We love Stephen Moore’s Committee to Unleash Prosperity and his Hotline newsletter. The Hotline is a daily treasure trove of information on the nexus between economics and politics that is available nowhere else. It’s free and you can sign-up through this link.
In a recent Hotline Steve alerted us to a column on the Issues and Insights website by Paul F. Petrick, an attorney in Cleveland, Ohio. Mr. Petrick has created what he calls the “Hobbes Index” as an improvement upon the old “Misery Index” of the Jimmy Carter years.
The basis for quantifying the Hobbes Index is 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ magnum opus “Leviathan” (1651), in which he described the “state of nature” that existed before order was established via the social contract. Hobbes described the state of nature as a “war of all against all” with nothing preventing one neighbor from killing another and taking his property. In Leviathan’s most famous passage, Hobbes characterized life in the state of nature as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Life in America, says Mr. Petrick, has recently taken a Hobbesian turn.
Solitary. Lockdowns and mandates frayed the bonds of social interaction. One in eight Americans now report having no friends at all. Suicide attempts have soared.
Poor. The highest inflation rate in 40 years cost the average household $3,500 last year.
Nasty. Our last two presidents have represented a coarsening of the political culture. Biden has even escalated the trend – “Stupid son of a b—-,” is what Biden called a White House reporter recently.
Brutish. The murder rate increased by 30% in 2020, as mass theft has forced retailers to close stores in inner-city locations.
Short. Average life expectancy decreased by almost two years in 2020, as COVID and drug overdose deaths skyrocketed.
In an article for Project Syndicate, “Biden's Misery Index,” economist Michael J. Boskin observed that historically, the Misery Index seems to be correlated with electoral outcomes, with the party in power penalized when the index is high and rewarded when it is low.
By our calculations the Misery Index today is 11.7 (7.9% inflation plus 3.8% unemployment) but if the current trajectory is maintained inflation will be closer to 10% next month, increasing the Misery Index to 13.8 well above its most recent peak of 12.10 in 2011, during the Obama – Biden years.
The Misery Index sunk during the Trump years to 5.44 in 2019, the lowest since Dwight Eisenhower was President 64 years ago. It was 6.49 2017, 6.34 in 2018 and 9.35 in the pandemic year of 2020 and jumped to 10.06 in 2021 Biden’s first year as President.
The Misery Index isn’t an infallible predictor of elections noted Mr. Boskin, “many additional factors affect a polity’s sense of overall well-being: health conditions, crime and safety, the size and scope of government, the quality and reliability of public services, immigration, and foreign affairs all play a role,” Boskin said. That sounds a lot like Mr. Petrick’s Hobbes Index to us.
Forty years ago, the “Misery Index” chronicled the combined effect of high inflation and high unemployment. Today the “Hobbes Index” paints a more comprehensive picture of the decline in the quality of American life. In spite of the social contract, the state of the union is a little more like the state of nature than it was just a few short years ago, observed Mr. Petrick. On the bright side, at least we are not Ukraine, he concluded.
We found the “Hobbes Index” posited by Mr. Petrick to be a useful tool to add to our analysis of America’s quality of life and its possible effect on upcoming elections. Adding the Misery Index and the Hobbes Index is a good way to measure how bad the incumbent party is doing.
In the first quarter of 2021 Democrats had a 9-point advantage in the generic congressional ballot (49% to 40%). The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that, with the 2022 midterm elections now 235 days away, Republicans have an 11-point lead in their bid to recapture control of Congress. If the elections for Congress were held today, 50% of Likely U.S. Voters would vote for the Republican candidate, while only 39% would vote for the Democrat. Just five percent (5%) would vote for some other candidate, but another seven percent (7%) are not sure.
It is hard to see Biden and the Democrats turning things around, because they would have to admit they are wrong and abandon the policies that are causing the negative trends picked up in the two indexes. So, if Democrats stay the course and the trends in the Misery Index and the Hobbes Index continue on their current trajectories, the Republicans’ 11-point lead in the generic ballot may very well hold right through to Election Day and produce the “red wave” they are counting on to return them to the majority in Congress.
Quality of Life
2022 midterm election
Democrat House majority
inflation plus unemployment
state of nature