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Friday, May 26, 2006



Unless I misunderstand him, Wilkinson is plain wrong on this. Happiness studies repeatedly show the US as less happy than most European countries and furthermore, the Nordic countries often come near the top (Denmark always comes at the top!).

Depending on how you define economic freedom, his assertion has no basis in fact.

Arthur Eckart

I don't know how people can be happy without personal responsibility. Consequently, it would seem many European countries happiness levels are overstated, while the U.S. happiness level is understated (which is shown implicitly in other areas). It seems, most Americans believe individuals (or households) make better choices than governments. I doubt the full extent of trade-offs, or opportunity costs, between individuals (or households) and governments are shown in most studies.



The empirical evidence runs counter to your claim. In Argyle's book "The Psychology of Happiness", which is a summary of the research on happiness, he says Americans tend to overstate their level of happiness. One possible rationale is that since Americans believe in personal responsibility, they tend to view their unhappiness as their own fault and are thus ashamed of it and lie in suveys. Europeans, by contrast, are happier to blame external factors.

Arthur Eckart

Finnsense, those type of conclusions expose the flaws in many empirical studies. I don't know how you can really be happier blaming others or by being constrained by questionable policies. There are implicit reasons why Americans should be happier than people in some European countries. Americans are less likely to work at obsolete (or meaningless) jobs, because the U.S. economy is more flexible and advanced. U.S. imports far exceed U.S. exports and interest rates are lower. So, utility is higher. Also, utility is higher, because output and output growth are high in the U.S. Less government influence provides greater control to individuals and households. So, for example, Americans have the choice to learn from mistakes and therefore are more likely to make better choices. There's greater income inequality in the U.S. However, there are also more opportunities and greater freedom. Basically, Americans have the choice to be as great as they want, while many Europeans are limited.



Your reasoning is odd. You doubt empirical studies but prefer to rely on a frankly rather abstract argument about how people should feel given a very range number of factors. If one wants to play your game, you could easily make arguments about things that are better in many European countries. Welfare may restrict but it also empowers. A look at any social indicators will show you that European countries have less crime, less poverty (both absolute and relative), people live longer and work less, they have significant paid maternity and paternity leave and are protected from the suffering brought on by unemployment. Many of the factors that cause significant anxiety are greatly reduced in Europe and it is not hard to think that these make up for the higher taxes.

You argue there are more opportunities in the US but of what kind and for whom. Social mobility is higher in Europe so it suggests that the opportunities here really are open to all. You also say there is greater freedom when what you mean is that there is smaller government. These are not the same things (and in any case it is not true at the moment since Bush has a very large government that infringes on many areas of life European governments would never do).

You seem to have a funny view of Europe.

Arthur Eckart

Finnsense, not all empirical studies support your statements (I've included one below and see the one above). Speaking of odd reasoning or playing a game, I was responding to your reasoning about how you believe blaming others and creating constraints make people "happier." Perhaps, you feel government welfare will improve living standards. Valid arguments can be made that welfare will help some people and harm society in general. Also, you state Europe has less crime, less poverty, longer lives, work less, and social programs. Perhaps, the U.S. has tougher laws or higher standards, higher incomes and greater consumer surplus, the poor may live a few months less, most Americans love their jobs, and the private sector pays for some benefits rather than the public sector. There are fewer welfare opportunities in the U.S. However, a flexible and dynamic U.S. economy generates many other opportunities. Also, I don't know what you mean that the Bush government infringes. The Bush Administration cut taxes its first three years and maintained the tax cuts. Of course, the U.S. is the only economic and military superpower in the world, and continues to liberate people and promote democracy, which it has successfully done for about a hundred years.


Using a total of 128,106 answers to a survey question about happiness,' we find that there is a large, negative and significant effect of inequality on happiness in Europe but not in the US. There are two potential explanations. First, Europeans prefer more equal societies (inequality belongs in the utility function for Europeans but not for Americans). Second, social mobility is (or is perceived to be) higher in the US so being poor is not seen as affecting future income. We test these hypotheses by partitioning the sample across income and ideological lines. There is evidence of inequality generated' unhappiness in the US only for a sub-group of rich leftists. In Europe inequality makes the poor unhappy, as well as the leftists. This favors the hypothesis that inequality affects European happiness because of their lower social mobility (since no preference for equality exists amongst the rich or the right). The results help explain the greater popular demand for government to fight inequality in Europe relative to the US.



I'm not going to get into individual cases since I don't know enough about them, but the general evidence overwhelmingly supports the case that Europeans and North Europeans in general, report higher levels of happiness.

I don't think blaming others makes people happier, I was arguing that it makes people more likely to report that they are unhappy surveys, which is how the happiness data is collected.

"Also, you state Europe has less crime, less poverty, longer lives, work less, and social programs. Perhaps, the U.S. has tougher laws or higher standards, higher incomes and greater consumer surplus, the poor may live a few months less, most Americans love their jobs, and the private sector pays for some benefits rather than the public sector."

The statistics on America's social problem are not contested. Three times the number of people are murdered annually per 1000 people, in the US than in Europe. 40 million Americans are without health insurance (whether private or Medicaid/Medicare).

The simple fact is that in Europe you can do everything you can do in the US, it's just a bit harder to get rich. Still, plenty of Europeans are filthy rich so it's not impossible. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the US. If the people want to live that way, that's their choice. However, it would be a mistake on the part of Europeans to believe that giving up their welfare states would make people happier. A cold look at the evidence simply doesn't support that view.

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