Tag: Don Boudreaux

The Happiest Place On Earth

I think we all had a good giggle at this:

North Korea’s Central TV recently invented its own politically expedient global happiness index, claiming China is the world’s happiest country, followed by North Korea, NBC reported Tuesday.

China topped the list as the happiest country on earth with 100 points out of 100, trailed by North Korea with 98. Other thorns in the U.S.’ side were next, with Cuba scoring 93 points, Iran 88 points and Venezuela 85 points.

South Korea came 152nd with 18 points and the U.S. finished 203rd with a mere 2 points.

Haha! What kind of idiots do they take use for?! What idiot would pay attention to a “happiness” index that strangely rates is country of origin and its friends as the happiest places on Earth? Why, you’d have to be … I’m sorry?

24/7 Wall St. analyzed the new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Better Life Index to objectively determine the happiest countries in the world. The Index is based on 11 measurements of quality of life including housing, income, jobs, community, education, the environment, health, work-life balance, and life satisfaction. We made “life satisfaction” the cornerstone of our index because it is as good a proxy for “happiness” as the survey provides. We then compared “life satisfaction” scores to the other measurements to find those economic and socio-political realities that had the highest and lowest correlation to happiness.

Old, stable nations of northern Europe took five of the top 10 spots on our list. These include Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark. Switzerland is also on the list and has many characteristics in common with the Scandinavian countries. The resource-rich, English-speaking countries of Australia and Canada made the cut as well.

The US didn’t make the cut. There is some rather disturbing verbiage about culturally homogenous countries being happier. For those of you who don’t speak sociology and don’t realize that most of the countries in the sample are European, that means “white”. But their big conclusion is that having lots of social services and not having to work hard are the key to a happy populace.

As you can imagine, the Left Wing is touting this story. But while PMSNBC’s analysis is better bullshit that the NK study, it’s still bullshit. The OECD’s Better Life index is highly subjective to say the least. You can play with it here. The life satisfaction rating is here. Stunningly, an organization in which half of the member countries are in northern Europe find that northern European countries are the happiest.

There are other reasons besides self-worship that this measurement is useless. Here’s one:

The OECD study no doubt would have had different results had it included politically unstable countries in the Middle East or large emerging economies where political unrest threatens to bubble over such as China.

That is, the OECD restricted itself to stable countries. The US not being the happiest country in that group (we’re 13th) is like being the most flat-chested Page 3 model. You have to consider the peer group, especially when, of all the nations in he list, the US is by far the least culturally and racially homogenous and also, by far, the largest.

To be fair, I think it’s likely that people in Scandinavian countries are happier with their lives. But I think this is more of a cultural thing. Milton Friedman, when it was pointed out that Swedes had miniscule levels of unemployment, famously replied that Swedish-Americans did as well. Attitudes toward the world are informed by conditions, but they are based on culture. To assume a causative relation — that the superior happiness of Scandinavians is caused by their socialized systems (which are far less socialized than they used to be) — is to believe that human beings are empty vessels whose every attitude and emotion is informed by the quality of their government.

Americans tend to be a grouchy bunch, in case you haven’t noticed. This is especially true when we have a political and media class that are constantly running the nation down and telling us we need to be … more like northern European countries. To be completely fair, I think there is something to MSNBC’s analysis: there are parts of this country with entrenched poverty and misery. But they’ve drawn the wrong conclusions from this. We’ve already invested trillions trying to fix that problem through northern European style social services. The result has been to only make the problem worse.

(Side note: Speaking of stupid comparisons, I tweeted about it this weekend, but Nicholas Kristof wrote a truly moronic column this weekend arguing that the Republicans’ ideal country is seen in either Pakistan or the Congo. Don Boudreaux tears him up as does Balko. I simply get tired of saying this: wanting less government is not the same as wanting no government. Wanting less government is not the same as wanting no government. Wanting less government is not the same as wanting no government. Do you guys get it now?)