In terms of GDP the United States has the largest economy in the world: $17 trillion. China’s GDP is $10 trillion, with 2-3 times as many people, so China’s per-capita GDP is pathetic compared to the US.[1]

In terms of after-tax household income, the US just wipes the floor with other countries: the US average is $41,355, while the median for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries is $27,630. So the US is like 50 percent higher than the median. That means that it drags the median upward by its high household income, so most OECD countries have family incomes even lower than in the US. .

People are quick to point out that American success is all quantitative, rather than qualitative. Americans work way more than do “normal” people: an average of 46.7 hours a week. They get less sleep, have less family time with their ingrate kids, have wives who have let themselves go, and about 35 percent of Americans are obese.[2] American society may be rich, but it is very unequal, which may be a factor in high poverty rates. Also, there are signs of “moral decay”: Americans trail only Mexico and Chile in pregnancy rates among 15-19 year-olds. Then there is all the violence: only Mexico has a higher murder rate per 100,000 people—and Mexico has drug gangs run amok. Only 74 percent of Americans, Serbs, or Egyptians felt safe walking alone at night.

Is there an alternative model? Yes, either Scandinavia or Central America. Panama, Belize, and Costa Rica all out-pace the US in reports of “daily positive experiences such as smiling and laughing, feeling enjoyment, and feeling treated with respect each day.”[3] More concretely, Scandinavians (Danes, Norwegians, Swedes) accept paying much higher taxes generally than do Americans in return for a comprehensive social safety net.[4] Top earners pay 57 percent, but—and this will freak-out Democrats—middle-income earners pay up to 48 percent of their income in taxes.[5] Consequently, the price of consumer goods is higher and the purchases of consumer goods are less. On the other hand, if you’re playing by the rule that “the one with the most toys when he dies wins” or if you listen to economists who argue that the great American demand for consumer goods is what drives the world economy, then you have to hate the European approach.

Regardless of what European leftists insist, the American definition of happiness isn’t just about quantitative measures over qualitative measures. Americans value individual freedom and choice more than do people elsewhere, and this makes them insist on the importance of individual self-reliance and accountability more than do people elsewhere. Americans believe that progress in life, measured in economic terms, validates an open society and a competitive economy. This is why the “recent [economic] unpleasantness” has been such a trial for Americans. It is astonishing that most of the Republican presidential candidates can’t see this.

See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q49NOyJ8fNA

[1] “How America rates,” The Week, 27 November 2015, p. 11.

[2] Only 4 percent of Japanese are obese and that’s including all those sumo wrestlers.

[3] This explains all the reports of Yankees getting caught trying to cross into Mexico. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-N9L3ZXWPA

[4] Actually that term is deceptive. Americans mean that they have to catch and carry the screw-ups. Scandinavians mean a system for enabling each person to live a productive and socially-useful life. These different meanings reflect different beliefs about human character. Jury is out in my view.

[5] So, good-bye “middle class tax cuts” beloved of both parties and the Obama confirmation of 98 percent of the George W. Bush tax cuts looks politically expedient without being fiscally prudent.

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