American psychologist Martin Seligman collected statistics on how happy people feel and how satisfied they are with their lives. They show that between 1981 and 2007, people’s subjective situation improved in most countries around the world. People simply felt better and were slightly more satisfied with their lives. Which is great, of course. In only six countries was it the other way around. All in Eastern Europe! In other words, apart from major disasters and wars, it didn’t bring as much human misery as the fall of communism. Strange, isn’t it?

Personally, I had a very positive experience of that time. But I was a Prague university graduate who earned five times the average wage or so at the age of thirty. And others seemed to see it differently. And there were a lot more of them.

Too bad we don’t have comparable data from the rise of the communist regimes. But it certainly gives the skeptics who point out that the “conflict between communism and freedom” is only a small part of the story.

Moreover, it is not just a problem of people who have paid the price for the return of capitalism. That is, manual workers, the lower classes, regions with high unemployment, etc. It could also be a problem of those who have improved. They got rich, but they paid for it with a life of stress, constant fear of being fired or losing their jobs, and living under enormous pressure. I recall telling the wife of a very successful businessman how she was regularly plagued by a nightmare in which they lost their house because of her husband’s business and left with their three young children down the street leading to the train station. A few years earlier they had not been rich, but neither had they lived in fear.

Add to that the decline in interpersonal solidarity, the deterioration of public services, the increase in crime… it seems to have been outweighed by such benefits as the right to criticize the Communist Party, or the fact that there was no American music in the stores, so people had to go to Communist Hungary for gramophone records.

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