Last year our country—‘tis of thee and home of the brave—came in 10th place in the annual ranking of World’s Happiest Countries. This year, the U.S. has slipped to the 12th place position. The slippery slope of decline is based upon the criteria of governance, personal freedom, entrepreneurship, and opportunity. The two place drop is due to a general reassessment of whether working hard gets you ahead. Considering the economic gap between the rich and the poor, it’s hard to argue against this. According to the article “Get a Life” by C.W. and A.J.K.D., published on Economist.com , it seems that “more productive—and, consequently, better-paid—workers put in less time at the office.” For the sake of comparison, the authors of the article considered the lifestyle and work ethic of other countries, not just of the U.S.
The article states, “The Greeks are some of the most hardworking in the OECD-Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, putting in over 2,000 hours a year on average. Germans, on the other hand, are comparative slackers, working about 1,400 hours each year. But German productivity is about 70% higher.” According to Dave Gilson in an article posted in Mother Jones, “In the past 20 years, the U.S. economy has grown nearly 60 percent. This huge increase in productivity is partly due to automation, the Internet, and other improvements in efficiency. Productivity has surged, but income and wages have remained stagnant for most Americans. If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000.”
The takeaway seems to be that “job creators” are keeping wages low by automating the workplace to increase efficiencies in order to have more leisure time for themselves; in doing so, they’re considered productive.
What does that mean for the average American worker, for example, the checkout clerk who has been replaced by the self-checkout? Is this the “new normal,” and if so, what adjustments are necessary in order to pursue happiness? The solution may be in the expansion of the welfare state. Before you go ballistic, I’m referring to that which is employed within Norwegian countries where the concept is not a “socialist” construct that’s used as a stereotype with obligatory racial overtones attached. Here’s an example:
THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE ON EARTH
Modern “welfare” states, which include Nordic countries, such as Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, employ a system known as the Nordic Model. Their idea of a welfare state involves the transfer of funds from the state through taxes, to social services, e.g., healthcare and education, as well as directly to individuals in the form of unemployment benefits and pensions. Esping-Andersen classified the most developed welfare state systems into three categories; Social Democratic, Conservative, and Liberal.
The Norwegian welfare state is funded through redistributionist taxation and is often referred to as a type of “mixed economy”. Such taxation usually includes a larger income tax for people with higher incomes, called a progressive tax. This helps to reduce the income gap between the rich and poor. If you’ve been paying attention to our political environment, you’ve heard conservative pundits railing against this concept, but once you see how it’s impacting those in this model, you’ll question why. Now, keep in mind; it’s the poor who are suffering most from environmental injustices, whose communities are being defined as “food deserts”, who are employed in our industrial prison complexes, who suffer most from social dysfunction. So, who’s arguing against the redistribution of wealth, using it as a pejorative, when our country has seen the greatest redistribution over the last thirty years going to the one-percenters? Who’s supporting the special interest that argues against the idea of a “welfare state” and what’s their agenda? Think hard now.
Who are the happiest people on Earth? Number one is Norway, followed by Denmark and Sweden. Included in this group are other Scandinavians, like Finland coming in at number seven. Keep in mind, we’re number 12 and dropping.
Consider Norway. What do Norwegians have that the rest of the world doesn’t? For one thing, a stunning per capita GDP of $57,000 per year! Per capita is the amount of money averaged per person. That’s right, every man, woman and child is worth that amount if you spread it out. Our U.S per capita rate is $42,693 and our state per capita rate is $36, 902.
Norwegians have the second-highest level of satisfaction with their standards of living: 95 percent say they are satisfied with the freedom to choose the direction of their lives; an unparalleled 74 percent say other people can be trusted. Now keep in mind, depending on the Nordic country, their tax rate ranges between 47-65 percent!
They are well educated, healthy—their healthcare ranking is 8th, Sweden is 9th as compared to ours at number 37—, wealthy, and happy, but we sneer and deride this European model of distribution, while they laugh and “enjoy” life. With one in three Americans describing themselves as very happy, maybe we should reconsider our priorities.
Norway is ranked number 3 in the world on Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index that measures each country’s environmental impact and initiatives. Countries with similar levels of performance are Denmark, Sweden, France, and Austria. The United States is ranked at 49. Another measure that considered our well-being relative to the environment and economy of other countries was introduced by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in July 2006 and can be found here.
Against this backdrop, the Nordic nations also have the lowest gun ownership, murder, and incarceration rates in the world. Money is their defense.
To summarize, the Norwegians are extremely content within the Nordic model. Pity the fools.
So, where do we go from here? Maybe we should question the motivation of those who use sound bites like “welfare state” as pejoratives, and consider implementing other successful models that allow us to actually pursue life, liberty and happiness. I’d like to know what you think. Share your ideas in the comments section below.