10 min read

The Lifecession, or Why People Think This is the Worst Economy Ever

The Lifecession, or Why People Think This is the Worst Economy Ever

I’m Umair Haque, and this is The Issue: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported publication. Our job is to give you the freshest, deepest, no-holds-barred insight about the issues that matter most.

New here? Get the Issue in your inbox daily.

  1. Pentagon suspends aid deliveries via Gaza pier after repeated mishaps (WaPo)
  2. Melinda French Gates: The Enemies of Progress Play Offense. I Want to Help Even the Match. (NYT)
  3. Donald Trump sells private jet to Republican donor amid cash squeeze (The Guardian)
  4. The Great Exhaustion era: How work consumes our energy and even our free time (El Pais)
  5. After ‘whites only’ job posting, tech staffing firm settles with DOJ, Labor (NPR)
  6. The dynamics of the Russia-China partnership (Brookings)

Hi! How’s everyone? I hope your life is skyrocketing up to the stars and beyond…or at least doing OK. Welcome new readers, many thanks old friends, and a Big Thanks again to those of you who’ve already joined this little expedition into the wilds so far. 

Today we’re going to discuss…a little thing I’ve come to call “The Lifecession.”

People Think This is the Worst Economy…Ever. But Politicians and Pundits Aren’t Listening.

What is it? What’s going on, exactly, with this thing we call society, or “the economy,” or the state of things in general?

I came across a genuinely remarkable finding today. It comes to us from YouGov, which, to get the credibility issue out of the way, does good research. What it found this time around is sort of mind-blowing. Let me summarize it for you—it’s in the chart above.

People today think this is the worst economy ever. Let me repeat that. The worst economy ever. Worse than the 1930s, even.

That’s a stunning figure. It should start alarm bells ringing, in leaders of all kinds, and it should give you, if you’re just an average person, and you’re struggling, a sense of relief, perhaps, because, no…it’s not just you. But I’ll come back to that. 

Now, these are statistics. They are real. People really believe this. And yet what was the response to this remarkable finding—or any number of similar ones that have come out lately? By now, it’s predictable. The establishment denies it, and worse, insults people for even thinking it. Not too hard to see why Trump’s surging, is it?

They tell people that what they’re experiencing isn’t real. For example, just today, the Post has yet another one of this genre of editorials, titled, Everything People Believe About the Economy is Wrong.

But is it? Can everyone be wrong about the state…of their own lives?

You see, to think that is what really beggars belief. This many people can’t be this wrong about what they’re experiencing, aka, the state of their own lives. That’s just sort of absurd. And when we look deeper…what do we find?

No, It’s Not a “Vibecession”—Something Real is Seriously Wrong With the Socioeconomy

Another way to think about “whether this is real” is to look at the data. No, not the data about “the economy,” which is an abstraction, but about people’s lives. And when we do that, wow, what a coincidence, we find that people aren’t doing too well these days. It might not be the 1930s out there—oh wait, are those the fascists on the march again?—but is it meh, bad, good, or plain terrible out there? 

I just discussed with you, for example how financial and economic well-being’s plummeted, and it’s lower than now it was before the pandemic. That’s hardly a remarkable fact on its own—think about your day, you go off to a job which probably barely pays the bills, you go to the grocery store and leave a hundred dollars poorer for very little, and you get home and check the bills and have a panic attack. 

We have a real problem here, not just an imaginary one. 

The catastrophic fall in well-being isn’t some kind of made-up woo-woo effect. It is as lethal and sharp as an alligator’s jaws. The data tells us so.

All of that leaves us is in a deeply weird place. That place is this. The establishment’s taken to calling all this a “vibecession,” which is a polite way of saying, hey, you feel bad, but you’re an idiot, things are great, Christ, grow up already, you big baby! Like I’ve been teaching you, they’re looking at statistics like GDP and unemployment, but not those about people’s actual lives, and the former kind are by now deeply inaccurate. It makes no difference to people if GDP grows if the richest of the rich and mega-corporations capture all of those gains (which is more or less precisely what’s happening now.)

“Vibecession” is basically the Hurt Feelings theory of economics, and…it’s not a great one. Ooh, Do Your Feelings Hurt? Grow Up, You Baby! This isn’t serious thinking at all, and yet it’s where our establishment is, pretty incredibly, and losing the election to Trump because of it, no less.

Let me throw another remarkable statistic at you. 

80% of people now think of fast food as a luxury. Laugh or cry? 80%! That’s sort of…crazy, no? And yet it’s also…true. By now, it’s hard to be unaware of the numerous viral TikTok videos or what have you by people showing you how they bought a meal at McDonald’s, and it cost $20. That’s way, way too expensive for fast food, at least on any sort of average income.

Meanwhile, in the same newspaper that tells us that Everything People Believe About the Economy’s Wrong, comes this sort of dire story:

Housing costs: The 2024 sleeper issue

LAS VEGAS — D. Carter paid $1,525 for rent, cable and WiFi for her one-bedroom apartment until her monthly rent jumped to $2,100 last year.

Unwilling and unable to pay the new rate, Carter, who spoke on the condition that her first name not be used, considered buying but quickly realized that with interest rates hovering around 7 percent, she was priced out. She found a new apartment in a decent part of town after months of searching, but said she still pays up to 50 percent of her fluctuating $50,000 to $70,000 income from her banking job for rent.

It’s not just in Las Vegas that people are facing high housing costs. A shortage of housing, inflation and high interest rates are squeezing renters around the country and pricing out potential home buyers. April ranked among the six least affordable months for buying a home in the last 38 years, according to the mortgage technology division of Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), an information clearinghouse, including for mortgage listings.

So think about how weird that is. The same newspaper says that a) Everything You Believe About the Economy’s Wrong, and yet b) people can’t make ends meet. Which one of those two things is true? Quite obviously, it probably has to be the latter, because by now, statistics like this—people are struggling to pay rent and mortgages, or fast food’s a luxury—well, we’re practically drowning in them, and that’s before you get to more telling data about well-being falling off a cliff, or people thinking this is the worst economy ever.

People are crying out to be heard. Times are tough. Things suck. Life is…not going well. They’ll say it again and again, in a variety of ways—but they’ll never, ever these days, tell you anything that might lead you to believe this is all a fairy-tale, noise in the statistical signal. Nobody much beyond the 20% or so of people who are unaffected by all this and more, because they’re resource rich, will say things are going well.

People are shouting this from the rooftops, how bad things are. Go on Reddit, and you’ll read threads about a broken jobs market. Go on Twitter, and you’ll hear endlessly about how people feel the economy’s broken. Go on social media in general, and you’ll hear about how people think the economy’s rigged, designed to exploit them, and more. And all that by now isn’t just “anecdotal”—the statistics bear it out in startling, remarkable detail.

But the problem is this. Nobody’s listening.

The Lifecession

Now let me put all that together, and we’re going to synthesize some of the stuff we’ve been discussing over the past few months, too.

What’s going on here? It’s not a “vibecession“—this is all in your head, you dummy, and actually, things are great, exclamation point. 

What we’re experiencing is a lifecession.

What do I mean by that sort of clunky portmanteau? It means exactly what it sounds like. Orthodox economic statistics don’t show it, but life is breaking down for many, probably most, people.

Not GDP. Not unemployment, whatever that even means anymore.


Let’s go back to Cory Keyes’ sort of marvelous idea of “languishing.” Remember that? We talked about it not so long ago. Languishing, in his terms, and Cory’s an eminent psychologist, is the absence of well-being. It’s the feeling of your life sort of…going nowhere. In my terms, it’d be something like the catastrophic loss of human possibility, just sort of watching life slip through your fingers, treading water, going nowhere, trying desperately just not to slip through the cracks of collapsing societies.

And isn’t that the way most of us sort of experience life these days? Those aren’t just “feelings,” in the kind of contemptuous way of saying “it’s just a vibecession!” Feelings reflect realities. People are feeling terrible these days, and again, the statistics show it to us in endless ways, because their lives are languishing.

Because their lives are languishing.

How are lives languishing? Let’s think about just a handful of social groups. If you’re young, a new college grad, it’s become this sort of titanic struggle to just…get a job…any job. If you’re a little bit older, it’s a struggle to get on the housing ladder, and you’re probably either living at home, with friends, or relying on the Bank of Mom and Dad. If you’re a little older than that, keeping your family afloat these days is this sort of fraught, maybe even terrifying, vertiginous thing, where you struggle, like most, to pay the bills, and just hold it all together. Older than that, and good luck retiring, unless you were lucky enough to make a lot of money in the stock market over the years, I suppose.

Languishing is the common thread which cuts across generations and social groups. When I look at the economy,  I don’t see the BS of growing GDP and low unemployment—I know that’s sort of meaningless, when people’s lives are languishing.

And languishing this badly. Go ahead and just think about how you feel lately. Doesn’t languishing sum it up pretty well, or, if you don’t feel that way, doesn’t it sum up a whole lot of your friends and family, and you’re the exception? The statistics tell me that sort of has to be the case, unless you don’t know anyone outside your own social group, and you’ve been incredibly lucky in life. Treading water, barely holding it all together, sensing life slip through our fingers, wondering how it all got this bad, expensive, risky, uncertain, just trying to make it through another week, month, day, without freaking out, panicking, letting it all overwhelm you, wondering when all this sort of nightmare and horror will end.

If you’re feeling any or all of that, congratulations, you’re languishing, and that’s what a lifecession is.

Why All This Matters 

I think all of this matters, really matters, intensely and deeply. I see our economists, and I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t understand how they can glibly call this a “vibecession,” and dismiss literally everything people are telling them, and simply sort of snipe back that people must be wrong. 

When fast food’s become a luxury for 80% of people, something’s gone seriously wrong in the economy, and it’s not just feelings. It’s reality.

And that’s sort of a sensationalistic way to put it because, of course, that’s just the harbinger of the much deeper issues of languishing.

You see, when well-being craters like this, and people begin to experience its absence…well, I could write a book about that, but let me distill three points, quickly.

  • The absence of well-being destabilizes societies, fast and hard, turning people to authoritarianism, fascism, theocracy, and more, as they search for any institution or figure who’ll promise them a decent life again.
  • When people languish, it means a social contract is profoundly broken, and needs to be not just recalibrated, but reimagined and rewritten.
  • When we see widespread languishing, when people’s lives are stuck, stagnant, and they feel they can’t get ahead no matter what they do, that’s a long term problem, not just a blip, because of course it means that entire pathways of progress and prosperity have turned from ladders and lever to chutes and pitfalls.

This is a Big Problem. Maybe the Biggest Problem a society can have. Languishing? It breeds everything from war to vengeance to social breakdown. It wrecks a society’s not just fortunes, but it’s sense of confidence, its ability to cohere, its resilience and perseverance, as people eventually break, snap, can’t take it anymore. It leaves our spirits, as well as our institutions and systems, brittle, unable to bear the weight of all this pressure, ready to crack at any moment.

What tends to happen next isn’t pretty. By now, you know that story. The establishment denies it’s happening, because, hey, it doesn’t want to ever admit it made a mistake. That way lies social collapse, as people turn away in disgust, just as they are now from Biden and the Democrats. Languishing is the scythe which reaps the bitter harvest of socioeconomic ruin.

But do we get it yet?

We should begin thinking of all this as a lifecession. There are three ways to see it. One, there’s no problem, and Everyone But Me, the Elite, is Wrong. Two, inflation and high prices have made things difficult—but even that understates severe problems in everything from housing to credit to upward mobility. Three, to see that languishing is cutting through our societies, and leaving people in growing despair, unable to forge futures anymore, because the basics of decent lives have become unattainable. I’ll discuss that more next time. 

For now, fire away in the comments, and if this helped you, moved you, hit you, then please do me a big favor and share it with all your friends and family. Many thanks for reading, and if you’re going through any or all of the above, I want to send you strength, courage, compassion, and grace—along with a big old puppy hug from Snowy.

❤️ Don't forget...

📣 Share The Issue on your Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

💵 If you like our newsletter, drop some love in our tip jar.

📫 Forward this to a friend and tell them all all about it.

👂 Anything else? Send us feedback or say hello!