Friday, June 12, 2015

"Happiness Deficit" in US of A? Here's Why: Too Low Taxation!

Five years ago there appeared a Financial Times article ('A Measure of Cheer', December 28. 2010), purporting to show how many Western leaders and their governments were working on a "happiness index" based on the belief that a nation's well being must be gauged on more than GDP. Let's forget for the moment the conflation of happiness with life satisfaction. As I explained earlier I take the former to be much more fundamental and to involve the core of one's being or person, e.g.

as opposed to the transitory experience of  creature comforts,  perks, or pleasures - whether an exotic vacation in Maui, munching into a Five Guys' burger, or a promotion at work. Of course, life satisfaction will also include attention to health needs and problems -without which citizens are not in a position to "pursue" creatural life satisfaction as exemplified above.  Thus I classify all the preceding under life satisfaction. So, in fact the purported "happiness index" the FT references is really a life satisfaction index, given the real McCoy is much more elusive.

In the 2010 FT piece, mention is made of a number of high profile Western leaders - from Barack Obama, to Nicholas Sarkozy to the UK's David Cameron. The latter was of particular note given his ascension to power in the UK on a platform of austerity. Thus he could afford to embrace the piffle that Britain "needed to look for alternative measures that would show national progress and 'not just by how our economy is growing'".   I guess so! Especially after Cameron and his nitwit austerity henchmen and collaborators spawned mass riots in London because he torpedoed the nominally free education that had applied to the UK's universities

Fast forward to today and consider the World Happiness Report from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network – which looks at factors including per capita GDP, life expectancy, social support and “perceptions corruption.” The U.S. comes in at 15 this year – lagging behind not just the familiar chilly European nations (Switzerland, Iceland, and Denmark took the top three spots) but Australia, Costa Rica, Israel and Mexico. (The good news is that the U.S. is up two spots from where it was in 2013.)

What do most of these really "happy" (i.e. high life satisfaction)  countries have in common? You might be surprised to know it is a higher level of taxes and services than a go-it-alone country like the U.S., which conflates superficial ideas of liberty with real freedom,  despite the fact it was FDR who once said: "Necessitous men cannot be free men".

So we’ve gotten used to trailing the socialist democracies of Scandinavia, and much of the rest of Europe, not to mention fellow English speakers like Canada and New Zealand,.  Canada, especially stands out for its single payer system of health care which too many in this nation deride - despite the fact that because we don't have it there could be millions who stand to lose the health care they do have-  if the Supreme Court makes a negative ruling against the ACA later this month. Specifically, that the only states allowed to have taxpayers subsidies for health care are those that already had exchanges set up.

Compare that dreadfully low life satisfaction barometer (which it must be if one is fearful of losing something as critical as one's health care) to Canada's single payer system which literally saved my niece Inge's life and her pocketbook. Eight months ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer and within eight weeks received full treatment, which included the surgical removal of the tumor and also radiation. She recovered just fine and was able to make it to Colorado (from Toronto) and enjoy a six day frolic at Pagosas Springs with her sisters and mom  - to celebrate the latter's 80th birthday. She's shown below at Wolf Creek, blooming with the smile of life satisfaction, having come out at the end of her treatment with cancer under control and no mind-boggling debt.

But what would have been her fate in the U.S.? Well hopefully she'd have qualified for Obamacare which the cruel Rightists would deny her and anyone else not rich enough to afford independent, insurance-based care. While spewing nonsense about "socialized medicine" they evidently never got the memo that Obamacare is actually a reincarnation of Romney Care which was itself descended from a plan proposed by Nixonites in the early 70s.

But the beauty of the Canadian system is that Inge didn't have to pay one red cent for her treatment and care. As a legalized Canadian citizen she was entitled to it, and no need to pay premiums to an insurance company like she would have to do under the ACA either. How was this possible? How was Inge's - and millions of other Canadians' life satisfaction feasible? By accepting higher taxes so that everyone could benefit as opposed to only the elite few.

Unlike Americans, who seriously believe they have the resources to go it alone come what may, the Canadians aren't willing to take that stupid risk. They know and understand that at any time anyone could lose a job, or be disabled in an accident, or come down with a serious disabling disease that could undermine one's finances. In all such conditions, they opt instead for a system of health care based on collective tax support.

This is why over a dozen nations sport higher life satisfaction than we do here in the U.S. They grasp that only a minuscule fraction of citizens can make it on their own in the domains of job security, finding a home, or health care.  But life satisfaction also separates the states  -making some barbaric backwaters to live in, and others worth living in. Much of this has had to do with the support of the better states' governments for their most vulnerable citizens - for example by expanding Medicaid as part of Obamacare. (As Colorado has done, putting 1.2 million on the rolls by February)

This is guaranteed to ramp up life satisfaction since as one CO doctor noted, quoted in the AARP Bulletin (June, p. 36), people are now receiving care for their chronic diseases and no longer need to worry about going bankrupt.   Let us look also at this map of the U.S., from the same AARP Bulletin, showing the level of life satisfaction - ranked from 1- 50 for each of the states, with 50  the rock bottom worst (West Virginia):

Note especially how the Southern tier of states, AR, LA, AL, MS, etc, reside in the  "pits" of life satisfaction, mainly because their vulnerable citizens can't depend on their states for support - say with ample coverage via Medicaid expansion, as people can here in Colo. (which has a life satisfaction ranking of '6th').

Again, when it comes to "life satisfaction" one can see how critical the support of government is in contributing to it. Of course, the rich will exhibit a high level - they have the wealth to purchase their 'Cadillac' health plans and whatever else they want.  It is not them we are concerned with, but the poorest such as those living in San Luis, County, Colorado who live in 500-700 sq. ft. homes  - many of adobe construction with no windows. THEY are the ones needing the Medicaid expansion which the state has provided - which is why they'd never move to a place like Mississippi or Alabama - where they'd have to scratch for assistance.

Look, happiness as I noted defines a whole life and personal orientation that depends on one having an authentic self. Life satisfaction, on the other hand, is contingent on the extent to which one's creature comforts and needs are attended to and actually met. "Happiness" may ultimately not be achievable in this life because it requires reducing one's creature needs to zero, but life satisfaction is achievable and much of it is bound up with how governments - state and national - extend a helping hand to citizens.

No comments: