With apparently nothing more challenging to do with its time, the UN, since 2012, has been publishing an annual list of the happiest countries in the world. The document is cheerfully titled, “The World’s Happiness Report.” Not surprisingly, its 2017 findings place Norway at the head of the pack, followed closely by last year’s winner, Denmark.
Although such lists are always going to be accused of being grossly subjective or unfairly skewed, the six broad categories in which citizens of 154 countries were asked to assess themselves are: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, income, and good governance.
The 2017 top ten countries, all bunched closely together, are: Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, and (tied) Australia and Sweden. The U.S. is ranked #14, which, given that Donald Trump is president, and Betty DeVos is Secretary of Education, seems outlandishly high.
When the first list appeared, in 2012 (with the Top Ten being uncomfortably similar to the 2017 list) some social critics voiced their objections. They claimed that the list was not only fundamentally flawed, but “classist.” Other observers, struck by the fact that these countries were inhabited overwhelmingly by white people, accused it of being blatantly “racist.” (“Yea! Let’s hear it for White People!”)
While the case can be made that societies which are demographically homogeneous are going to have certain, undeniable advantages over ones that are wildly heterogeneous (i.e. with less conflict, less confusion, less oppression, fewer resentments, etc.), the key characteristic reflected in this UN list is neither ethnicity nor class. It ain’t race and it ain’t elitism.
The outstanding feature these countries all have in common—indeed, the feature that, arguably, contributes most to defining and explaining them—is their embrace of a quasi-socialist approach to life. [Fun fact: They also aren’t plagued by the world’s most extravagantly inflated military budget.]
Difficult as it may be for Free Market fundamentalists and Ayn Rand worshippers to admit, these “successful” countries are the product of a profound sense of collectivism. The simple-minded notion of “Every man for himself” is alien to them. In truth, various levels of high taxes, national health care, universal education (including college), and free services have all combined to make them “happy.” What’s not to like?
Take the notion of a free college education, for example. Instead of seeing college attendance as a “privilege,” Scandinavia tends to view government subsidization not as a “burden” but as an “investment.” After all, which scenario, in principle, makes more sense in a democracy: one where the voting public is educated, or one where it isn’t?
If we all lived in a monarchy, no one would care. An educated electorate wouldn’t matter. We might still gather at the donut shop and complain about potholes in the street, and the high cost of cable TV, but our opinions would be irrelevant.
These opinions wouldn’t even count as “background noise” because ultimately it would be the King or Queen who decides everything. But because in our political system opinions do matter, voters need to be educated. Accordingly, an enlightened government is going to acknowledge that, and act upon it.
Some Christians like to say that if Jesus Christ were to return, he would be a Socialist. They insist there is no way he would tolerate a “winner take all” arrangement, where some people live in mansions, and others eat out of dumpsters. They’re probably right. But the “non-religious” among us don’t have to turn to Jesus. All we need do is look at Norway.