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Free? Yes, these countries all pay high income taxes, but I estimated that if I added my payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security, medical insurance and out-of-pocket costs, school tax levies and college education costs to my income taxes, I’d be paying about as much.
Also, they don’t have a great gap between the very rich and the working poor. There are no oligarchs who control the wealth at the expense of the citizenry, as in many (much unhappier) countries. In each case, well-established national policies perpetuate an environment conducive to happiness, and elected officials maintain that environment without disruptive changes by political parties.
Unfortunately our political culture is not similarly inclined. We are too driven by political egos, winners/losers, lobbyism, special interests, industry groups and personal financial gain to even consider looking at what would make us collectively content and happy.
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Another thing they have in common, and which distinguishes them from the U.S., is that they’re relatively homogeneous societies. There’s a singular societal norm to which the vast majority subscribes. The U.S. has always been a diverse nation; our cultures have never really blended. So the aspirations, and norms of the African-American, Native American, Chinese, European-American Jewish, Italian immigrant, etc. etc. communities differ. We’re also much bigger than all of these three happy countries put together; there are geographic differences in what makes us content.
We also have a massive military to fund, whereas these three countries have very small or non-existent militaries. Of course, as free-world leader and defender, we need to have the world’s best … but just for fun consider what could be done societally if that money was spent on the aforementioned contributors to happiness.
So yes, legislation and legislators could improve our happiness score and significantly reduce our national stress to a productive level. But even if they wanted to it would be difficult for such a complicated diverse nation with the world’s finest military. Still, it’s fun to think about.
David Shumway is one of our regular community contributors.