We're just going to have to run harder.
A new survey published in Forbes magazine lists the happiest countries in the world and America isn't even in the top ten. It wasn't a small survey, either. Run by the Legatum Institute, a widely-respected London think tank, it covered 110 countries and about 90% of the world's population. It purported to measure "happiness" by using a more precise term - prosperity. This seems fair. In the United States, prosperity has been the measure of happiness for as long as I can remember. Heaven knows we knock ourselves out in the pursuit of prosperity and thus, the results of the Legatum survey came as a real shock. In the six-year history of the survey, the U.S. has fallen from tenth to twelfth in the world. Sure, this isn't as bad as eighteenth in education (#1 Finland) or thirty-eighth in health care (#1 France), but it's not good. What's happening to our concept of excellence?
Well, a fair question is how Legatum arrives at its conclusions. Forbes explains it thus: "To build its index Legatum gathers data from 12 sources from the Gallup polling group, the Heritage Foundation and the World Economic Forum. Each country is ranked on 89 variables sorted into eight subsections: economy, entrepreneurship, governance, education, health, safety, personal freedom and social capital." What? We're falling down on economy? You mean everyone doesn't have an equal shot at a good wage and a bright future? Safety? You mean they don't have thirty thousand people shot every year? Who are these countries anyway? The top six are Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, followed by Switzerland and the Netherlands. What have they got that we lack? For one thing, they, like the USA, are representative democracies. Unlike the USA, they are basically happy with the way their government works. Giving our Congress an approval rating of under 15% isn't too encouraging. They, unnlike many of us, don't confuse disagreement with treason. Of course, one thing they don't have to worry about is the government taking their guns because they don't have many of them and - holy smoke! - none of them have had any trouble with the government trying to rob them of their freedom. We do better, however, in entrepreurism. says Forbes. "Entrepreneurialism (in the US) also gives a society a mechanism by which it can address and improve other aspects of the prosperity ecosystem. Want better education, health care or safety? Someone's ready to sell it to you." Forbes doesn't add, "If you happen to have the money."
Here Forbes lets its guard down. When pressed for more reasons for the prosperity rankings, here's what Forbes admits: "They (the top ranking countries) are all borderline socialist states, with generous welfare benefits and lots of redistribution of wealth. Yet they don't let that socialism cross the line into autocracy. Civil liberties are abundant (consider decriminalized drugs and prostitution in the Netherlands). There are few restrictions on the flow of capital or of labor. Legatum's scholars point out that Denmark, for example, has little job protection, but generous unemployment benefits. So business owners can keep the right number of workers, while workers can have a safety net while they muck around looking for that fulfilling job."
I'll bet that knowing you're not going to have to go bankrupt if you get sick tends to make people happier. Generous unemployment benefits hasn't made the country go broke, Socialism hasn't impacted personal liberty. Taxes are high, but everyone pays them. Mre important, most citizens know they're getting something for their money.
So perhaps our capitalist democracy hasn't done too well in promoting the pursuit of happiness (or prosperity) since the top 1% owns a good part of the race course. Maybe this tidbit from Forbes will help us understand: "The U.S. scored just 62nd in feeling 'well rested.' Compare that with China, which ranked 12th in being well rested." Feeling well-rested should make the chances of reaching that prosperity much easier. It could be the stress of worrying their next paycheck could be exported.
Most puzzling to me, however, is this conclusion Forbes draws from the survey, considering every measure used is dependant upon a happy and growing middle class, which our present corpocracy is working so hard to cripple:
"Ultimately how happy you are depends on how happy you've been. If you're already rich, like Scandinavia, then more freedom, security and health would add the most to happiness. For the likes of China and India (ranked 88th), it's more a case of "show me the money." What they want most of all? The opportunity to prove to themselves that money doesn't buy happiness."