achieve true happiness. Sure, we all feel that momentary “joy” when we get home with our nifty new X-box, Ipod, etc. but it soon grows old, we grow bored, and find ourselves wanting something new. The cycle repeats ad infinitum.

Now, just to be sure I get a little Bush bashing in here :), wasn’t it Bush that said the best way we could support the war on terror was to go shopping. Just keep spending! Evidently people are following Bush’s call for patriotic spending:

“People are saving at the lowest level since the great depression

This would be a good place for d.a.n. to jump in.

Posted by: KansasDem at February 2, 2007 11:44 AM
Comment #206320

Unemployment went up to 4.6% as only 110,000 new jobs were created in January. “This is one of the best outcomes the fed. could have expected” said Beata Caranci, senior economist at TD Bank Financial Group. “here is not any threat of wage-push inflation but still a significant number of people employed.” We got them working and we don’t have to give them raises, what could be better.

Posted by: jlw at February 2, 2007 11:54 AM
Comment #206332


The next step is bringing back indentured servitude as debt loads reach unsustainable levels.

Posted by: Dave1-20-2009 at February 2, 2007 12:27 PM
Comment #206333

Jack: I fail to see how a significant drop in cancer deaths could cause people to be less happy unless it would be because the president while announcing the good news, also announced that employers might start discriminating in their hiring practices based on genetic profiles of potential employees unless legislation is passed to prevent such practices. Many groups have been calling for that legislation for several years now.

In announcing the good news about the cancer death rate, he sited the increase in federal research dollars as a significant contributer of the good news. He failed to mention that the increase in research money was the result of a major Clinton initiative to fight cancer. Bush also failed to mention that he had asked for decreases in the research funding in the last two budgets he submitted to Congress and will probably do so in the next budget.

Posted by: jlw at February 2, 2007 12:27 PM
Comment #206337
and currently around 4.5% of the people looking for jobs cannot find them.

Jack, I’m sure you realize that’s not quite true either. That’s only the number of people collecting unemployment insurance. When that money runs out, people are no longer counted.

The real unemployment rate is significantly higher than 4.5%. You’re number is useful for comparing certain economic trends over time, but it doesn’t tell you how many people want to work but can’t find a job right now.

So most people are employed and making the same sort of money they did during the “golden 1990s”.

You’re excluding every family that had a second income back then but who don’t have that now.

BTW, median income is about 44k/year. Half of America makes less than that.

Posted by: American Pundit at February 2, 2007 12:37 PM
Comment #206344


Since globalization has moved all our cheeze, I would presume that our happiness depends to a great deal on what decision we made about that moved cheeze.


Posted by: Craig Holmes at February 2, 2007 12:55 PM
Comment #206350
I like President Bush’s health saving plans and I think we will need some variation of that mixed with the kind of system Federal employees now enjoy.

I have been thinking for some time that we should give all Americans access to the health care AND retirement benefits of federal employers. This would make the health care system more public, but also make the retirement system more private (since federal employees can invest in the stock market). As you said, there would be details to work out with regard to contributions, etc.

I know this plan has something to offend almost everybody, but I genuinely believe that both systems would work better. It’s about results, not ideology.

Posted by: Woody Mena at February 2, 2007 1:12 PM
Comment #206358


It is simply the nature of the terms. Half the people always fall below the median (and half above). It does not matter where or when. It is definitional. The lowest 20% always falls into the bottom quintile for the same reason. The 4.5% unemployment is just the rate as of last month. I hear it is 4.6% this month. Maybe we can worry.


4.6% is a great number. It is well below the average for the last 50 years and well below the average of the Euro area (since you like Euros). Median income in real terms started to go up in late 2005 and went up overall in 2006. That statistic has also turned. It is getting harder to be pessimistic (except about entitlements)


I knew an old Lithuanian guy when I was a kid. He used to say - imagine it in the accent - “people are pigs”. I do not share his general assessment (although in some cases it is the pigs who should feel aggrieved) but the fact that we do not disagree about is that throughout human history (and evidently prehistory and even among chimpanzees and dolphin) mistreatment of other is not rare. We westerners are into self flagellation about it, but ours is a tolerant and progressive civilization compared to most others. We should try to improve, but improvement requires an honest assessment. That means we do not paint a picture that is too bright, but also not one that is too dark.


I advocate the free market because I think it is the best way to ensure prosperity and the blessings of liberty. That does not mean I favor all the lifestyles the free market enables. We agree about consumerism being bad when it is overblown. But there are two things I like about it. 1) You can opt out fairly easily. You buy good quality things that you keep until for a long time. It is one of the optional lifestyle within the free market. I know many people who own less than they could. 2) The alternatives to consumer society are those nasty planned economies. I know people often point to Europe, but those are also consumer societies. Try to get between a German and his car, for example. There are cultural factors that make Europe different.


You get wage push inflation when salaries increase faster than productivity. Wages increased in real terms last year and probably will again this year, but they did it within the bounds of productivity. It is sustainable.

The decrease in cancer is due mostly to lifestyle changes. These take long times to have an effect. Starting smoking when you are twenty may not kill you for 40 years. I do not think you can attribute this drop to Clinton or any politician. Nixon declared war on cancer in the 1970s. So far it is still not defeated.

Re feeling better about things, did you feel much better when you read that cancer was dropping or did it just make you think about the kinds that are not? I do not know, but I suspect just bringing it up causes anxiety.


It doesn’t matter. That is the statistic we use. If you do not trust it today, you could not trust it before. There is no reason to believe it has become less reliable because you do not like the president. I see various median incomes. There is the median wage, median household etc. People today make a significant amount of money from non-wage sources. In any case, all those things are up this past year.

Beyond that, income is not a great measure because it doesn’t include many transfers. Consumption inequality is at least one-third less than for income inequality. The poor get lots of things that do not count as income, but that they can use. My uncle was a priest. He took a vow of poverty, but he was the richest guy in the family. He owned nothing, but he got to use everything.

There is a good explanation of how statistics mislead here.

Posted by: Jack at February 2, 2007 1:42 PM
Comment #206371

American Pundit, just to let you know, the unemployment rate calculation is not tied to the number of people receiving state unemployment but to a telephone survey of a constant number of people month to month. It only asks whether or not you are seeking work, so if you are unemployed and not seeking work you are not counted as being unemployed. It is one of those government numbers that is most useful as a historical comparative.
Also know that, month to month the economy needs to generate @ 160,000 new jobs for people newly entering the work force JUST TO STAY EVEN.
Also, the unemployment rate does not address the issue of what the new jobs are paying. Is the old $ 14.00 an hour job that just went to Malaysia being replaced by a $ 9.00 selling bed ware at Mattress America?
Also, what are w and the dems doing pushing “comprehensive” reform in immigration that legalizes the status of 11,000,000 illegals? I know what good it does the immigrants, and what good it does the employers who want to privatize the benefits and socialize the costs and the home countries who receive billions in remittances, but what good does it do the average working american?

Posted by: charles Ross at February 2, 2007 2:38 PM
Comment #206376


You said: “Median income in real terms started to go up in late 2005 and went up overall in 2006.” Here is the break out:

After falling each year since the economic recovery began in 2001, the income of the median household grew 1.1% (or $509) in inflation-adjusted terms last year. Poverty rates, which have risen consistently over the recovery, were unchanged, according to today’s release from the Census Bureau. Income inequality also rose in 2005, as households at the top of the income scale saw greater income growth than everyone else.
However, the median income of working-age households—those headed by someone less than 65—fell 0.5% last year, as has been the case consistently since 2000. In addition, today’s report reveals that the median earnings of both men and women fell significantly in 2005, by 1.8% for men and 1.3% for women. Together, these facts suggest that working families fell behind in 2005.
In fact, the only households with significant gains in 2005 were those headed by someone 65 or older, whose median income was up sharply by 2.8%. It will take more analysis to evaluate the source of this growth, but given the negative earnings outcomes, it is likely their gains came from non-labor income, including Social Security (a benefit that is automatically indexed to inflation).
Also, 4.6% is an historically good number. Not as good as the 90’s, but then we can’t expect that from Bush. Something I haven’t been able to identify is what percent of the population is actually working? How many people have left the work force?

Posted by: Dave1-20-2009 at February 2, 2007 3:17 PM
Comment #206377

Jack: The small increases in wages are due in part to incentives in the upper wage brackets and in part to state initiatives to raise the minimum wage. As for the unemployment figures, I have always argued that they are wrong both when Democrats as well as Republicans have touted them as proof of their economic prowess.

The three major contributors to the cancer good news in order of significance are lifestyle changes, better care of patients and better treatments brought about by research. In his sells pitch for his cancer initiative, President Clinton mentioned the peoples lifestyle changes and called on us to do more in that area. He also called for better care and more research. I am more generous to politicians for their contribution to lifestyle changes. I remember Congress dragging the tobacco executives in and getting the cancer risks out in the open, the forced warnings on tobacco products, the ban on advertising and C. Everett Koop.

I believe there is another major factor that we are now seeing come to fruition, the cleaning up of our environment which began several decades ago. However, it is harder to determine how much of an impact that has had.

If you want to contribute an anxiety factor to cancer news, might I suggest that the death of Peter Jennings last year had a far greater impact than the small but significant good news about cancer.

Posted by: jlw at February 2, 2007 3:19 PM
Comment #206379


These are the unemployment rates for the 1990s

1991 6.8
1992 7.5
1993 6.9
1994 6.1
1995 5.6
1996 5.4
1997 4.9
1998 4.5
1999 4.2
2000 4.0
2001 4.7

4.5% is the same as 1998 and better than all the other years except 1999 & 2000.

In the most recent case, unemployment peaked in 2003 at 6%. If you look at the numbers, the progress is almost exactly the same if you count from the 6.1% in 1994.

You can always cut the numbers to make things look bad or good. If you take the same link you gave, you could also say the median income for those over 65 was up sharply by 2.8%. I thought we were concerned about the elderly.


An increase in the median wage CANNOT be the result of only the rich getting more money. It can only rise if the general level rises, or at least only if the lower 50% of the population does better. There is no way this can be spun as anything but good news.

With all due respect to Clinton, he did not discover smoking was a problem nor did smoking make any unexpected declines during his tenure. The older generation smokes more than the younger generation. As they take the road to glory, smoking rates drop.

The place where Clinton made the greatest impact on a social more was when he encouraged young people not to call oral sex, sex. I do not mean this as a dig, just an observation. After he was president and after his heart attack, he may have influenced some people to eat less fat. But while he was president, he was not a good role model in that respect.

The good news about cancer has been developing for a long time. We would hear more about it, but good news does not sell as well and the fear mongers who make money suing people do not want that sort of thing to get out.

Posted by: Jack at February 2, 2007 3:41 PM
Comment #206385


LOL…I figured that would bring you out.

Aren’t you the guy who wants to end SS entitlements? Do you deny that the WORKING families income is declining for at least the last 6 years? Do you deny that the top 5% income went up at a scaled rate 3 to 5 times the lower 60%? Or do you still want to simplify into AEI talking points that the BP is hanging in there?

Posted by: Dave1-20-2009 at February 2, 2007 4:14 PM
Comment #206396

Jack: First off, I didn’t even mention the median income. I did mention raises to both upper and lower income workers that would have a positive effect on the median income.

It certainly can’t be spun by you as anything but good news because you think Bush is the economic savior of America which is pure B.S. and totally ignores or down plays the impact that large deficits and a huge debt will have on our economy in the future, blaming all our troubles on entitlements most of which are written into our tax code. You get a lot more in entitlements from the tax code than a poor family gets in welfare benefits.

Nowhere did I mention that Clinton discovered that smoking was a hazzard to health. As a matter of fact, although I did not mention Reagan, much of that evidence came about during his administration because of Congress and Reagan’s Surgeon General. Millions of Americans have quit smoking, not because they died but because they ignored big tobacco’s lies and saw the writing on the wall, I am one of them and it sure wasn’t easy. I tried and failed several times before starvation through fasting finally worked for me. Odds are that the cause of my discorporealation will be related to my smoking addiction.

Clinton’s addiction to big macs was certain a bad influence on us, as is Laura Bushs’ addiction to fat filled pastries. What’s this make, her third or fourth pastry chef.

The good news about cancer has been developing over a long period of time despite the lies and fear mongering by corporations trying to protect their bottom line and their greed.

Posted by: jlw at February 2, 2007 5:59 PM
Comment #206399


Those are some good points there about happiness.
Lot’s of people think they need things (material things, toys, etc.).
They buy boats, nice cars, big houses, and borrow heavily to afford all of it.
The nation is swimming in debt (over $20 trillion of personal debt).
Some see their neighbors or others with more, and feel jealous and envious, and wonder why they have less.
Some have a sense of entitlement and make demands for equality to disquise their envy and jealousy.
Before long, all of those things they own, begin to own them.
The bills begin to weigh heavily upon them.
It’s not a recipe for happiness, but it is of their own making.
It is often a result of their own irresponsibility.

With regard to the economy, and the level of happiness about it, you are right.
The current economic conditions can not be caused terrible.
But, there’s a reason for that.
This current economy has been propped up by massive government debt, spending, borrowing, and money printing.
In an large economy, the consequences of such things take years and decades.
The consequences of so much fiscal irresponsibity is in the pipeline.
You recognize it too, based on your own statements:

Jack wrote:
It [deficit] would be fine EXCEPT for the entitlements iceberg we are sailing toward.

Jack wrote:
The demographics are just going to smash us unless we do something.

So, in view of that outlook, how happy should we be?
The math simply doesn’t reveal a rosy picture.
If everyone understood what consequences are already on the way, there would undoubtedly be many more unhappy people.
How happy will they be, in a few years (or so) from now, when we finally “smash” into that “iceberg”?
Sadly, some future generations must suffer for the irresponsibility of the generations that precede them.

Posted by: d.a.n at February 2, 2007 6:14 PM
Comment #206401

Yeah, I guess I’m happy that the topmost 10% are making even more money now. I guess.

Posted by: mental wimp at February 2, 2007 6:18 PM
Comment #206403

Jack said: “I have trouble understanding all the unhappiness in the face of objectively good times.”

Perhaps that’s because any attempts to explain it Jack, are rejected?

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 2, 2007 6:20 PM
Comment #206405


I fail to understand how corporate greed could be served by downplaying success against cancer. Drug firms are happy to brag about it (as you may have seen Lance Armstrong talking re Pfizer) and other corporations are probably happy not to get blamed for real and imagined illnesses.

I apologize for not reading your post more carefully. I agree the politicians get too much credit or blame for small economic trends. I do not see Bush as a savior. He did a good and competent job of managing his part of the economy. I see his tenure similar to Clinton’s. The last economic savior was Ronald Reagan, who fundamentally changed the course of the U.S. economy.


Yes. Real median income dropped when the bubble burst at the end of the Clinton Administration. But it did not drop that much. It set us back to around 1998 levels. This happens when you get a downturn. It started to go back up in 2005 and spiked up last year. So yes, conditions at the bottom got as bad as 1998. I do not recall that year being so bad, but I guess it must have been.

Inequality also grew very fast in the last 1990s and actually declines in the first years of Bush. You cannot give either Bush or Clinton credit/blame for this. It has more to do with the general economy.

Posted by: Jack at February 2, 2007 6:30 PM
Comment #206419


I don’t believe your statements are factual and I’d be happy to see your supporting data. My current understanding is that economic inequality is accelerating under Bush and is the direct result of his and your parties policies.

Posted by: Dave1-20-2009 at February 2, 2007 9:43 PM
Comment #206428

I have a link to the median income, so I assume you mean the inequality changes.

These are the Gini coefficients that measure inequality. If you look at the numbers, you see that it has been creeping up for about 25 years. The administration in charge does not seem to make any difference. The figures only go through 2005, so I just did simple arithmetic and subtracted the most recent Bush year (2005) from the last Clinton year (2000) from in those five years the Gini went up by .007. If we do the same for the first Clinton years, we get an increase of .026.

There is not much of a difference, but what little difference we find favors Bush. You notice in 2002 the index actually dropped a little. That was the year the tax cuts really came in. I would actually call it a wash. In any case, the idea that inequality accelerated under Bush is incorrect..

As I wrote just above, I do not give Bush or Clinton much credit or blame for this stuff.

I agree with you that growing inequality is a potential problem, but it is hard to find evidence that Bush caused it, since the trend is long term.

We also have the problem I mentioned above of income versus actual consumption. The poorest 20% of the population actually gets more money in credits than it pays in taxes, but this and many other handouts do not count in the income tables.

Let me repeat for about the 100th time that I am not saying this is the best economy ever or a perfect situation. It is just very good.

Posted by: Jack at February 2, 2007 11:30 PM
Comment #206430

Your savior caused the bigewst part of it.

Posted by: jlw at February 2, 2007 11:36 PM
Comment #206436


I remember the 1970s. They sucked. It really was morning in America when Reagan took over.

Posted by: Jack at February 3, 2007 12:47 AM
Comment #206441

Dave1-20-2009 wrote

Something I haven’t been able to identify is what percent of the population is actually working? How many people have left the work force?

Try these two sites:

Posted by: Arm Hayseed at February 3, 2007 8:06 AM
Comment #206442

Jack wrote:

An increase in the median wage CANNOT be the result of only the rich getting more money. It can only rise if the general level rises, or at least only if the lower 50% of the population does better.

An increase in the median indicates an increase in income for a population and it tells little about the distribution.

In the simplest of terms, for a population of two, one with an income of 5 units and the other with an income of 10 units the median income is 7.5 units.

The following year the one earned 4.5 units and the other earned 10.5 units. The median remains 7.5 units and give no indication of a change in distribution.

Posted by: Arm Hayseed at February 3, 2007 8:48 AM
Comment #206479

Jack, long after this short uptick in the economic numbers have faded and been forgotten, this nation will still be dealing with the “Bush” debt. That is the trade and national debt which are, along with Iraq, his legacy. The man has my sympathy.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 3, 2007 2:30 PM
Comment #206488


I don’t think you can blame Bush for the trade deficit. The budget deficit is declining and is a lower percentage of GDP than it was in the early 1990s.

Our structural problem with entitlements has been know for many years. Without restructuring, there is nothing much we can do today to solve this problem.


You are mixing up mean and median. You do not have a median if there are only two people, as in your example. In a larger group, the median is the one whose income fall in the middle. If you have a hypothetical group of 100 and the richest guy quadruples his income and nobody else makes a dime more, it doesn’t change the median one bit.

That is why the median is generally a better measure of general prosperity. Half the population is doing better than the median, half worse.

Posted by: Jack at February 3, 2007 3:44 PM
Comment #206508

Jack wrote:

You are mixing up mean and median. You do not have a median if there are only two people, as in your example.

After I posted that I was worried that someone would be confused when the median and the mean are the same when a sequence contains only two numbers. I did not think it would be you.

Definition of Median:
Arithmetic, Statistics. The middle number in a given sequence of numbers, taken as the average of the two middle numbers when the sequence has an even number of numbers: 4 is the median of 1, 3, 4, 8, 9.

Since my example had only two numbers they were the two middle numbers and the median would also be the mean.

In a larger group, the median is the one whose income fall in the middle. If you have a hypothetical group of 100 and the richest guy quadruples his income and nobody else makes a dime more, it doesn’t change the median one bit.

That statement is true.

Your original statement was:

An increase in the median wage CANNOT be the result of only the rich getting more money. It can only rise if the general level rises, or at least only if the lower 50% of the population does better.

This is not true. Consider the following sequences of numbers and their medians:

1,3,5,7 (median equals 4)
.05,1,7,20 (median equals 4)
2,3.5,4.5,6 (median equals 4)

1,2,4,6,10 (median equals 4)
.2,.4,4,60,1000 (median equals 4)
2,3,4,5,6 (median equals 4)

The median indicates only one thing, the center point in a sequence of numbers. It is not possible to determine changes in distribution with the median alone.

The fact that the median income has gone up is not proof positive that the lower 50% of the population has done better. They may have earned more but it can not be proved with the median alone.

Posted by: Arm Hayseed at February 3, 2007 6:01 PM
Comment #206526


In the U.S. we actually have a median income. We do not have to extrapolate as in the case of your smaller groups of numbers. If we had the time and the computing resources, we could probably identify the very people who are the median.

It is possible that the people in the lower part of the distribution could see there income sink to zero and the upper group get millions and if our one guy in the middle made a little more the median would rise, but that is unlikely.

The median is a good measure. The mean income is higher than the median as I think you know. This shows the increase of wealth among rich people.

But the point I am trying to make about the statistics is that all of them are favorable, even the median, which until last year was lagging. In this blog, liberals have made a big deal about the median. Now that it no longer supports their point of view, they are trying to run away from it. So let me ask the question.

We have unemployment of 4.5%, an economy growing well since 2003 with growth of 3.5% last year, a rising median income, a rising family net worth. Consumer spending has been robust. These are the things we used to use to know the strength of the economy. This is why I think the economy is strong. If you think the economy is bad, how do you know?

Posted by: Jack at February 3, 2007 8:39 PM
Comment #206543

Jack wrote:

An increase in the median wage CANNOT be the result of only the rich getting more money. It can only rise if the general level rises, or at least only if the lower 50% of the population does better.
(emphasis mine)

Jack later wrote:

It is possible that the people in the lower part of the distribution could see there income sink to zero and the upper group get millions and if our one guy in the middle made a little more the median would rise, but that is unlikely.

Between your two statements was my point. An increase in the median income tells nothing about what changed to either side of the figures that determine the median.

The changes in income in your second quote are, admittedly, unlikely. However, over the last 30 years, the Gini Ratio indicates a trend in that direction.

If you think the economy is bad, how do you know?

My point was how little the median income tells about the incomes of those on either side of the median.

Posted by: Arm Hayseed at February 3, 2007 11:54 PM
Comment #206568


I finally got around to reading your first link. I think it’s exactly right.

Posted by: Trent at February 4, 2007 8:15 AM
Comment #206591


The AEI article (by Richard Vedder) that you linked to doesn’t address the national debt at all (not the total federal debt, and personal nation-wide debt; all coming to around $42 trillion).

It only spoke of deficts and debt as follows:

And stable prices are much better than inflation. The Fed has done a pretty good job on the inflationary front, but the Congress and the Executive are guilty of having shown insufficient constraint with respect to federal expenditures.

The “Congress and Executive branch are guilty of insufficient constraint” ? ! ?
Does anyone else think that is a monumental understatement ?
And “The Fed has done pretty good” ? ! ?
Well, that is only if you think 3%-to-4% inflation is OK, and fail to recognize how damaging such inflationist practices are; creating economic instability as everyone runs around like chickens with their heads cut off looking for someplace to invest their hard-earned money that is quickly eroding day by day. Also, it hammers the poor and people on fixed incomes. It creates a vicious, circular pattern. But, you have to understand who it benefits to understand why they do it.
At only 4.5% inflation, $100.00 becomes:

  • $96.35 in 01 year

  • $92.70 in 02 years

  • $89.05 in 03 years

  • $81.75 in 05 years

  • $63.50 in 10 years

  • $45.25 in 15 years

  • $35.43 in 20 years
It’s like playing the game of Monopoly in which one player can print all the money they want. Before long, they own everything, and everyone else is broke and/or deep in debt. Similarly, the Fed and banks print money like crazy, try to loan it to everyone possible (as evidenced by a nation swimming in debt), and then confiscate real assets from money printed out of thin air (when some default on their loan). People need education to avoid this trap, where they are being preyed upon by those that tap into their irresponsibility, and becoming slaves to unnecessary debt.

You already concede the approaching trainwreck of entitlements and debt are bad things, but how are we going to avoid the consequences of it when they finally arrive?
Or, do you believe the consequences are avoidable?

Still, it’s hard to say things are rosy when the economy is being artificially (and irresponsibly) propped-up with massive debt, borrowing, spending, and excessive money-printing.

Regardless of current economic conditions, just think about what they would be like without the infusion of so much government borrowing and spending? Sadly, what we are seeing now is merely an illusion of a good economy. Anyone can look wealthy while they are maxing out all of their credit cards.

Even Bernanke, Greenspan, and David Walker are warning us.

Unfortunately, it’s starting to look like the painful consequences of so much debt are becoming increasingly unavoidable. As often happens, we may have waited too long to do anything about it.

Especially when Do-Nothing Congress still refuses to address the nation’s most serious problems, and voters keep rewarding them for it by repeatedly re-electing them.

Posted by: d.a.n at February 4, 2007 1:08 PM
Comment #206655


Very well written post. Puts a lot of other people’s writting skills (including mine) to shame.

One reason I’ve seen for unhappiness in good times is the hpyer-politisized atmosphere.

Flash back to John Kerry touring the nation, running for the Whitehouse and his “message” of “we are in a depression”. And the main stream press that picked up on that bit of left wing propaganda and pumped it as hard as they could. At first it was totally unbelievable. But as the years have past the shock of hearing we are in a depression of some sorts has worn off.

In the face of a growing economy and ulimately, millions of jobs coming on line….the press gradually were able to swing peoples opinon of the economy to negative. To “wrong direction”. Until the majority felt the economy was bad…that their own personal, good situation was somehow rare and that somewhere in the nation a terrible depression is really raging. It wasn’t, it still isn’t.

We saw it on this thread, anyone saying that things are good are “rich” and “not the poor struggling, depression beaten average man”. All meaninless propaganda designed to pretend that repuplicans have given us a depression. Utter nonsense.

But to people who are so radicalized, so religious in their political beliefs, lying is ok. The political objectives trump honesty because in the eyes of those who “have the religion” the defeat of “the enemy” is far more important than the degrading of ones character to achieve that victory. They are “energized” and out to “defeat” thier mortal enemy…anyone who doesn’t agree with the popaganda.

Things are good, but people have been told by the left for years now that things are bad. The press has worked hard for years to get people to believe they are bad. And if a democrat was elected president tomorrow, they would instantly become good again. And those who told us yesterday that a great economy was a depression economy would start preaching tomorrow that this democratic president has a great economy and they wouldn’t even flinch at the flip flop from dishonesty to honesty.

Posted by: stephen at February 5, 2007 12:39 AM
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