Nordic reality vs. American dream
By Raymond Freeman 06/12/2014
It’s firmly settled that America’s “exceptional.” Is it? Statisticians publish reams of numbers annually. Economists study them and draw conclusions. Here’s a shock. We’re exceptional only at delusion.
Economists at the Legatum Institute have developed a prosperity index (http://www.prosperity.com/#!/). They compare 142 nations with 89 standard measures. Income is considered but isn’t the only factor. Money won’t help if you get murdered in your Rolls. The top 20 nations in 2013 were: Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Australia, Finland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, U.S.A., Ireland, Iceland, Germany, Austria, U.K., Belgium, Singapore, Hong Kong, France.
America’s rankings in the eight main categories were: economy (24), entrepreneurship and opportunity (13), governance (11), education (5), health (2), safety and security (31), personal freedom (16), and social capital (9). Health looks impressive, but it’s misleading as they count only dollars spent (they’re economists, not doctors). Our healthcare is superexpensive. The World Health Organization once put us 37th on medical results.
The Legatum Institute says about the U.S.: “Over the past five years, the country has declined 11 places to 24th in the economy sub-index, mainly due to decreases in gross domestic savings rates, a decline in high-tech exports, in five-year GDP per capita growth rate, confidence in the financial system and with satisfaction with access to food and shelter.” Why?
America’s economy is the world’s largest, but it’s inefficient overall. We’re No. 24 in economy. Simply put, Reaganomics is fundamentally flawed. No other country copied it. Norway didn’t; it’s No. 1. Canada didn’t; it’s No. 4. And in entrepreneurship and opportunity, Sweden is No. 1, we’re 13th. To achieve the American dream, move to “socialist” Sweden or “socialist” Denmark at No. 2.
In our guts, we know it’s nuts. We’re unhappy. The U.N.’s 2013 World Happiness Report listed nations by happiness (http://unsdsn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/WorldHappinessReport2013_online.pdf). The top 10 were Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Austria, Iceland and Australia. We’re 17th. We’re not first because Republicans from Ronald Reagan have driven the narrative. But the top 1 percent are really happy.
Notice the happiness of the Nordic countries. The Economist gave a glowing account of them in its Feb. 2, 2013, special edition on Scandinavia. “Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland are doing rather well.” The “new Nordic model is proving strikingly successful.” They “cluster at the top of the league tables of everything from economic competitiveness to social health to happiness.” Notably, they’ve “avoided America’s extreme inequality” and have “the world’s highest rates of social mobility.”
Translation: the Nordic reality beats the American dream, hands down.
The Nordics have designed public services to make the private sector work better. So long as public services work, they don’t care who provides them (V.A., please note). Private firms may run public hospitals. Health care is basically free. Their health-care systems don’t run off with 18 percent of their economies, as is the US; they’re around the 2011 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average of 9.3 percent. Nobody’s uninsured. There are paid maternity leave, vacations and sick time. Schools are free, with private schools receiving a state subsidy. Further education is free. As a result, Nordic workers are healthy, productive and happy. They gladly pay taxes for this, like paying dues for a top country club.
Norway taxes oil companies at 78 percent. We subsidize them, and invaded Iraq for them.
Money in Nordic politics is limited, so politicians aren’t for sale. The Nordics don’t have One Dollar, One Vote. They’re democracies. America’s pretty much an oligarchy (run by the few for the few). Occupy Wall Street went nowhere.
Above all, the Nordics are pragmatic. They can all see past their noses and work together at the national level. They pursue policies to make everyone richer and happier, not just billionaires. The conservative Economist concluded: “It is possible to combine competitive capitalism with a large state (i.e., level of public services).” It’s “the next supermodel.”
That “supermodel” won’t happen here any time soon. We’ve become obsessed with doing everything at the individual level. Ideologically pure conservatives cannot see past their noses for the common good. Next, everything’s hypercompetitive, even Little League. It’s in the national DNA. Conservatives are proud of creating gridlock. And thirdly, policy decisions since 1975 have almost entirely favored the superrich. Republicans get Americans to vote against their own interests. It’s a case study of mass propaganda. It’s brilliant.
President George W. Bush Jr. said right out that his “base” was “the haves and the have-mores,” meaning his rich donors. In reality, the GOP’s voting base is the multitude of dirt-poor yokels who vote against their own interests, like turkeys voting for Thanksgiving. That’s why Republicans don’t retool their policies to benefit everyone, not just billionaires. They don’t need to. Republican voters only look for swagger.
So ask your swaggering Republican candidates, “Why do you support policies that make only billionaires richer? Why don’t you want me to get richer?”