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The “nanny state” works

Ever since the LA times replaced Robert Scheer with Max Boot, their top political commentator has been their business-page columnist, Michael Hiltzik, and he is very, very good. Here are a few lines from today’s column:

How much are we willing to pay for the pursuit of happiness?

Research by Notre Dame political scientist Benjamin Radcliff suggests that social programs produce a happier population.


Radcliff’s research suggests that higher levels of social programs produce a happier population and that public policies such as social insurance and strong labor market protections are among the most important factors.

“The differences in your feeling of well-being living in a Scandinavian country (where welfare programs are large) versus the U.S. are going to be larger than the individual factors in your life,” he says. “The political differences trump all the individual things you’re supposed to do to make yourself happier — to have fulfilling personal relationships, to have a job, to have more income. All those individual factors get swamped by the political factors. Countries with high levels of gross domestic product consumed by government have higher levels of personal satisfaction.”

Or as Radcliff put it in a CNN op-ed: “The ‘nanny state’ works.”

Statistics bear him out. In the 2013 World Happiness Report, published by the UN and compiled by Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University and colleagues from the London School of Economics and the University of British Columbia, four of the top five rankings are occupied by Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden, all countries with strong social programs. The U.S. ranks 17th, suggesting that Americans are happy, just not as happy as they could be. Where the U.S. tends to fall short of the leaders is in measurements of social support, “freedom to make life choices,” healthy life expectancy and perceptions of corruption.


The title of the column was originally: “The key to a happy society,” but it appears that the killjoys over at the op-ed page appear to have retitled it, thereby reminding us that it’s expensive to opt-out of austerity. Sigh! Those Danes, Norwegians, Swiss, Dutch, and Swedes are fortunate to have such that bountiful economies that they can afford the pursuit of happiness.

I recommend reading the entire column.

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