“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
That sentence–a key statement of the U.S. Declaration of Independence–has as its final word, “happiness.” Wouldn’t you say happiness is an important component of the American dream? Isn’t happiness, well, just plain American?
Not so fast. In October 2006, BusinessWeek.com publicized the results of a study by the University of Leicester which found that the happiest country in the world is… Denmark? Isn’t it kind of cold and dark up there? And don’t they have… high taxes?
Yeah, they do. And alongside Denmark were five other European countries, including Switzerland, Austria, and (pre-crash) Iceland. (The U.S.A. was 23rd.) What do they have that we don’t? For starters, free public health care, low poverty levels, and easy access to education–or, to put it as Ben Franklin might, those countries are “healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
Of course, size is a factor, too, but don’t worry–the U.S.A. is shrinking, what with rising sea levels and all.
But I digress. The Brits were only getting started with the Leicester study. Researchers at the Legatum Institute, a London-based nonpartisan think tank, also set out to identify the happiest countries in the world and rank them. This resulted in the 2010 Prosperity Index, which ranks 110 countries, covering 90% of the world’s population.
Among the top ten “prosperous” countries are Norway, Denmark (again?), Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands. What do these countries have in common? They are all European, they are all electoral democracies, and they all have what U.S. conservatives would call socialist states, with generous welfare benefits and lots of redistribution of wealth.
Oh, and by the way, that means some rich people–maybe all rich people–must PAY THEIR FRIGGIN’ TAXES.
To be fair, capitalism did show up in most countries boasting upper-echelon happiness. Some blame free-market systems for making people miserable in what has been politely called “the rat race.” (I certainly do.) Nonetheless, all the top-ranking European countries have capitalist economies, even if many of them are kind of socialist with their universal free education, universal free health care, universal free care for the elderly, and safe, efficient, reliable, and affordable public transportation.
What do none of the top ten happy countries NOT have? Big militaries. Clearly high military budgets do not correlate well with happiness.
Am I advocating socialism and pacificism, for Christ’s sake? Yes, I kind of am. You got a problem with that?
Anyway, Jesus Himself was kind of a socialist with all his talk of giving money to the poor, not to mention a pacifist with his “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
Before you go, check out Costa Rica, which has like NO military.