The Amazing Global Optimism Gap: 1 More Way China Is Totally Weird

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The economic mood of the world can be be described as "exceedingly glum," according to a new international poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. The survey of 21 large and rich countries found that every nation except China, Germany, Brazil and Turkey reported that their economic conditions were poor.

But the most fascinating part of the survey is the incredible gap between personal and national optimism. In the United States, 68% respondents reported a good personal economic situation versus but 31% reported a good national economic situation. Our 37% gap isn't even the biggest in the English speaking world: Only 15% of British people are optimistic about their economy, four times worse than the 64% that consider their personal finances strong.

Here is the world's optimism gap. Only in China and Egypt are people more optimistic about the country than their personal situation.

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What's going on? My guess is that you're seeing, in the slow-growing developed countries to the left, widespread gloom about the direction of the economy, even among upper-middle class families who don't personally feel at risk. The countries on the right are considerably poorer from a GDP-per-capita standpoint and they tend to register slightly worse personal finance optimism combined with greater hope that their economies will continue growing at a 5 to 10% pace.

Germany is more optimistic about the direction of its economy than any country except for China. In China, the anomaly isn't so much that the Chinese are unusually pessimistic about their own income, but that the Pew respondents were so spectacularly bullish on overall economic growth that it swamped their own personal finance optimism.

One final stat for the road: Japan, Spain, Italy, and Greece all registered economic optimism in the single digits. Greece led the world in pessimism with a lugubrious 2% of respondents expressing optimism about the economy. All four reported more pessimism than the poorest countries on the list, Pakistan and Lebanon.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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