Revisiting Quality-of-Life Issues in Our Sister Nations

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Earlier posts have looked at quality-of-life statistics of the United States compared to other advanced democracies, especially in the European Union. As we have noted, a number of European nations have far higher standards of living than the US. By many measures, Finland consistently ranks as having one of the best education systems in the world. France routinely ranks as having the best overall health care system on earth. The top three nations on the United Nations World Happiness Report over the past several years are Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, and Iceland. The best countries for children in 2017 were Norway, Slovenia, Finland and the Netherlands. The nations with the lowest per capita levels of gun homicides are Australia, New Zealand, and Germany (followed by Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands).

More than a year into the Trump Administration, it is useful to again examine comparative statistics in a number of areas with the following questions in mind:

  • What is it about these countries that enables them to achieve goals that yield such positive results for their citizens?
  • How does government regulation figure into quality-of-life issues in these nations and in our own?
  • How do the various types of government impact the high quality of life enjoyed by citizens of these nations?
  • How does our mainstream media portray the lifestyles, successes and weaknesses of our peer nations? Could (and should) media outlets pay more attention to socio-economic issues and philosophies of successful nations?
  • Do Americans tend to act and vote against their own best interests? If so, why?
  • How are other Western democracies dealing with immigration and refugee issues and “border security”? What are the advantages and disadvantages of their approaches? What, if anything, can we learn from them?

We won’t try to answer these questions here; my hope is that readers will take them to heart (and discuss them with their friends) for the “good of the [national] order” and as we head into the midterm elections. Here again are a few more examples of where our sister nations surpass us.

  • Paid sick leave. While some states are exploring legislation on paid sick leave for workers, the US remains one of the few countries in the world without this benefit at the federal level.
  • Paid vacation leave. According to an NPR story from 2015, “Among advanced economies, the U.S. stands alone in not mandating vacation days for workers and only grants 10 federal holidays (which are not guaranteed days off for all workers).”
  • Paid parental leave. The US is the only advanced democracy that does not mandate at the national level paid parental leave.
  • Anti-bullying legislation. Some states have introduced legislation to combat bullying in the workplace. But, as we earlier noted, other nations are far ahead of us on this score. Workplace bullying continues to be a serious issue in the US; when are we going to mobilize to combat it?
  • College debt. Because most of our sister nations do not charge tuition to attend college, it is only in the United States that college graduates often have tremendous debt as they enter their working careers. Among the nations that offer free college tuition are Denmark, Germany, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Norway, and Poland.
  • Income inequality. When we hear about income inequality, we might assume that our situation is similar to that of our sister nations in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere. This is incorrect: our levels of income inequality tend to be much worse than our peer nations. While income inequality is at an “all-time high” even in Europe, it is considerably worse in the US than in almost all EU nations.
  • Wage gap between workers and CEOs. Like income inequality, this ratio is also considerably worse in the US than in other advanced democracies.
  • Rail safety. We have all been horrified lately by the many fatalities and injuries suffered in train crashes. According to a 2015 New York Times article, “the United States has among the worst safety records [in rail travel] despite having some of the least-extensive passenger rail networks in the developed world. Fatality rates are almost twice as high as in the European Union and countries like South Korea, and roughly triple the rate in Australia.” This is a travesty.

Let’s ask the question again: what do we want our country to look like, if not for us then for our descendants? What can we – as citizens, voters, consumers, elected officials – do to make this happen? Each of us can do something. The future of our country is truly is up to us, not only individually but also collectively.

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