White House economists say the US is better than Sweden and Norway

Trump, for one, doesn’t think the US should be more like Sweden.
Trump, for one, doesn’t think the US should be more like Sweden.
Image: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
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Are you an American who wishes the US had generous policies like those of Sweden and Norway? Do you look dreamily at Nordic nations’ universal healthcare, protections for the unemployed and generous parental leave policies?

Well, the White House Council Economic Advisors, the US president’s team of economists, has news: It’s better in America.

In response to the rise of politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders and congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who identify as Democratic Socialists, the White House’s economists recently published a report titled “The Opportunity Costs of Socialism.” Intended to educate the public on the poor economic records of socialist countries, the report relates the dismal outcomes of socialist experiments in the USSR, Venezuela, and Cuba.

But American Democratic Socialists don’t aspire to replicate the USSR. Instead, they usually point to contemporary Nordic societies—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden—as examples of strong welfare states that successfully underwrite a high quality of life. Should the US aspire to that? Not at all, say US economists.

You can make more money in America

White House researchers argue that US GDP per person is about 20% higher than in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden (Norway is closer to the US). And while the White House acknowledges that the US has higher economic inequality than Nordic countries, it also points out that low-income households in the US make more than their peers in Nordic countries (data collected by the non-partisan Pew Research Center supports this finding.)

The report also shows that US residents of Nordic ancestry are typically better off than those that remained in their ancestral homeland. For example, the average income of people in the US that identify as being of Danish ancestry is about 50% higher than their ancestors still in Denmark.

But if you want to live longer, work less and feel good…

The White House report does ignore several important factors beyond income, which suggest that the socialist state does have its advantages, including greater longevity and happiness.

All five of the the Nordic countries have longer average life expectancies than the US. Icelanders and Swedes live an extra three years according to data from the World Health Organization.

Four of the five Nordic countries spend more time on leisure and personal care, according to data from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development).

Although the US is far richer in financial terms, Nordic nations also do better on most quality of life assessments, thanks to better health and equal access to opportunity. The five Nordic countries all make the non-profit Social Progress Imperative’s top eleven countries in terms of quality of life. The US ranks far behind, at 25th.

In the Economist’s ranking of “human development” in different countries, the US is 21st, while the five Nordic countries are all in the top 12.

Someone tell the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors: Money isn’t everything.