Every year, or actually multiple times every year, GALLUP asks citizens of the United States what they perceive to be the most important problem facing us. Unsurprisingly the largest single and most named category was “the economy,” which has remained the number one “what do we need to fix” buzzword for the last decade.


Compared to the economy, no other single issue received even close to as much attention. Within “economy” most people were worried about “the economy in general,” (20%) which I take to mean essentially that those responding are not entirely clear what the problem is despite being convinced that it is something serious to worry about. This seems even more likely when we keep in mind that only 2% said that the growing gap between the rich and the poor was an important problem, 1% named taxes, and 1% named corporate corruption.

When we look at the grand sum of other problems people found important, outside of the economy, we are again greeted with a list that regurgitates media and government priorities. I will display the list before I delve into the issues with what was predominantly picked. The columns each represent one data-sample per month (in 2014), with August found on the right and November found on the left.


We see that the single biggest category was “dissatisfaction with the government,” but when we look at the possible causes – for instance election reform  or the judicial system – we see numbers (1%) which are roughly equivalent to the number of people who believe that the main problem of the United States can be found in its lack of military defense…

Of course, you don’t need to be a statistician to know that the United States actually spends the more on its military than any ther nation globally. Nor do you have to an immunologist or ecologist to understand that the Ebola virus (2%) is not twice as important as the environment (1%). Actually, it is pretty shocking how few people are concerned with the environment (and how many people are concerned with a virus that is nowhere near as contagious or deadly as it has been marketted). We are living during a time when the extinction rate is roughly 1000x higher than background levels and in which we have more than halved the global population of wild animals in the last 40 years (according to a meta-analysis of over 10,000 cohorts).

The fact is, much as I wrote about several months ago, that our society seems to invert its understanding of what matters. Collectively we evaluate an abstract concern about the economy as being 20 times higher than our concern about the environment, which is itself apparently less of a concern than the Ebola virus. Collectively, we are concerned about the government, but only a small fraction of people are actually interested in reforming election practices (1%) or improving the judicial system (1%) (for instance by removing privitized prisons where children are kept in solitary confinement.)

Image: File photo of Latin American demonstrators protesting during an immigration reform rally in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington

We see far more people concerned with immigrants than we see concerned about healthcare, even though healthcare affects us all and immigration affects only a small number of people. In fact, we see about twice as many people worried about immigrants as healthcare. We see about 3 times more people concerned with religious decline than we see concerned about the environment, even though literally no society or civilization can survive without functional ecosystems. We see more than 3 times more people concerned with illegal immigrants than guaranteeing a decent education for our children…

From a statistical and scientific perspective, each of us has far more reason to be concerned with the environment, healthcare, and education than we do to be concerned about “the economy.” The worldwide industrial economy is only a few hundred years old, but humans have lived on this planet for tens of thousands of years. The requirement for our survival on this planet is not an actively growing economy, but functional communities living within functional ecosystems. The fact is that there can be no economy for very long without a healthy environment, so if you are concerned “about the economy,” you may want to consider also being concerned about the environment.