Are socialists happier than capitalists?

June 9, 2009

Driven by a decline in satisfaction with work life and family life, overall well-being initially plummeted in countries directly affected by the fall of the Iron Curtain, reveals an important new study.

The research, forthcoming in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, expands our understanding of the correlation between happiness and democracy — and whether economic concerns outweigh political reforms in their impact on subjective well-being.

"Although one might suppose these questions are of interest — some might even say fundamental interest, considering that they involve comparing capitalism and socialism — they have received little attention in the voluminous literature on transition economies," says Richard Easterlin, USC University Professor and professor of economics at USC.

Easterlin examines in thirteen countries in the so-called communist-bloc using self-reported data from a range of sources, particularly the World Values Survey. Communist-bloc countries first appeared in the large-scale Survey in 1989, when a representative population in each country was asked to rate "life these days, as a whole" on a scale of 1 (dissatisfied) to 10 (satisfied).

Other surveys before and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 asked similar questions about specific aspects of life — such as work, health, and standard of living — and about "the way democracy works in (your country)."

"The dissolution of the police states and increase in political and civil rights in many of the transition countries might have been expected to increase life satisfaction," Easterlin says. "The sharp decline that initially occurred suggests that adverse economic and social conditions trumped the political in their impact on subjective well-being."

The study finds that the trend in overall satisfaction with democracy is actually slightly negatively correlated to the trend in reported happiness after the fall of the Iron Curtain. This correlation is not statistically significant, according to Easterlin, but undermines the assertion by some scholars that democratization in these countries significantly increased happiness.

"There is evidence that, when asked about their sources of well-being, people rarely mention political circumstances," Easterlin explains. "Rather, they put foremost those concerns that principally occupy their time, most notably making a living, family life and health."

Satisfaction with work, childcare and health all decreased significantly during the transition from socialism to capitalism, reflecting a marked rise in symptoms of social stress such as divorce rates, suicide rates, domestic violence and increased alcoholism and drug use, Easterlin finds.

However, people were much more satisfied with one particular aspect of their lives after the fall of the Soviet Union: their material circumstances, including standard of living, goods availability and the environment.

"The positive contribution of life satisfaction to improved material living was outweighed by losses in employment security, health and child care, and provision for old age," Easterlin says.

Disparities in life satisfaction also increased after the fall of the Soviet Union, particularly along the lines of age and education. Those older than 30, who had already established careers under the socialist system, were far more likely to be dissatisfied with life under capitalism than younger adults. Older people also faced the deterioration of old-age pension support and rising unemployment rates.

Men and women had about equal declines in life satisfaction, Easterlin finds.

"The human cost of the transition was enormous, with the lives of millions turned upside down," Easterlin says. "The impact of these changes on people's personal lives and their well-being is almost totally missed by GDP per capita."

While life satisfaction had rebounded somewhat by 1999, there is evidence to suggest that even by 2005 it had not yet reach pre-transition levels, according to the study. By this time, GDP in the countries studied had increased 25 percent on average since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"The life satisfaction measure, which reflects not only material well-being, but the everyday concerns and worries of women and men about work, health and family, is more indicative of the far-reaching changes that were taking place," Easterlin says.

He continues: "Life satisfaction is not an exhaustive measure of well-being. But if, in formulating transition policy, some consideration had been given to this measure, perhaps there would have been fewer 'lost in transition.'"

Source: University of Southern California (news : web)

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4.1 / 5 (7) Jun 09, 2009
I think this has less to do with the happiness between socialists and capitalists, and more to the fact that it takes people time to adjust to change.
2.8 / 5 (11) Jun 09, 2009
If you have shrunk your expectations of life to conform to a socialist command state, I'm sure your expectations of happiness shrink to the same proprotion.

The same could be said of prisoners who get excited and happy because they are serving meat instead of beans, or having an extra 5 minutes of shower time.

How many glorious workers in the old USSR would experience joy at the chance to queue for an extra ration of vodka?

As long as you give up all expectation of liberty or constitutional rule of law, you can be happy in a gulag that takes care of your most basic bodily needs. Anyone want to try it?
2.7 / 5 (11) Jun 09, 2009
This is very similar to an overprotected 12yr. old (Socialist) finally being released into the real world (Liberation) and realzing that now he has to make ends meet (Capitalism) using his own wit and energy. No wonder socialists get "unhappy" once their mouths are ripped from the government nipple. Welcome to the real world, comrades. In the end, you'll learn how to be independent, strong and resourceful human beings. Otherwise, yeah, you'll die!
2.5 / 5 (8) Jun 10, 2009
This is very similar to an overprotected 12yr. old (Socialist) finally being released into the real world (Liberation) and realzing that now he has to make ends meet (Capitalism) using his own wit and energy. No wonder socialists get "unhappy" once their mouths are ripped from the government nipple. Welcome to the real world, comrades. In the end, you'll learn how to be independent, strong and resourceful human beings. Otherwise, yeah, you'll die!

Sorry... That's retarded.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 10, 2009
Arkaleus notes expectations but missed one key element: under communist systems ones expectations are deplorable (there was no other choice but to deal with rationing and alike). Under capitalism ones expectations are much of your own making, e.g. humans are optimistic creatures hence in a free society their expectations are elevated and with that comes higher obligations.

One could be very political and point out reality: With communism coming to America via the administrations leach to the left we Americans will simply have to reverse our expectation... lowering them to the usual abysmal level of government achievement... I bet voters did not think of that before the election. Fortunately we American%u2019s have a long history of realizing stupid decisions and making adjustments to minimize the adverse effects but there will still be far too many people whose standards will drop because of the Obama/Clinton ideology.
5 / 5 (4) Jun 11, 2009

This article tries to claim that there is only a weak relationship between political and economic liberation and subjective happiness in former totalitarian states.

The question of happiness goes back to Plato's Republic, and their ancient consensus was virtue and moderation are the keys to happiness.

The obvious but unspoken conditions of former totalitarian states described in this article are that of confusion and inequality like we saw (still see?)in post-soviet Russia. There isn't yet a strong middle class to fulfill the Socratic mode of happiness, therefore society is in an uncomfortable tumult as people adjust and internal movements take place. This discomfort will continue until their economic and political equilibrium is reached.

You mention "communism" coming to America, but that's not really what I would call it - it is a much more scientific form of social control that creates extreme abundance for the controlling classes, and just enough abundance to placate most Americans. By this method, immense power can be concentrated and diverted from constitutional systems of government, all while concealed by an amazingly convincing facade of electronic media and information manipulation.

This form of social system isn't communism - there is nothing egalitarian about it. It's more like a new version of feudalism, subtly engineered to gain all the wealth benefits of freedom, but in reality forcing the people into systems of complete dependency. In this system, you are tempted to believe you are rich and free, but in truth you are not allowed self-determination and forbidden to know the secret methods of rule and enrichment practised by those who rule.

Perhaps it is us in the "free" west who have the most reason to be unhappy, and those in transitioning states should be glad of the genuine freedom and opportunity that a lack of government presents. We no longer have the opportunity to change our lots, and our mobility must by necessity be limited in the future to preserve the wealth and positions of the rulers.
5 / 5 (4) Jun 11, 2009
Hm, as a citizen of ex-communist country, I can tell you that even back then, people had to work to survive, believe it or not. The difference isn't in the energy you have to put in your work, it's in the salary you get.

I can tell you what my mom told me when I blamed here for being irresponsible for having a huge bill for the cold water at some point. She said: I never ever have imagined that I wouldn't be able to pay my water bill. Before 1989, you could not pay it for years and then just go and pay it with the interest-it wasn't a big deal. Then it came 1990 and suddenly, the bill was huge, all the bills were huge. I worked and worked and couldn't manage to pay everything. I couldn't believe I cannot pay everything."

So, I think you look on things only from one direction-yours. When you're born in a capitalist society, you learn how to make do with what you have-all the good and the bad sides.

If you're born in a soc-country, you learn other things-things that are not always the same as the capitalist ones. But the point is you work and you get a salary that is abundant for your needs, you get a free health-care-a not bad one(if we exclude dentists!),free education, even higher one (a professor of mine told me he had a wife and a child with a student scholarship, now you can even rent an apartment with that money!). You got many social bonuses and you lived with them and enjoyed your life. Do you honestly think that average people cared about freedom of speech? Or that they cared they cannot visit say France, when they could visit half Asia without a visa? Or that the country's economy wasn't exactly self-sustainable (not that USA now isn't in a huge debt). They learnt how to live with what they had. Some things were better, some was worst. But humans are adaptable and they find ways to be happy.

But the transition from one social system to another is a nightmare. My mother is from the lost generation-she grew up in a society where you could be whatever you wanted to be-she wanted to be a musician, so she became a musician. She plays wonderfully on piano and double bas, knows all about harmony and music theory. But today, in that new society, people don't need pianists. They need managers. And suddenly, she can hardly get a job as a pianist, and she certainly cannot make a living by that job. While before she could. Before, to be a pianist was a privilege, it guaranteed you a nice life. Now, it's worthless. Do you think that she didn't have to work in order to become good on the piano. She practised for hours and hours, for years! Isn't that a work? It is. But current society doesn't consider it important. Had she been born in USA, she would have the means to live by being a musician. She probably wouldn't be a star, but she'd be able to survive and do what she likes. Today, in my country, she cannot do that.

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that the type of society you live in is crucial for the type of qualities you'll develop. But in the end-we're all just on the lower end of the pyramid. And when you're on the bottom, it doesn't matter whether it's a socialism or capitalism. But people REALLY was happier back then-their life was calmer and allowed them to have more time for themselves and their families. And if you have lived in such society and then went into the chaos of extra-hours, extra-weeks, no affordable childcare, no affordable health-care, no affordable transport, how the hell do you expect those people to be happier now?! Obviously they cannot. Not for at least 20 years ahead.
not rated yet Jun 11, 2009

That's an interesting perspective. You asked if we really thought averege people cared about freedom of speech. I think the answer to that is yes, most emphatically. Human beings have a full range of development that requires liberty and free expression. We call this free will. People who have free will are more robust, independent, and able to adapt to change faster than those who are forced into a dependent servitude.

The prison-societies you fondly remember kept their rulers in power by lies, violence and suppression of their own people. You were prisoners in your own land, and so long as you obeyed and did not develop independent ideas you were fed and cared for. It's not like you had the choice to work, you either labored by choice or you were forced to work in many countries.

If you're asking me to understand why you could accept and be happy in a totalitarian socialist state, I would rather ask you to recover the bones of your neighbors who were put to death because they resisted, or thought too much, or spoke too freely in your land. My ability to be happy would be severely limited with the knowledge of their murder, unlike you I could not get past the atrocity of their death by the hands of your tyrants.

I'm certain human beings can be deform their awareness to the point where they can find happiness in bondage, but we can't call this true happiness.
not rated yet Jun 11, 2009

There is something to be said for true happiness being a state of mind. A space traveler constrained to a vessel the size of a city bus might have a degree of contentment far exceeding that of a rancher with a ten thousand square foot home in Nebraska. Confinement of the mind is far more depraved then any physical restraint. Denijane%u2019s comment of happiness being in part found in free this and that bring about the vial that elected the current president. Contentment may indeed exist there for those who do not wish to endeavor outside the boundaries placed around them.

Capitalism brings about a looser confinement for the human mind. Said confinement is of our own making for we are still under this misguided perception of needing government. When, and I know it shall happen though I question if it will within my meager remaining years here on earth, we collectively realize the undeniable truth that we desire governance, rather then requiring it, then and only then will we truly be free and happiness is certain. All paths that do not bring us to this destination are just diversions from that universal truth.

In essence the quantitative attempt to deduce an individual%u2019s happiness through a few multiple choice questions on a survey can not effectively relay the very thing it proposes to do. Happiness is subjective and relative to the situation one finds them self%u2019s in at the moment if inquiry and perhaps that is what the survey%u2019s intent is. Mitigating the subjective details, comparing those details out of context, and the theory one can actually measure happiness is a fascinating academic exercise but how it might influence transitional reactions of a populous assumes the very thing the planners in communist systems could not have understand to begin with.
3 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2009
A analysis of the human experiments in communism would seem to indicate the theories Marx held for human happiness were incorrect and what is necessary for human happiness cannot be obtained by force and compulsion.

Experiments with socialism, whether by the NAZIs, the Soviets, or the Chinese have proven to be the most destructive and murderous forms of oppression, made even more odious by the industrialization of war and weaponry.

We are happiest when free and healthy, and this happiness is best preserved by moderatation in balance with one's neighbors and environment. I truly think all social evil proceeds from a lack of these elements.
4.7 / 5 (3) Jun 11, 2009
I think socialist populations would be happier on the average and here's a logical hypothetical:

Socialist regime: 10 people
Capitalist regime: 10 people

In the socialist regime, all 10 have the same level of wage, utilities, care and services provided, meaning, the happiness disparity from one to the next should be rather low. Everyone will have a rather similar level of comfort and therefore happiness.

In the capitalist regime, you have to pay for every service and every resource, this means more work. The wokrers who excel will be far happier as they'll receive a better level of services, better comforts and housing, care and food. This environment breeds fewer happy people but at a relatively higher level of happiness.

So I'd say the total happiness per capita will be the same in both regimes, however, just like wealth, the happiness will be concentrated in a smaller group under a capitalist regime, while the remainder of the populace will be far more unhappy.
1 / 5 (1) Jun 12, 2009

I believe your hypothesis has one daunting flaw for it is micro analysis of a macro event.

The trade of goods and services requires two sides of the process for it to work, without it one has stagnation. Those willing to achieve will innovate skills and material items those unwilling to achieve those goals desire. For example the inactive individual wanting/demanding largess from the ball player who achieved notoriety in their performance (think progressive taxation and all its creature comforts).

In a communist society where the ball player would have to waste their time performing work dictated to them by the party bosses would never be a source of entertainment for the lax man. In a way you could be right in that the lax man shall not have to endure the disappointment of his inactivity when compared to the successes of the dedicated man willing to achieve.

I would recommend reading a book called Outliers. It is by the fellow who authored Tipping Point. There in he makes an intuitive point about the effort one puts in to what they come away with, e.g. if your willing to put in tens of thousands of hours perfecting your golf swing then you too will have a chance at PGA success. If your lax and do not put in the effort then you will not achieve PGA success. That is of course not to say you will be able to beat Tiger though if you work hard enough and master the techniques he demonstrates you might just be able to mitigate his weaknesses and achieve a better result (watch out though for he is not sitting around waiting for you to catch-up).

Meaning, the communist society by its very nature shall always be envious of the capitalist society for the achievements of the capitalists are not of having too do but rather wanting to succeed. This is not to say that communist societies do not have their token over achievers for if they did not then the from-each their abilities to-each their needs would have never been profitable for the dead weight politicians to have milked to begin with.
4.6 / 5 (7) Jun 12, 2009
Erm, first, I'm not fond of communist years, I was like 6 when communism fell-so, please, I'm completely free of any good or bad memories for that time. I told you what my relatives told me. For me, it was just unsuccessful social experiment, a lesson that we should not repeat.

Now, let's get back to free speech. I wonder do you think you have a freedom of speech. Because from my point of view, talking is usually intended to provoke a reaction. And although we have the freedom to talk, we have no chance to provoke a reaction.
Yes, back then, certain people were murdered for various reasons. But what is it now? Each and every one of us can say whatever we want to, but it doesn't matter, because nobody is listening. I'd say that there was more effect from people's words back then, than right now. Because now we talk and talk and we change nothing. Because there's still great injustice. We see it, we fight it, but we cannot change it so far. Back then, I guess they just spared you the efforts by killing you. And your murder usually had effect on other people. While now, there are millions blogs and so on and people are still equally misinformed and uninterested!

I'm in no way protecting any regime that considers murders to be an effective way to achieve whatever. I don't support death penalty, I don't support wars. I do not support death or torture.

But I think you're very heavily brainwashed on the issue of freedom. See, freedom is not the freedom to work and have your business and whatever. Freedom is not to live in the Matrix-to have your cubicle or your ranch or to be able to buy 10 TVs or cars. Freedom is defined by your ability to do whatever you want to as long as you're not harming anyone. How far can you go now compared to where you could go back then? Probably further. But the freedom is not complete. And there is always someone or something to limit it. There's always someone on top of you. They simply replaced the enslaving government with the bigger enslaver-money. And made a better publicity of the new master-before they ordered you to do something, now they convince you to buy until you go broke. Nice.

I'm sorry, I live in a now "free" country. I don't feel particularly free. I can go wherever I want to and do whatever I want to. With the little catch, that I need money to do it. And to get the money, you sacrifice your life. I cannot do what I'm best in, because I have to do something that bring money home. Is this freedom? /though to be honest, I do what I want to, but then, I don't bring money home/

I think this is why people felt better back then, even though some were murdered. They had the opportunity to do what they want to (as long as this thing doesn't stand on the way of the party). They could raise family and go on vacation for months and just enjoy their life. They were confined, but the walls were softened.

And please, note, even back then, people invented stuff, were creative and well, were productive. Not at the same rate as in capitalism, obviously, but that's a matter of management. Bad management in the case. But don't get carried away how people were mindless zombies. They were not.
2 / 5 (4) Jun 12, 2009
What a bunch of apologist crap for slavery....'scuse me while I go puke now...

Only simple minded idiots, or morally bankrupt degenerates think morality can be boiled down to simple utilitarianism.
not rated yet Jun 13, 2009
Those of you who have not spent time in Asia or Eastern Europe should heed Denitsa's words. Socialism is nothing more than a method of resource distribution. If anything the US is and was a very socialist country post WW1. This partly inspired the post WW2 McCarthy isolationism.
5 / 5 (2) Jun 13, 2009
No matter what system you use, capitalist or otherwise, there needs to be a mitigation of exploitation in that system.

People like to say "capitalism works." I fear that approximately 60% of the world's population would kindly (and not so kindly) disagree. Capitalism comes at the cost of exploitation, which is fine so long as it happens on the other side of the planet where it is out of sight.

People need to learn to live within their means and be happy with what they have. The consumption culture is disgraceful, at best, and self-destructive, at worst.

1 / 5 (1) Jun 13, 2009
denijane, you are a breath of fresh air. It's so tiresome to endure the constant assault on reason and morality from ideological extremists; it's such a relief to hear from someone with a thoughtful and balanced perspective on life.

Indeed, for as long as humans require shelter and sustenance, there cannot be true freedom of action: for unproductive activity will not generate that which is required for survival. Thus, individuals not engaged in production (notably, artists) must depend on the productive members of society to surrender/donate some of their output. This may be sustainable in small proportions or exceptional cases, but obviously there are hard limits to such "parasitism". Even in socialist countries, you couldn't make a living as a pianist if you totally stank at it; you had to be at least reasonably capable, otherwise no matter how much you wished for it, it would remain out of your reach.

Really, the kind of ultimate freedom we all want -- to do whatever we want, even to an extreme of full-time procrastination -- regardless of how unproductive it might be, is only achievable by shoving off the task of production and sustenance unto some other entity. Maybe, once robotics are sufficiently advanced to a point where machines extract resources, build, and maintain themselves, then human societies might evolve closer to such an ideal... But there's a fine line to tread there, between machine intelligence and consciousness, and thus between high technology vs. just another kind of tyranny.

Whatever the case, today's society and mores would hardly have been imaginable to people just a few centuries ago. The future is stranger than any of us might think, hope, or dread.
not rated yet Jun 14, 2009
Well, Ive made up my mind. Honey, go fetch my gray overalls!
not rated yet Jun 15, 2009
Communism was in most cases not replaces by the kind of well-regulated capitalistic systems of old western countries, but by a robber-baron capitalism like the one we experienced in the late 19th and early 20th century. Nor were the rule of law and a working, strong democracy automatically installed after the fall of communism. If anything, the very rapid transition insisted upon by IMF or the World Bank made the transition worse, by increasing the chaos. From this chaos rose plenty of dishonest businessmen and corrupt politicians, none of which was interested in the welfare of people. If anything, it is impressive that the people of Eastern Europe coped so well, but do not expect all of them to be happy. The new wealth is distributed quite unevenly. Furthermore, all the social problems the west has been dealing with continously since 1945 have bubbled up to the surface in one big crisis (hence the appearence of classic far-right-wing thugs who attack gypsies, jews and foreigners as people seek scapegoats for the mess).

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