December 25, 2012 was a disaster. I spent most of the day recovering from exhaustion in Utah while my family had what was described to me as “a Christmas from Hell” in Florida. I started off this year with a sense that something was about to change far for the better in my life. Instead, this year saw many a setback with scarcely any positive movement to counteract the pervasive feelings of depression and listlessness. The Mayan Doomsday scenario did not befall the Earth four days before this year’s Christmas Day, but the bad vibes definitely carried through this holiday season for me.
But in considering these less than stellar events, I have had a moment of clarity. This year has been hard on a huge swath of human society. That’s nothing new, but for some reason I feel that something has changed profoundly. As I contemplate the angst that is returning from the irresolution of the misnamed “fiscal cliff” turn to austerity, I am alarmed that rising concerns about malaise have the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and academia delving into the veracity of such cheerful themes as Is US economic growth over? Are we slipping and sliding down the proverbial slope; are all of humanity’s best days past (or worse, long past)? Then I had an epiphany: it is the rise of misery, not decline, what ails us.
Misery has several definitions, three of which I am zeroing on: a state of great unhappiness and emotional distress, a state of suffering and want that is the result of poverty or affliction, and a cause or source of suffering. I am experiencing the first definition of misery personally, and see how rising levels of the second are contributing to a national psychological depression, if not a full on economic one. Whole industries profit off of poverty’s misery, after all. But for someone as fascinated with economics as I am, identifying the ultimate sources of suffering seems priority number one.
In the spirit of Christmas, I will try to identify what is causing and propose ways to alleviate and mitigate the rise of misery. To start, I will look at what mass media and academia alike is concerned about: innovation.