Eric and I have some back and forth on some comparisons between Europe and the US that I think are important for Americans (and Europeans) to understand going into elections. He has recently published a blog here in this line.
Some of the metrics he mentioned have little importance or at least the seem to have little importance for an election. This blog will address the economic comparisons he raised and my comments in his blog will discuss some of the other issues.
I think the economic comparisons are most salient for the US election. Europeans (and here I am pretty much just including western Europe and the Scandanavian countries, As I think the former soviet bloc countries have unique problems that make them less comparable) tend have “more socialism” of the type Democrats in our country are pushing for. Whether it is really “socialism”, or not, is not something I don’t care to get bogged down on here. Instead I just want to analyze the actual empirical data on how these systems are working out compared to the US system which – especially after the republican reductions in regulation and taxes – is more capitalist.
The first thing to note is that Eric’s numbers are not current. They are from 2017. It is important to consider Trump just took office at the beginning of 2017 so his policies (less taxes and regulation) which no doubt moved us away from the European economic models did not have as much of an effect yet. Therefore the 2019 numbers show I believe more accurately the difference between Europe’s soft socialism and America’s more capitalist economic policies, because they allow republican changes some time to take effect. Anyone interested in the data can see it here:
These republican economic policies have moved our purchasing power up considerably relative to Europe since 2017. So how does the US stack up? We are doing substantially better than about 95% of Europe. About 5% of Europe is doing slightly better. In particular four tiny European countries are doing better by objective measures of gdp per capita when considering purchase power.
They are Ireland, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Norway.
Ireland and Luxembourg are really outliers.
Ireland: A capitalist would love to say “see look at Ireland doing so well since they have extremely low corporate taxes!” Ireland’s gdp is caused by the low taxes but it seems it is not really Ireland’s GDP.
“Foreign-owned multinationals continue to contribute significantly to Ireland’s economy, making up 14 of the top 20 Irish firms (by turnover), employing 23% of the private sector labour-force, and paying 80% of corporation tax collected.”
Foreign companies (most of which are US companies which account for 80% of Irish multinational employment) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_Republic_of_Ireland claim their production/GDP from Ireland – but this appears to just be so they get the lower tax rate. Since the population of Ireland is so small – only 5 million – the US companies greatly distort this gdp per capita number so it is really hard to know what to make of it. Ireland does have other marks of a soft socialism such as national health care etc. But in any case at 5 million Ireland is the size of a smallish US state.
Luxembourg: Honestly it is so tiny with 600,000 it is not worth sorting through their gdp. I mean a few big companies could send such a small population gdp per person through the roof.
Switzerland: The US needs to grow its economy by 10% to hit Swiss numbers. I am not sure if the Swiss have higher or lower taxes. They do not have a nationalized health care system and their system seems similar to the current US system. I would be in favor of taking a look at their Health Care system and seeing if it could work here in the US. Switzerland has a population of about 8.6 million people.
Norway: the US would need to grow our economy by 2% to match Norway. Norway is has about 5.5 million people.
Ok the rest of Europe is doing worse than the US by this objective measure. But if we take these 4 countries that comes to 20 million people. The US has 330 million people. So if we divide the US by 50 states the average state is about 6.6 million per state. So are these countries average gdp/person higher than the US’s top 2 or 3 states in gdp per person ppp? I think you can just glance at the numbers and see that won’t be the case. The top US states are doing quite a bit better than the top Western European countries.
20 million are doing better than the US but as we will see western/northern Europe is about 424 million people. So this is less than 5% of Europe. And that includes Ireland which really has an inflated GDP but ok. What about the other 95% of Western Europe? They are doing much worse by objective measures. How much worse are they doing than the US? Just looking at the world bank numbers from 2019:
Denmark (6 mil), Netherlands (17 mil) and Austria (9 mil) would need to boost their economy about 10% to match the US.
Germany (84 mil) Sweden (10 mil) and Belgium (11 mil) would need about a 20% boost to their economies to match the US.
Finland (5.5 mil) and France (65 mil) would need a 30% boost in their economies to match the US.
The United Kingdom (68 mil) and Malta (.5 mil) would need a 35% boost to their economy to match the US.
Italy (60.5 mil) would need about a 47% boost to match the US
Spain (47 mil) would need about a 54% boost to match the US.
Portugal (10 mil) would need a 79% boost to match the US.
Greece (10.5 mil) would need a 108% boost to their economy to match the US.
Population numbers are based on this:
So why assume adopting these economic models will result in us matching the top 5%? Why are we ruling out the possibility these sorts of economic measures won’t lead us to be like Italy, Spain, or the UK which account for over 40% of the population we are considering. If it turns out the same for us as it did for them, our economy would be looking at over a 40% decline!
So to get an idea of how big a drop that is, the biggest drop from the great recession of 2007 -2009 was a total drop of 4.7% of GDP.
Suffice it to say these sorts of declines would be catastrophic for Americans that are used to a much higher level of spending power than Europeans.
“A pattern is emerging
A clear picture is emerging. Poverty is bad for health and happiness, and the global wellbeing would improve if there was greater equality of wealth. Wealthier countries can afford healthcare, education, housing and infrastructure that facilitate a good life.”
I agree poverty is bad for health and happiness. But it is dubious that “equality” of wealth – especially if that were to mean America’s overall wealth dropped to Western European levels – would lead to more health and happiness. I think it is pretty obvious such a huge shift would be catastrophic.
For example, in the US the top 10% of income earners pay 70% of our taxes. That is because we have many wealthy people. It is a huge benefit to the other 90% of us that we only need to cover 30% of the remaining tax burden!
Socialists claiming billionaires are immoral is not helpful to anyone. I remember when the tax cuts – which were essentially a 25% ish reduction in certain corporate taxes – were passed. People on the left were complaining how this would save trump 20 million dollars per year. I don’t think we really know how much it would save Trump since we don’t have his tax returns. But let’s assume that is true. That means he was paying 80 million per year in, and is now paying 60 million in every year. 60 million dollars in taxes every year just for having him as a citizen. Why would anyone complain? Rather than attacking wealthy I want the US to create as many as possible!
Europeans have a much more regressive taxes than the US because for whatever reason it seems very hard to make allot of money there.
Productivity per hour: Eric Says “The table below shows that workers in Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and Denmark produce the most goods per hour worked, followed by USA, Australia and Germany.” So America does better than the vast majority of Europe. If Eric is correct and only Luxembourg Norway Switzerland and Denmark produce more than the US per hour. That leaves about 95% of Europe producing less per hour. Why would we think we will be like the top 5% instead of something like the other 95% of Europe?
On inequality and poverty. Eric says the USA has much more poverty. But again the point of my blog here: https://trueandreasonable.co/2020/07/22/poor-europe/ Was to point out how misleading saying that is. “Poverty” as Eric defines it is based on the average earning of people in the same country. So when you say America has more poverty that is just because Americans on average are so much wealthier than Europeans. If Europe used our average wealth instead of their own much lower average wealth you would see all these countries actually would have much higher percentages of their population in the low income group than the US. Objectively Europe has much more poverty than the US. The majority of Spain and Italy – two of the larger countries in the Western Europe would have a majority of people defined as low income by US standards!
It is important to understand how those “poverty” numbers are really moving the goal posts. American’s are so much wealthier than Europeans that what many Europeans consider middle class would count as low income in the US. I really think Eric and others presenting these statistics should explain that instead of just saying “It turns out that western European countries have very low levels of poverty. USA, South Korea and Israel have the highest rates of poverty in the OECD but have less poverty than 80% of countries globally. (OECD, Wikipedia).” I don’t think eric is being intentionally misleading but that statement is very misleading. Compared to the US Europe has *much* larger percentage of their population living in poverty.
As to the inequality between people in the US being a problem in itself, the evidence is against it. Stephen Pinker analyzes the data in depth but he gives this example to help people initially understand why complaining of inequality as opposed to focusing on objective measures is misguided:
“The starting point for understanding inequality in the context of human progress is to recognize that income inequality is not a fundamental component of well-being. It is not like health, prosperity, knowledge, safety, peace, and the other areas of progress I examine in these chapters. The reason is captured in an old joke from the Soviet Union. Igor and Boris are dirt-poor peasants, barely scratching enough crops from their small plots of land to feed their families. The only difference between them is that Boris owns a scrawny goat. One day a fairy appears to Igor and grants him a wish. Igor says, “I wish that Boris’s goat should die.””
Arguing the US should adopt the Western European economic model is thinking just like Igor.
Hi Joe, I’ve said what I need to say, so I’ll just summarise here.
“Some of the metrics he mentioned have little importance or at least the seem to have little importance for an election.”
My metrics were all based around quality of life. I think that is very relevant for an election.
“I think it is pretty obvious such a huge shift would be catastrophic.”
I think what you are currently experiencing is already catastrophic. High inequality, high gun deaths, lower happiness, racial unrest, most divided I’ve ever seen the country, high suicide, high Covid death rate.
“American’s are so much wealthier than Europeans that what many Europeans consider middle class would count as low income in the US.”
The figures I presented suggest that this isn’t true. The country is wealthy, but when you account for inequality, purchasing power, longer working hours and social conditions, it doesn’t look so good. I think you are using average figures, and they are distorted by an unequal distribution.
I’m not an economist, but say we pick Germany. You say it is 20% below US wealth. But working hours in the US are 28% longer, inequality is about 30% higher in the US, and overall purchasing power is about 15% higher in the US. That suggests that the average worker is actually slightly better off in Germany. And for that, they get greater happiness and better health.
You are basing too much on GDP, whereas I am thinking of the average person who gets less of the GDP in the US and works harder for the privilege.
“Arguing the US should adopt the Western European economic model is thinking just like Igor.”
I haven’t suggested that. I don’t pretend to be an economist to know what economic model works best. I actually don’t think the economic model is the main factor. I think it is culture. I have just suggested two things. (1) There are more important factors to consider than GDP. (2) When you consider those factors, the US doesn’t perform so well. The Europeans are generally happier and healthier because they value those things more. The US is richer as a country because it cares more about wealth and less about equality, health and wellbeing.
Someone said recently, the US isn’t a wealthy country, but a poor country with a lot of billionaires. I think that is an exaggeration, but I think it taps into a truth. Many people have been conned by GDP so they overlook a less attractive lifestyle.
But it isn’t my purpose to argue all this. All I wanted to do was “correct” a viewpoint that I thought was too much wealth-based to be christian. Thanks.
Hi Eric thanks for the comments. I really hope you continue to discuss this because I think you are getting lots of one sided information.
We do not have unbiased news in this country. We either have conservative news of leftist news. I just wonder if you ever read or follow any conservative media at all? If so what is it? I just ask because studies have shown (for example a harvard study that covers the first 100 days of a president) that Trump gets insanely bad press. You may decide he deserves it, but you really should at least be aware of the other side’s position before you draw conclusions.
“I think what you are currently experiencing is already catastrophic. High inequality, high gun deaths, lower happiness, racial unrest, most divided I’ve ever seen the country, high suicide, high Covid death rate.”
I will offer some of my thoughts on some of these issues on your site and I will post more. But I may have missed your statistics on “high covid death rate.”
Here is the death rates you can click on case fatality rate and see the US is doing much better than Europe:
So it appears our medical system is much better able to handle people who are infected with this disease than the European medical systems on the whole. Our hospitals are privately run and more agile and flexible so we can make sure the resources are in the hotspots that need them. Of course, early on certain governors in our country literally required covid positive people to go into nursing homes! This lead to a *huge* number of early deaths in New York and I believe Michigan. But even with those massive blunders our death rates are well below Europe’s. But those Governors orders are now not in place so you see the US is putting even more distance between us and Europe’s considerably higher fatality rate. So when you say high death rates compared to what?
“Someone said recently, the US isn’t a wealthy country, but a poor country with a lot of billionaires. I think that is an exaggeration, but I think it taps into a truth. Many people have been conned by GDP so they overlook a less attractive lifestyle.”
Lots of people say lots of nonsense that is why it is good to look at the actual data. I’m not an economist either and if my analysis is faulty then I am happy to be corrected. But I do have some basic understanding of economics and these terms. GDP does not measure wealth that just sits there. We may have lots of billionaires but gdp is an objective measure of how much wealth was created that year. Money sitting in a billionaire’s safe is not going to effect this.
I am using the same gdp figures you are using. There are 2 important differences in my and your analysis:
1) I am using more up to date information. That is important because if anything the republican changes will exaggerate the different approaches between European big government and regulation versus US focus on private sector and freedom.
2) I looked at the other 95% of Europe instead of just focusing on the top 5%. Why would we assume adopting more European systems will mean we will end up just like like Norway as opposed to England or Italy? I am not saying we should only look at Greece but it doesn’t make sense to only look at the top 5% either. Let’s look at the other 95%. And when we look at this wider picture we see a massive difference in individual spending power.
“I’m not an economist, but say we pick Germany. You say it is 20% below US wealth. But working hours in the US are 28% longer, inequality is about 30% higher in the US, and overall purchasing power is about 15% higher in the US. That suggests that the average worker is actually slightly better off in Germany. And for that, they get greater happiness and better health.”
Ok I am not sure how you are getting these numbers but they don’t seem to add up. I think you are mixing my 2019 numbers with your older numbers regarding gdp per hour. But I am not sure.
People in the US have all sorts of opportunities if they want to work more or less. And that is why we naturally see more differences in income. No one is required to work full time in the US. That would be 40 hours a week so about 2000 hours/year. That is why our average is only about 1700 hours a year about 34 hours a week.
If they want to work part time that is their choice. What is clear is that if you want to work more and you want to make more money Germany will provide fewer opportunities. That is likely a problem of government regulation giving everyone a one size fits all model.
Here is the sort of thing I’m talking about:
“In Germany, an employee can only work eight hours a day, Monday through Saturday, for a maximum of 48 hours per week. An employee can work up to 10 hours a day if the average number of hours per day does not exceed eight over 24 weeks. To extend beyond requires specific agreements and approval by the appropriate authority.”
I don’t know if this is true or not but it wouldn’t surprise me. As Freedom loving American I think this is insane.
I don’t need the federal government to tell me what hours I can work which weeks. If someone in Germany really wants to work more they literally can’t unless they get approval from a bureaucrat? Now in homogenous cultures it may not be so bad. Maybe all Germans can agree on that ok fine.
But the US takes immigrants from all over the world many of which have next to nothing when they arrive. Many want to work like crazy and send money back to others etc or whatever. To say “Nope can’t do that!” is not Christian. It’s authoritarian.
Of course I do agree that many people in the US do work too much and don’t dedicate enough time to their family. I strongly suspect that with Donald Trump. But again we used to claim we are a *free* country. Freedom means if people disagree with me they can do their own thing. Even though freedom means people will do things I do not approve of as a Christian, I still dearly love our freedom.
Who knows maybe I am wrong. That they might be wrong never seems to occur to people who always want to restrict our freedoms.
Most of the disagreements between the US and Europe come down to the value we put on freedom. Take guns take nationalizing health care or College with one size fits all, or more taxes (which reduces individual freedom to spend it as you like) or these insane regulations about how many hours you can work or how much vacation you must take, or restrictions on speech, or what you can wear, etc etc etc. It all comes down to Americans want freedom to live their own lives and they do not want government telling them how to do it.
Huge numbers of people came to this country to get away from overbearing government. I hope america remains a safe haven for them. If it doesn’t I hope another country takes that role.
Every time Europeans say “you americans are mad” It is almost always a difference in how we value our freedom. The democrats are definitely siding with Europe and they want to restrict our freedoms in the same ways Europe does and some even want to go much further.
As far as the other items like health and happiness I will post my thoughts in the comments to your blog.
But you keep talking about “inequality.” I thought at one point you agreed that inequality is not itself a bad thing. I mean if one person chooses to work 20 hours a week and another chooses to work 50 they may have unequal income. But why is letting people make up their own minds on this such a bad thing? I thought you agreed with me and Pinker on this yet you keep raising it.
Do you understand why I don’t think it is problem that some people work fewer hours and make less and others work more hours and make more?
I also addressed race issues on your blog.
As for the divisiveness – yes. This was to be expected when Trump finally said screw it I am calling out the media on their bias. The bias was always there against republicans but the media somewhat tried to hide it. Trump blew the cover. And the leftist media has indeed been attacking him like a full on war.
Democrats used to say we need more barriers with mexico but when trump says lets do it, suddenly it’s racist.
We got years of conspiracy theories about him being a Russian puppet.
He sends in officers to try to prevent a Federal court house from being burned down and they say he is a Fascist and call the federal officers storm troopers.
He closes off travel with China due to the pandemic and he is a xenophobe.
He lets the states decide on restrictions based on their own local circumstances because that is how our federalist system should work and he is blamed.
He says racism is evil and has no place and he is criticized for not saying it fast enough or loud enough or in a high enough pitch.
He wants to lower taxes and Nancy Pelosi says its gonna be armageddon and the Media joins in the fear mongering. The tax cuts are probably a big reason why were doing so much better in my 2019 figures than your old 2017 figures.
Now we have democrats rioting in the streets damaging property and hurting and killing people and police. The democrats will not adequately police it because they want to say this is what you will get if you have Trump. Somehow it is Trump’s fault that all these democrats are destroying our cities and trying to burn federal courthouses. At least that is what the leftist media will tell you. Do you believe it?
I don’t like Trump personally at all, but according to the BBC or CNN nothing he does is good. Show me I am wrong. I would love to see where they have been positive about anything he did in the last 2 years. I can show you lots of unabashedly conservative media that has been critical of certain decisions. They are admitting they are biased toward conservatives but they still will be critical sometimes. The left leaning media has just gone all out war rejecting any sort of objectivity.
“I really hope you continue to discuss this because I think you are getting lots of one sided information.”
I’m glad you said this, because I wondered if I was going into uncomfortable territory. My purpose has always been to look at economic statistics from a christian viewpoint, not to be critical of any person or country. But if I am going to respond to this comment I may have to make criticisms.
1. Let me make clear again what I have been saying right from the beginning:
(i) I agree that USA is in the top 15 of countries for size of per capita GDP, but not top as your original post seemed to infer.
(ii) I agree that the dozen or so countries “ahead” of it are small, more like US states. So if you want to make the point that the conglomeration of European countries has a lower per capita GDP I will accept that is true (I haven’t actually checked that fact).
(iii) If you tell me some other figures change that slightly, I’m happy to accept that. I used the best figures that I found.
(iv) Therefore we don’t need to discuss those facts, we are agreed and have never disagreed.
2. The point where we haven’t yet clearly agreed are these:
(i) I think christians, and humanists too, should be wary of wealth and greed, and more interested in human flourishing. I posted in Was Jesus a socialist? to show the Jesus seemed to think the same.
(ii) GDP is a poor measure of human flourishing. Especially if it doesn’t consider buying power, working hours and inequality.
(iii) The wealth of the US hasn’t achieved reasonable measures of human flourishing.
3. You say you don’t understand my figures in my example of Germany. So let’s see where we can agree here (or not). I have said that workers only get a small portion of a nation’s wealth in return for their labour. You then talked about freedom to choose working hours, which is another question. Let’s stick for the moment to the “facts” I cited and which you didn’t understand.
Do you accept the statistics that, using just OECD countries (I could quote world but they would be little different), (a) USA workers put in roughly 25% more working hours to earn their living than most European countries, and (b) USA has among the highest rates of income/wealth inequality in the OECD? (I gave references in Money can’t buy health or happiness.)
4. Let’s see further where we might or might not agree. I gave a number of criteria of human flourishing (or not), but you only responded regarding Covid. Before I respond on that, I’d be interested if you accept these statistics too:
(c) US has higher rate of gun deaths than European countries,
(d) US has lower levels of happiness than European countries,
(e) US has greater racial unrest than European countries,
(f) US is more divided than ever before in our lifetimes,
(g) US population’s health ranks lower than most European countries, and
(h) US has a relatively high suicide rate.
So if have asked 8 questions (a) to (h). I have given stats on all but one of them. Let’s see if we can agree on those stats before I come back to responding to your other comments. Thanks.
Thank you for hanging in there.
I tried to post to your website but it says I am posting duplicates but the comments are not appearing. I don’t mean for the discussion to entirely be on my own blog. But I can post them here if you would like.
You say you agree the US is in the top 15. In gdp per capita ppp. The ppp means purchasing power. You are using 2017 numbers not 2019 numbers. I am using figures from the world Bank as reported on wikipedia. I agree wikipedia can be wrong but it is reliable enough that I trust that. Here it is from the World Bank Website:
The US is 8th and I discuss the 4 European countries ahead of the US. There are definitely issues with Ireland’s calculations but even when we include it this is just 5% of western and scandanavian Europe.
I don’t discuss Macau or Singapore Qatar, because I really don’t know anything about their economic systems. Moreover the debate in the US is not “should we have economic policies like Qatar?” Rather the debate is “should we have economic policies like Europe?” So I think looking at the other 95% of europe and how they compare is important. Do you disagree?
You say “So if you want to make the point that the conglomeration of European countries has a lower per capita GDP I will accept that is true (I haven’t actually checked that fact).”
That is exactly why I made the blogs. No one seems to be looking at the other 95% of Europe and reporting any facts. And they are not just behind the US they are *dramatically* behind the US.
Constantly saying we should be more like Europe and then just focusing on the top 5% of Europe is insane. But that is how the left is framing it and conservatives are allowing the debate to remain in those parameters. Again if there is a reason to think we will be just like Norway and we have good reason to rule out the possibility that we will end up like the United Kingdom or Italy or Spain then ok. I have not heard a good reason why we should think that. If you have heard one let me know that is the point of my blog and discussion.
I also think Europeans might want to look at their own economies compared to the US and see how much better they may be doing if they didn’t have their economic models. If they decide they don’t care that is absolutely fine. But they should at least be aware of the facts.
I tried to post a response to your is Jesus a Socialist on your website but it didn’t post. I think the answer is quite clear he was not. If he was he would have said everyone should give all their property to Caesar and have Caesar redistribute it. That was not Jesus’ message.
I believe the numbers I use do consider purchasing power. They are GDP PPP. But I admit I am not sure of what that means so I may be wrong and I am sure others can do other calculations or use other models to get different results – perhaps to support political agendas. But in the end GDP ppp is I think a pretty good way to measure your economic policy. That is why economists use it.
“(iii) The wealth of the US hasn’t achieved reasonable measures of human flourishing.”
Its somewhat ambiguous you mean by this. I think that the US has brought about a huge amount of Human flourishing throughout the world and in the US itself. Is it the “wealth” as opposed to our focus on God given rights and freedoms? Well there can be some dispute there. But our prosperity/wealth has been very important to human flourishing here and around the world. Without our prosperity we would not have the power to spread our message of God given rights or protect the world against other powers that meant to destroy those rights. Do you disagree?
“Do you accept the statistics that, using just OECD countries (I could quote world but they would be little different), (a) USA workers put in roughly 25% more working hours to earn their living than most European countries, and (b) USA has among the highest rates of income/wealth inequality in the OECD? ”
I accept the figures here:
Germans work 78% as many hours
Italians work 96.6% as much
Greeks work about 110% as many hours.
I am not sure how you would come to the conclusion they work on average 75% the hours Americans do. No country in Europe is averaging working hours 75% of Americans. Denmark seems to have the lowest hours at 77.5% US hours. Do you agree with that?
Yes I agree that the US has more disparity in income in the US. I disagree that is an issue and I gave several reasons for that. At first I thought you agreed. But you keep raising this issue without addressing any of the reasons I gave that that disparity would not be a reason to adopt the European model. It would be thinking like Igor.
“(c) US has higher rate of gun deaths than European countries,”
Yes I find it interesting that only speak of gun deaths as though other forms of violent death shouldn’t be considered.
“(d) US has lower levels of happiness than European countries,”
You never even attempted to compare the US with Europe.
Like with your other measures you only looked at the top European countries. You made no effort actually take an average based on population. That is cherry picking Data.
Moreover I don’t think happiness can be all that accurately measured. I would agree that a country that is 5th on the list is likely happier than a country 120th on any reasonable assessment. But I wouldn’t read anything of substance into being ranked 5th versus 20th for example.
Finally I would point out that you in your own blog about how to increase happiness you don’t mention anything related to government policy except economics.
I agree with much of what you said but I would say that perhaps you did not put enough focus on building relationships. The gist I have gotten is that is very very important and often said to be the most important. You do mention it but my understanding is perhaps that should be highlighted as a real cornerstone to happiness – I could be wrong though.
“(e) US has greater racial unrest than European countries,”
As I travel I get the sense that the US seems to be one of the least racist countries generally and studies can bear that out. It seems we are considerably less racist than than europe:
But you don’t ask about actual racism and instead focus in on “Racial Unrest.” I suspect we do. I mean Race is pretty elusive to define and some would argue it is a myth. But by whatever standard you want to use I think we have more racial unrest than Europe. We also (I believe) have more racial diversity. If a country has only one race there would be no racial unrest. How we would get an accurate measure of what rates of increase in diversity should yield what amounts of unrest is hard to say.
I think on an individual level races all get along quite well here.
“(f) US is more divided than ever before in our lifetimes,”
Yes I agree. In the past the Democrats would never have openly socialist candidates. Republicans have I believe moved to the center over my lifetime. I was born in 1971 Nixon was president.
“(g) US population’s health ranks lower than most European countries, and”
I am not sure but I do think this is overwhelmingly to do with lifestyle diet/lack of exercise than government.
“(h) US has a relatively high suicide rate.”
Yes I do not think the US rate is hugely higher than Europe but it is significantly higher than in Europe. More troubling is the way the US rate keeps increasing. Unemployment is a huge risk factor for this in the US. Do you agree?
Hi Joe, before I respond, I want to check about you being unable to post on my two blogs. From my end, the last posts of yours on each blog were 28th July on Blowing in the Wind (Is there a God) and 31st July on Was Jesus a socialist? (the Way?). If you have tried to post later than these, can you let me know (send an email via one of those sites if you like). I have been having some email and posting problems on both sites lately, I think I have got to the bottom of it, but I need to check this now. Thanks.
I think I have another post that I put on the Blowing in the wind blog that still has not posted.
Hello again, now to respond …..
From my perspective, the discussion on this blog has changed emphasis, though doubtless it was in your mind all along. At the start, you presented a bunch of economic facts and claims, to illustrate that the US was doing better than some people claimed. I responded with some alternative facts that suggested a different story. We are still discussing those facts.
But now I am aware that your facts are part of a larger political argument, that some people want the US economy to be more like Europe. Now if that is actually the thing we are discussing, we need to frame the discussion before we argue facts.
I think we have to ask these sorts of questions:
1. What should be our goals as human beings and as nations?
I think it should be the wellbeing of the people, starting with our own country’s citizens, but considering the wider world too. What do you think?
2. What measures will, we use to measure that?
I think the various wellbeing and happiness indices. I think the economy will play into that, but is only one element. Therefore GDP isn’t a good enough measure on its own, and we need a wellbeing measure. What do you think?
3. How do we test or measure different ways to achieve wellbeing?
It is obvious that wellbeing is a function of many variables (as is the economy for that matter) and so we can’t just compare one measure (e.g. GDP or “political or economic system”) and think that is the main reason for good or bad wellbeing. In particular, “political system” and “economic system” cover a multitude of economic, social and historical factors, so any discussion has to be carefully nuanced. What do you think?
I think that, if we consider those questions, a lot of what you say becomes less important. For example:
(i) On the Wikipedia 2019 figures, USA is the 11th richest country and the 19th happiest. When I run the figures through a correlation, I find that over the whole range, GDP per capita and happiness are well correlated. But when I look at the world’s richest 30 countries, and the world’s 30 happiest countries, there is no correlation at all in either case!
So it is pointless to keep arguing about wealth when it appears to have no effect on happiness once a country is near the top (as all the countries we are discussing are).
(ii) A better question is to ask what DOES bring happiness? And we already know what it is: “well-functioning democracy, generous and effective social welfare benefits, low levels of crime and corruption, and satisfied citizens who feel free and trust each other and governmental institutions”. (World Happiness Report)
So if we want to compare USA and Europe as good places to live, we need to compare it on those criteria, and maybe a few others. And the answer is clear. Many European countries do better (13 plus Australia, New Zealand and Canada) are happier than USA).
(iii) When comparing countries, we have to know what our aim is. If it is just “my country’s better than yours!” then each side will take the subset that best suits their purposes. You will want to include the poorer EU countries, your opponent will not, or will want to include other countries with a US-style economic system (which we haven’t actually defined!).
But if we are trying to see what works best, then surely we’ll take the best examples of each. We will want to ask, assuming (big assumption not yet demonstrated!) that all European countries have the same or similar economic systems, what factors make one “better” and one “worse”? We will surely find other factors such as history, natural resources, culture, etc. All this needs to be considered before we can say what makes a country happier, or wealthier.
(iv) As I’ve said before, GDP is only one measure of the economy. Inequality, working hours, and buying power are important. (My figures on working hours come from OECD.) I’ve listed some of the working hour figures in
Money can’t buy health or happiness, and these show that the US scores poorly when compared to Europe.
All but 3 European countries have shorter working hours (remember most have longer annual leave that USA) and all European countries in the OECD have less wealth inequality.
So we can draw some clear conclusions:
1. There are 26 European countries in the OECD. 13 are happier than the US, putting USA halfway down the list. Virtually all the happier ones are the north-western ones that are mostly recommended as better places to live. We can see historical and other reasons why many of the eastern European countries (generally former Soviet controlled) are lower.
2. US wealth helps it be in the top 30, but inequality, long working hours, poor health and healthcare and other factors make it less happy than other countries with less wealth but great equality, better living conditions, etc.
My personal view is that it is understand able why patriots in the US would focus on GDP, because it is one of the few measures that puts the US about north-western Europe. Because of inequality, the wealthy do better out of high GDP than do the average workers, so they work hard to keep the discussion on national wealth, and not on the other factors.
I will address some of your specific comments in another comment.
“So it is pointless to keep arguing about wealth when it appears to have no effect on happiness once a country is near the top (as all the countries we are discussing are).”
The evidence doesn’t show this. Italy is about -.7 on the happiness scale compared to the US, Portugal is about -1.2, and Greece is about -1.6. Only Finland and Denmark scores .7 or more than the US on the happiness scale.
So I agree, happiness accounts don’t strictly track with economics, but we do see a correlation. Greece Italy and Portugal all have economies that are markedly worse than the US economy and a happiness index that also is markedly worse. I am not convinced economic prosperity has no effect.
Again I am just saying look at all the data not just tiny Finland and Denmark before making broad sweeping claims.
“I think we have to ask these sorts of questions:
1. What should be our goals as human beings and as nations?
I think it should be the wellbeing of the people, starting with our own country’s citizens, but considering the wider world too. What do you think?”
Yes I agree with this.
“2. What measures will, we use to measure that?
I think the various wellbeing and happiness indices. I think the economy will play into that, but is only one element. Therefore GDP isn’t a good enough measure on its own, and we need a wellbeing measure. What do you think?”
I am not sure everyone will ever agree on a “well being” measure. As a Christian I think a population that is being charitable to others is very important. I am not sure if that is even considered in many of these happiness or well being studies. When people are asked “do you think you are free to live your life?” I think the answers will not be any sort of objective evidence that a policy maker can use. I think you need to have a much deeper understanding of the culture and understand why Americans may be saying they think they are not free to live their life before you can design policy. Are they saying they do not think they are free to live their life because government is overbearing? etc.
As I have said before I believe that Americans tend to value freedom much more than Europeans. Is there an easy way to say Europeans or Americans are correct on this? I don’t think so. To some extent it is personal preference. That is one reason I prefer that Europe and the US stay somewhat different. If europeans want more freedom then they can move to the US. If americans want more government regulating perceived abuses then they can move to Europe. I don’t mean this as a sort of crass love it or leave approach but as a legitimate choice people hopefully can make. So I don’t want all of Europe to be just like the US any more than I want the US to be just like Europe.
The advantage of gdp per capita is it is an objective fact. Moreover we can at least arguably see how it changes based on economic policies. It is not the begin all and end all but it is something we can look at empirical data and draw some conclusions.
“3. How do we test or measure different ways to achieve wellbeing?
It is obvious that wellbeing is a function of many variables (as is the economy for that matter) and so we can’t just compare one measure (e.g. GDP or “political or economic system”) and think that is the main reason for good or bad wellbeing. In particular, “political system” and “economic system” cover a multitude of economic, social and historical factors, so any discussion has to be carefully nuanced. What do you think?”
I think economics requires nuance but I think that it is much easier to measure the success of an economic system than it is to measure the impact of a political system on happiness. I think the studies on happiness and especially when we consider the individual questions and answers different countries give is not something we should put much stock in. I mean when I look at these studies I tend to think ok this study is proably measuring the values I hold but this other study that I find bizarre is not. So we can formulate the questions and choose criteria that we value but God is not designing these studies. The people that design these studies put their values into what it means to be happy and weight it based on their own presumptions.
I think as Christians we need to think about individual policies and try to analyze how it will effect others in our own community. I think we can consider evidence about what leads to happiness in making policy decisions. But comparing subjective reports from other countries is useless for policy. I like the points you make in your blog about how we can increase happiness. So for example if we were to say policy A will build relationships with people and policy B will destroy relationships between people that is a good reason to prefer policy A. But that has nothing to do with whether people in Kuwait think they are “free to live their life.”
So for example does the government policy of paying people more money if dad is not living at home help or hurt relationships and families?
The same goes with courses of action outside of government. Is the media tearing down relationships between people? Is black lives matter building bridges or burning them? What about Trumps tweets? Yes I think as Christians we should consider this based on principles applied objectively.
In sum, there is no way to verify if these subjective surveys are accurate. Economics has much better models to test the strength of economies. That is why I think those measures are a bit more valuable.
“(ii) A better question is to ask what DOES bring happiness? And we already know what it is: “well-functioning democracy, generous and effective social welfare benefits, low levels of crime and corruption, and satisfied citizens who feel free and trust each other and governmental institutions”. (World Happiness Report)”
No! See that is how they define it. But they leave out personal friendships and relationships with family. That to my understanding is one of the most important factors in happiness. My relationship with my wife and children is much more important to my happiness than the crime rate in america.
I’m not disagreeing with he view that crime will make people unhappy. I certainly agree with that. But how much of a difference crime makes in happiness of a whole country is very hard to weigh. Moreover even if crime doubled in Australia it may not be a substantial factor for any individual as compared to family relationships. But crime may be a substantial factor for certain people living in high crime areas of the world. When does crime start to really be a substantial factor in our overall happiness? In part it may not even be actual crime but it might be reports of crime or videos of crime that make people think there is more of it when there is not.
The world happiness study itself dispells the myth that a “generous welfare system”
promotes happiness. In addressing the myths it states:
“Welfare state generosity
Given that the Nordic countries are renowned for their welfare-state model with extensive social benefits, a natural candidate to explain Nordic happiness is the welfare state. Early analyses quantifying welfare as an aggregate measure of government welfare spending, like the percentage of GDP devoted to public welfare programs, tended to find no link between welfare expenditure and happiness, or even a negatively-correlated link. ”
So again you and many others are drawing conclusions contrary to the data but it does support a socialist agenda. You should ask why are you drawing these conclusions that are contrary to the evidence? I can tell you the conclusions you draw are not at all surprising to me based on my understanding of the media. Ask yourself, are you actually getting both sides of the story or is your press letting you down.
I have tried to answer all the questions you put to me. I have asked you many questions and more than a few have been left unanswered. One question I will ask you again, do you read any conservative media? If so what?
You are very good apologist for Christianity. You know hiding your head in the sand and pretending there are no arguments against christianity is not the way forward. Take the same approach to your medias leftists views. Read something like National Review Online or listen to Ben Shapiro’s pod cast every now and then. Both tend to try to be fairly scrupulous with the facts but feel free to double check them.
I listen to the BBC and CNN. And I often find their positions are fairly made out in the “conservative media.” But the reverse is not the case. And this is born out by studies that show conservatives are much better at understanding liberal positions than liberals are at understanding conservative positions.
“In a study I did with Jesse Graham and Brian Nosek, we tested how well liberals and conservatives could understand each other. We asked more than two thousand American visitors to fill out the Moral Foundations Qyestionnaire. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out normally, answering as themselves. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as they think a “typical liberal” would respond. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as a “typical conservative” would respond. This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. More important, it allowed us to assess how accurate they were by comparing people’s expectations about “typical” partisans to the actual responses from partisans on the left and the right)’ Who was best able to pretend to be the other?
The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives. When faced with questions such as “One of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal” or ”Justice is the most important requirement for a society,” liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree. If you have a moral matrix built primarily on intuitions about care and fairness (as equality), and you listen to the Reagan [i.e., conservative] narrative, what else could you think? Reagan seems completely unconcerned about the welfare of drug addicts, poor people, and gay people. He’s more interested in fighting wars and telling people how to run their sex lives.”
Quoting Johnathan Haidt.
Studies also show that conservatives are happier and more generous than liberals.
Click to access Republicans-Happiness.pdf
Hi for a third time, Joe.
I have already argued why I think much of your discussion misses the most important points. But I want to quickly address some points from your last two comments.
”I may have missed your statistics on “high covid death rate.” Here is the death rates you can click on case fatality rate and see the US is doing much better than Europe”
The figures I have seen show USA as 8th worst in the entire world in deaths per million population. That’s pretty bad. 5 of those with higher death rate than USA are in Europe, but Europe started several weeks ahead of US, and USA (and Australia) had opportunity to learn from the European experience. Australia did but USA didn’t, and so your death rate is more than 50 times ours!!!. You still have people saying it’s a hoax and others downplaying it.
” The US is 8th and I discuss the 4 European countries ahead of the US.”
Even on this list, US is 10th, not 8th. And there are other lists. I quoted what I had, I’m not concerned that there are small differences.
” Constantly saying we should be more like Europe and then just focusing on the top 5% of Europe is insane.”
It isn’t the top 5%, that is an exaggeration. It is the top half of European countries. Why would anyone suggest you copy a country doing worse!? But the top half of European OECD countries are happier, more equal and have less working hours. THEY are the ones we should consider copying!
” I also think Europeans might want to look at their own economies compared to the US and see how much better they may be doing if they didn’t have their economic models.”
I think they look at happiness and equality and quality of life, and say they don’t want what the US has. Money isn’t everything, though the rich may try to convince the poor that national wealth is good.
” I think that the US has brought about a huge amount of Human flourishing throughout the world and in the US itself. …. Without our prosperity we would not have the power to spread our message of God given rights or protect the world against other powers that meant to destroy those rights. Do you disagree?”
I think it would be wrong to make blanket statements, but overall I deeply disagree. Of course I recognise that USA has been a bulwark against oppression in WW2, the cold war, etc. But it has also been the source of oppression and war. I don’t think you realise how the US is viewed by many outside of it. USA has committed more illegal acts of aggression, invasions, incursions, wars, covert operations, etc, than any other country. It also dominates the world of business, often through methods that are highly questionable – near slavery in supply chains, overuse of economic muscle, arrangements that profit US companies more than the local country, environmental damage, etc. (To be fair, other wealthy countries including Australia also sometimes use unethical business practices.) Many of us fear the US because we don’t feel it can be trusted, especially under Trump. And many look in from the outside and cannot understand how you can all be OK with such high levels of gun violence, racial tension, inequality and poor health in a supposedly advanced country.
” I am not sure how you would come to the conclusion they work on average 75% the hours Americans do. No country in Europe is averaging working hours 75% of Americans. Denmark seems to have the lowest hours at 77.5% US hours. Do you agree with that?”
Yes, I expressed that wrongly, I’m sorry. The figures are in OECD. USA is third longest (i.e. longer than almost all of Europe), and the countries we are mostly talking about in northwestern Europe work that amount less, and the rest are in between.
” No. You never even attempted to compare the US with Europe. Like with your other measures you only looked at the top European countries. You made no effort actually take an average based on population. That is cherry picking Data.”
If we were writing a comparison of USA with all Europe, that would be true. But we are not. At least I’m not. What we are saying is that some European countries, maybe half of them, have happier, healthier populations, greater equality, etc. They are like this because they value different things. USA seems to value wealth at all costs, even when the bulk of that wealth is in a relatively few people’s hands, the average to poor person doesn’t do so well. US wealth comes at a cost to the poorer end of the population, something very strange in a so-called christian country! Why not learn something from those who are doing life better?
” Moreover I don’t think happiness can be all that accurately measured.”
People measure it. It isn’t perfect, but it’s an indication.
” I think on an individual level races all get along quite well here.”
The BLM protests, and the reaction (including your own comments), seem to indicate otherwise.
” Unemployment is a huge risk factor for this in the US. Do you agree?”
I don’t know, but I imagine it would be.
I don’t like being so critical, it makes me feel bad. But if I’m going to respond to your posts and comments, I have to point to these facts. I’m sorry.
Thanks for your discussion of these issues I am going to make a bit more focused responses because I think each topic is huge and needs to be looked at more in depth. Broad generalizations are often not warranted.
So lets look at “Happiness” studies and Health studies.
” No. You never even attempted to compare the US with Europe. Like with your other measures you only looked at the top European countries. You made no effort actually take an average based on population. That is cherry picking Data.”
“If we were writing a comparison of USA with all Europe, that would be true. But we are not. At least I’m not. What we are saying is that some European countries, maybe half of them, have happier, healthier populations, greater equality, etc. They are like this because they value different things. USA seems to value wealth at all costs, even when the bulk of that wealth is in a relatively few people’s hands, the average to poor person doesn’t do so well. US wealth comes at a cost to the poorer end of the population, something very strange in a so-called christian country! Why not learn something from those who are doing life better?”
The US is often considered one of the most Charitable Countries in the world. Here is probably the biggest study of this that showed the US is the number one most charitable country in the world:
Click to access caf_wgi_10th_edition_report_2712a_web_101019.pdf
So I think the evidence of American’s valuing wealth at all costs should be tempered as compared to Europe. And when you say “US wealth comes at a cost to the poorer end of the population, something very strange in a so-called christian country!” this makes me think you do not understand any of the blogs I have posted. The wealthy in our country pulls up the less wealthy in this country. The top 10% of income earners pay 70% of the taxes! That means us in the other 90% only need to cover 30% of the tax burden. That is a huge benefit and that is why what we class as people with “low” purchasing power would often be “middle class” in Europe.
Europe pulls down the wealthy at a cost to everyone including the poor in their countries.
Eric I think I am happy to engage with the facts you are offering but you seem unwilling to do the same. Do you understand how the disparate in income in the US is mainly because we have wealthy not because we more poor as compared to Europe? You keep saying things like “US wealth comes at a cost to the poorer end of the population” but the data refutes decisively.
Again I am all in favor of healthier people. Americans should diet and exercise more than they do. It is not as though Americans are ignorant of the link between diet and exercise and health. But they choose not to be healthy. Do you think the government should force us to exercise? There is a christian aspect where we do not want overweight people to feel embarrassed so sometimes even try to embrace obesity. I think that is going to far in the other direction but I am at least sensitive to the concerns. Just saying “be more like other countries that exercise and eat healthier diets” is something we can all agree with. But realistically how do we do that. I do think in this country there is a correlation between weight and income with poorer people being more overweight. I think this can be because many unhealthy options are cheaper and fresh produce is expensive. So it is hard to see how economic suicide of adopting European models would help as opposed to hurt.
Yes I am comparing the US to Europe (at least the non former soviet bloc countries) because the US is huge like Europe it is not tiny like Norway. If you want to compare Norway to a single state in the US, that makes sense. But if we are talking about government economic systems (which is what I am looking at) then it is unclear to me that Switzerland is more socialist than Greece. But if you have identified some sort of government policy that Switzerland or Norway has but the other other less happy Europeans (such as greece or portugal or spain or italy) do not have, and you can give a plausible explanation as to that being the cause of the difference in happiness great. I will at least listen. But you don’t even seem to acknowledge these other countries. It is odd that when you claim the US is about in the middle with European countries you do not say well there isn’t much difference. Instead you want to say the US is somehow lagging behind europe. But that obviously requires ignoring the data that goes against your theory – ie half of the countries by your own claims are doing worse on the happiness scale. And I would point out that many that are doing worse are doing worse by a wider margin than those that are doing better.
I am just saying look at all the data. Don’t just say hey Norway scores better than the US in happiness and they have these socialist programs without also considering that Greece and Portugal also has those socialist programs and score much worse than the US by a wider margin.
Once you start actually looking into the data you will likely see that making sweeping claims about government policy is far from warranted. And you will also see these studies may not actually indicate what most Christians would think of as happiness.
I think you are giving these studies more weight than they deserve. Look at your happy planet index. Now you might say ok lets throw that one out. But I don’t think that is a good idea either. Rather look at that one and understand that the measures these studies value and use can vary quite a bit. So if someone suggests that mexico is the second happiest place int he world based on one of these studies and you have been to Mexico and find that hard to believe, then perhaps you should just be a bit more cautious about these sorts of studies.
Again I am not saying they are completely worthless. But they are not even close to being the sort of “objective facts” like GDP per capita. In your wikipedia link you will see for example for example “freedom to make life choices.” The top countries for this is Uzbekistan and look at all the countries that rank higher than the US. Now ask yourself if you really think people in these countries have more freedom to make life choices than those in the US or if perhaps they are comparing themselves to other countries or times that are not even in the ballpark of the US. So if I were in Europe I might be comparing myself to other countries such as Eastern Europe and maybe to times such as during the soviet Union. In the US we are pretty isolated so we might compare our life choices as compared to the past in the US rather than China. Uzbekistan, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates might be comparing themselves to other mostly Muslim countries. So this seems to be a huge factor in these studies yet it seems they are far from anything resembling an objective fact.
So the basic problems are 1) The studies are dubious for anything more than a very rough idea and some are not even good for that. 2) It is very unclear how any specific government policy or indeed cultural aspect would effect happiness. 3) I think we both agree that happiness is best looked at on an individual level and something we can change for ourselves and those around us on an individual level rather than through legislation.
I hope you will consider some of the facts presented instead of just the spin of your media. It is very hard to change the opinions of Europeans when there are some legitimate differences of value and that is combined with a very biased media. Look the facts in my post.
” I think that the US has brought about a huge amount of Human flourishing throughout the world and in the US itself. …. Without our prosperity we would not have the power to spread our message of God given rights or protect the world against other powers that meant to destroy those rights. Do you disagree?”
“I think it would be wrong to make blanket statements, but overall I deeply disagree. Of course I recognise that USA has been a bulwark against oppression in WW2, the cold war, etc. But it has also been the source of oppression and war. I don’t think you realise how the US is viewed by many outside of it. USA has committed more illegal acts of aggression, invasions, incursions, wars, covert operations, etc, than any other country. It also dominates the world of business, often through methods that are highly questionable – near slavery in supply chains, overuse of economic muscle, arrangements that profit US companies more than the local country, environmental damage, etc. (To be fair, other wealthy countries including Australia also sometimes use unethical business practices.) Many of us fear the US because we don’t feel it can be trusted, especially under Trump. And many look in from the outside and cannot understand how you can all be OK with such high levels of gun violence, racial tension, inequality and poor health in a supposedly advanced country.”
I am aware of how people who do not live here view the United States. I also understand how many Americans that haven’t really traveled to other countries view the United States. Many Americans complain about the US because they are comparing it to some place that exists only in their imagination. Both tend to give the US a bad rap.
According to a Harvard Study trump has been hit unbelievably hard by our media and especially the European press in his first 100 days.
In some respects that reflects bias and in others it reflects some of the main value differences between Europe and the US e.g., 1) how much we value freedom and 2)how quickly we look to the government to solve every problem.
We think we have a right to protect ourselves in this country. We do not think we should be completely at the mercy of the state for our personal protection. In Europe and apparently Australia you are more willing to be completely at the state’s mercy for your protection. To say one side or the other is clearly correct requires more argument and or evidence.
You will cover gun violence but you won’t consider how guns may reduce crime and death. An actual objective analysis like this one will be hard to find in your media:
But beyond DGUs there is a general deterence. The fact that criminals know an elderly person living alone in a house on the south side of Chicago might have a revolver does have some amount of deterrence compared to a situation when they *know* they are unarmed. Accounting for these effects can be difficult but they are almost certainly there. I would not be surprised if you never heard about some of these studies from the CDC on DGUs. Have you? If not then maybe you should at least question whether your media is giving you both sides of the arguments. On American views on our right to protect ourselves.
We recognize we are unhealthy but we also recognize this is mainly do to the things we put in our mouths and how often we choose to exercise. We do not see the government as culpable or our potential savior on this. It seems you and others may. But again that is because I think Europeans unreasonably expect that government will solve all your problems even a weight problem – which is really the crux of the disagreement.
We have more diabetes and heart disease etc. Thus despite having a superior health system our covid deaths are in line with Europe’s. But this is not something we should expect the next president or congress to fix by passing a new law. Do you agree?
Racial tension: I agree the racial tensions are getting worse. And the question is why? Data shows we are one of the least racist countries in the world! So why do we have high racial tensions? I think it is because a huge narrative the media in our country and other countries is spinning that is disconnected from facts.
We chose a black president by large margins and he chose black people to be the heads of our justice system. Were they racist too? It was Eric Holder that found the Michael Brown shooting did not warrant taking action against the police officer:
“The promise I made when I went to Ferguson and at the time that we launched our investigation was not that we would arrive at a particular outcome, but rather that we would pursue the facts, wherever they led. Our investigation has been both fair and rigorous from the start. It has proceeded independently of the local investigation that concluded in November. And it has been thorough: as part of a wide-ranging examination of the evidence, federal investigators interviewed and re-interviewed eyewitnesses and other individuals claiming to have relevant information and independently canvassed more than 300 residences to locate and interview additional witnesses.
This morning, the Justice Department announced the conclusion of our investigation and released a comprehensive, 87-page report documenting our findings and conclusions that the facts do not support the filing of criminal charges against Officer Darren Wilson in this case. Michael Brown’s death, though a tragedy, did not involve prosecutable conduct on the part of Officer Wilson. ”
Is Eric Holder racist against blacks?
As for your claim we committed more “illegal” acts of War than any other country – well I think we just need to address that on a case by case basis. And I would point out that we are still a world of nations that define for themselves what is or is not illegal and how those definitions should be interpreted.
We along with the allies got us through a Nazi and Japanese threats. The US primarily on its own helped the world through a huge communist threat. Were mistakes and made and moral concerns always handled properly? No. The US wasn’t perfect and I think criticism is warranted.
But I highly doubt any countries that we helped keep free from communism wish we weren’t there. Compare South Korea to North Korea. Compare former soviet bloc countries to non soviet countries. Compare China and Cambodia to Taiwan or Japan.
There were no rules that the communists were playing by. It was very much an epic struggle for survival of the free world. To say otherwise requires dramatic revisionist history.
The states of the US always wanted to be part of this government. Despite having military might we do not take over other countries and force them to be a US state if they don’t want it. That is unusual in history for a military power to do that. It may even be unique.
As far as our business practices I am not sure what you are complaining about. Im not saying our businesses are perfect. For example the NBA is absolutely horrible in the way it is partnering with China. I also think we should have certain rules that at least guarantee certain minimum rights of workers in countries we deal with. But this requires worldwide support and it also requires non-corrupt governments. Taking corrupt regimes such as China’s and Iran’s at their word is not reasonable. If Europe wants to buy Iranian oil even though that regime is horrible for the world and its own citizens we can’t always change that.
And again you keep talking about “inequality” but it thought you agreed it was not itself something wrong. I really don’t understand why you keep talking about it. Do you not agree it would be better if everyone was prosperous even if there were some extremely prosperous people (USA) rather than everyone being considerably less prosperous (Europe)?
You keep resorting to Igor’s view. Why?
” I think on an individual level races all get along quite well here.”
The BLM protests, and the reaction (including your own comments), seem to indicate otherwise.
I don’t think the BLM protests are about how people get along on an individual level so much as the perception that structures are somehow causing disparate treatment but I am certainly willing to grant that many would think we don’t get along on an individual level.
Berliners protesting the German government’s restrictions due to covid don’t think the restrictions are legitimate or warranted. But the fact that protesters have a view doesn’t mean that view is correct.
I work and associate with African american’s on a daily basis. Asians and Hispanics are not as common in my area but I work with them frequently as well. I do not sense any hostility from them based on race and their interactions with me suggests they genuinely like me as well.
I think my views on race can be summed up in 2 principles:
1) We are all made in the Image of God and this gives us all infinite worth. This view contradicts any view that one race or person is “inferior” to another.
2) Treat people as individuals not as stereotypes.
These principles were seared in my thinking at a young age and I still hold to them. I am happy to be convinced my view is misguided or insufficient. But these principles were a guide for me growing up in communities where racism was a significant problem.
I would add that as a christian we should will the good for others, but that is not even race related.
I am not sure what I said that makes you think I don’t think the races get along well here. But one thing I want to make clear: I do *not* think that White people are significantly disadvantaged in America. I am not on board with any politician that wants to make any sort of “poor white guy” claim. I have no sympathy with that nonesense.
I admit sometimes I think Asians are really not treated well by some affirmative action plans. But I am not super concerned because they do not seem super concerned. Rather I prefer to listen to people in a community and try to understand the concerns they view as important. That doesn’t mean I will always agree with their assessment people will disagree within communities – that is the whole taking people as individuals bit.
That is important. Question: from what you have learned do you think African Americans want fewer police in their community?
Thanks for the response. I can’t cover everything now but just a few points on covid:
“The figures I have seen show USA as 8th worst in the entire world in deaths per million population. That’s pretty bad. 5 of those with higher death rate than USA are in Europe, but Europe started several weeks ahead of US, and USA (and Australia) had opportunity to learn from the European experience. Australia did but USA didn’t, and so your death rate is more than 50 times ours!!!. You still have people saying it’s a hoax and others downplaying it.”
No the vast majority of people in the United States are not saying it is a hoax. Again I think your media is failing you. Many people here think the government is over reacting but it is not like Berlin:
By an large people are ok with wearing masks indoors. But many feel that the government is ignoring the data as to who is at risk and treating old and young alike even thought the dangers to old and young are very different.
People are upset about double standards. Such as liquor stores are essential but church is not. Some politicians can have huge funerals but regular people can’t. Leftist states tend to have the most severe restrictions because they tend to have the most urban areas. But they seem to make exceptions to the rules if people want to protest for leftist causes.
I think you would find that the debate in the US is by and large a pretty sensible one – and not that different than what Europe is dealing with.
I think the US and Europe probably have the most accurate and perhaps inflated numbers of Covid deaths. I don’t trust the numbers coming out of China. But I do trust the numbers from say Japan or South Korea.
I think many poorer countries do not have the infrastructure to get an accurate read.
I used the deaths per infection because I think that is the best test of a Health Care System. The fact that certain groups in the US spread the disease more than groups in other Countries I do not think can be blamed on the health care system. People in our country can hear from experts just as well as people in Europe. If they choose to follow certain advice is going to be up to them. Part of the problem is many of the countries with low death per million in Europe seem much more lax in their restriction than many states in the US. So people are wondering what works and what doesn’t. many European schools are reopening whereas many Schools here are not or only in a limited capacity.
You want to use death per million people as a whole. But again this is because we just have many many more people getting the infection. Why are so many more people getting the infection? I don’t think it is due to our health care system. I don’t think it is because we have capitalism. I think it may perhaps have to do with our prior immunities and cultures. Its just hard to say why americans seem to catch it more than others in europe.
But like I said it definitely did not help that some governors such as Cuomo in New York forced nursing homes to take covid positive people. That sort of Government stupidity lead to a huge number of extra deaths. I don’t know if European countries made similar mistakes. But I do agree that a decision like that was unforgivable since we should have learned from Europe the the elderly were clearly more vulnerable than younger people. It does speak to how biased our media is that they seem to be running cover for these governors instead of calling them out. So yes I do agree that the US media is not doing its job and that can cost lives and has cost lives in this Covid pandemic.
I will address some of the other points later. Got to go for now.
There’s a lot of things to go through there, and I’m not sure how much I want to comment on. So I’ll start with one clear and repeated comment of yours, namely that I’m biased in the media I read and watch and the reports I quote. In just the last couple of comments you say:
“I am just saying look at all the data not just tiny Finland and Denmark before making broad sweeping claims.”
“So again you and many others are drawing conclusions contrary to the data but it does support a socialist agenda.”
“Ask yourself, are you actually getting both sides of the story or is your press letting you down.”
“Take the same approach to your medias leftists views.”
“I am happy to engage with the facts you are offering but you seem unwilling to do the same.”
“I am just saying look at all the data.”
“I hope you will consider some of the facts presented instead of just the spin of your media.”
So this is a strong theme with you. And it means that we are not connecting, because it seems to me that you interpret everything through this filter, and you think that I interpret everything through my filter. So where can we go with that? For the record, please know these things:
1. I don’t have any “your press” or “your media”.
I almost never watch TV news.
I read a newspaper on 2 days each week. It is the Sydney Morning Herald, which I regard as a well informed traditional newspaper that separates fact and opinion, and has columnists with a range of views.
I also saw several times a week for maybe 10 years until the Covid lockdown the Daily Telegraph, a Murdoch newspaper which my mother-in-law gets (she is 102 and living in a retirement village, and we visit her often to check how she is doing). That’s how I know how biased and untruthful Murdoch newspapers can be, and how much they insert comment and bias into their reporting.
The rest I get online using Google.
2. When I research anything I try to get a range of views.
When I research christian and philosophical ideas, I typically look up via Google dozens or even scores of sites. I tend to put aside ones with clear bias either way (i.e. I reject “rabid” christians and “rabid” atheists equally) and then summarise the rest.
I have done the same for the material I have referenced in this discussion. So I take no notice of Fox because I expect it to be as devious and untrustworthy as the Telegraph, and I don’t read other obviously extreme (leftist or rightist) sources. But for the rest, I usually have no idea of their bias beforehand and I discern that from what I read.
3. I have looked at the happiness and economic data as comprehensively as I can find it.
I try to find several reports on each factor and compare them. I look at the actual data, and download it into spreadsheets and analyse it where I can, if that is helpful. I try to quote the actual conclusions of the report. Where I express my own views, I try to keep them separate from the facts, by using phrases like “it seems to me” and “my conclusion”, etc.
It is interesting that several times you have questioned me on these matters when I have been accurate. I’ll give two examples from your latest comments:
(i) You reference the World Happiness Report and then say: “So again you and many others are drawing conclusions contrary to the data but it does support a socialist agenda.”
But my conclusion was a direct quote from the report’s conclusions! Here is a larger section with my quote bolded:
“The Nordic countries are characterized by a virtuous cycle in which various key institutional and cultural indicators of good society feed into each other including well-functioning democracy, generous and effective social welfare benefits, low levels of crime and corruption, and satisfied citizens who feel free and trust each other and governmental institutions. While this chapter focuses on the Nordic countries, a quick glance at the other countries regularly found at the top of international comparisons of life satisfaction – Switzerland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia – reveals that they also have most of the same elements in place.”
So your accusation was unjustified, and means it appears that it is you who didn’t properly reflect the report.
And I did add “and maybe a few others”, so I have no argument with adding family or other values.
(ii) You say: “I am just saying look at all the data. Don’t just say hey Norway scores better than the US in happiness and they have these socialist programs without also considering that Greece and Portugal also has those socialist programs and score much worse than the US by a wider margin.” and “I am just saying look at all the data not just tiny Finland and Denmark before making broad sweeping claims.”
But I have not said that all of Europe is wonderfully happy, I have simply said that when we look at the top 30 wealthy countries and the top 30 happy counties, wealth has no correlation with happiness. I said this because I had done the correlations myself. I have put the graphs online so you can see them for yourself at https://h2bh.home.exetel.com.au/gdp-vs-happiness/. (This is just a trial site I use to test things out.)
And I did NOT single out “tiny Finland and Denmark”, but I referenced THE WHOLE OECD EUROPEAN COUNTRIES, 26 of them. It is you who continue to not face the OECD facts.
So I believe I have tried hard to be factual and fair.
I’m going to suggest an alternative hypothesis to your own. I have studied a little about how the conservative powers and media try to control public opinion in the US and Australia especially, but elsewhere too. I have done this in relation to climate change, a topic that was part of my professional interest when I was working as a hydrologist and environmental manager, and which I have continued to study since I retired. I am confident to say the following:
1. Climate change is real and we need to do much more about it than we are. (Our country is even worse than yours in this.)
2. It isn’t in the selfish interests of many rich and powerful people that we do this, so they oppose action and correct information with all the means at their disposal.
3. Just as powerful “think tanks”, lobby groups and the media opposed for decades the truth on the links between smoking and lung cancer, so have they opposed the truth and action on climate change. In some cases they are the exact same groups and the exact same individuals.
4. So they have succeed in creating a small but vocal group of citizens and politicians who are misinformed about the facts, quote the few studies that promote their minority view and ignore or misrepresent those vast majority of studies that promote a more factual view, and have become so loyal to their anti-climate tribe that they can no longer see anything else than the lies they have been fed.
I don’t think you are one of those people. But I do think you have been fed some of the same propaganda that only allows you to see what you want to see. As with some friends of mine here, anything to the left of Fox/Murdoch is “leftist” and “socialist”, a ploy that media uses all the time.
I am sorry if this is offensive, but since you have accused me many times of bias, I have to speak plainly.
So where do we go from here? I don’t trust many of the sources you reference. You don’t trust the media you think I read, and you don’t accept the data on happiness, even though it is well documented. I think all that is left for each of us is to sum up and to quit the discussion. Do you agree?
It is certainly true that I have asked you for your sources of information about US politics several times. I wanted to only ask it once but you refused to answer until now.
The reason I ask is you keep saying in blogs and comments how you can’t understand how any Christian would vote for the republican Candidate. Here are some of the things you say:
“So really I think you have to treat the Right Wing Christians as imposters, they will never help anyone apart from themselves….”
“For the RW Christians, religion is all about themselves and how they personally can get to Heaven by living a pious life as directed by the Ten Commandments. There is nothing in the TC about helping others, so a lot of Right Wingers don’t bother, and there is nothing there about not getting rich, so a lot of Right Wingers do that too.
To them, although they call themselves Christians (excluding the Jews here), Jesus was probably a dangerous socialist who can’t be trusted, and his quote about a camel passing through the eye of a needle and rich people certainly shows he was on the wrong track as far as they are concerned.”
So it is a perfectly natural and legitimate question to ask “Well ok have you read/heard anything that would explain the conservative views in America?”
Now that post was not aimed at america in particular but you certainly did not make any effort to insulate american right wingers from criticism. It seems you were painting all people who disagree with the left in one big broad brush.
See also your post where you bash about American Christians in particular that voted for Trump as somehow being not christian:
You criticize American Christians:
“Sadly the US church seems to have mostly forgotten who they are supposed to be following. It sometimes seems that the US church is more about patriotism and conservatism than about Jesus.”
What evidence do you have of this? well they voted for the republican candidate for president:
“Yet the followers of Jesus, who said he was the way, the truth and the life, voted for him [the republican candidate] in droves.”
You also go on with several popular talking points that are often raised by the left in America as if that is all there is to it. You never actually demonstrate any understanding of what is happening in the US beyond that leftist perspective.
That is why it is a normal question to ask if you ever read any actual US conservative analysis.
And now you are answering that question. And that answer is no you don’t read or listen to anything where us conservatives set out their views. And so your views should not be surprising to anyone.
I don’t blame you – I don’t read about Australia’s politics. But I also don’t condemn Australia’s Christians that vote for one party or the other as being somehow unchristian.
I don’t recommend fox and I never have. It is telling how many on the left always just assume “fox news” when they think of conservative media.
Cable news generally will not inform anyone of very much. Nor do I think the views of conservatives in different countries are the same. Conservatives in Iraq are likely very different than in the States.
So again if you want to understand the views of US conservatives I recommend you read the National Review Online.
It was at first a group of “never trump” conservatives. So you will read more articles critical of trump than you would read articles critical of obama from cnn’s website even though NRO say they are conservative and cnn claims to be non-biased.
If you don’t like that site, for whatever reason, I would recommend Ben Shapiro’s podcast.
He did not vote for Trump in the last election but he is conservative and he will vote for him in this election.
If you don’t want to hear anything from American conservatives that is fine too. But it is poor taste to bash conservatives in this country as not christian when you are deliberately ignorant of their views.
BTW I do not think everyone that voted for Clinton should be deemed unchristian. Nor would I say that about those voting for Biden.
“I am sorry if this is offensive, but since you have accused me many times of bias, I have to speak plainly.
So where do we go from here? I don’t trust many of the sources you reference. You don’t trust the media you think I read, and you don’t accept the data on happiness, even though it is well documented. I think all that is left for each of us is to sum up and to quit the discussion. Do you agree?”
It is not a matter of trusting anyone but yourself. We all have biases and Trump has called out a media bias that has long existed in this country but was somewhat more subtle. In response to Trump calling it out the media has essentially gone to war with him instead of making special efforts to stay above the fray.
So I would highly recommend that you not think anything you read is “unbiased” or agenda free. Most of the bias is in what is and what is not reported rather than being factually inaccurate. I am sure I gave you information you have not heard before. I asked you if you heard about much of it and you didn’t respond. Based on what you now say you read I can see you are not getting the facts that support american conservative views.
I say feel free to look for the people who are openly advocating for one party or the other and consider the points they raise and confirm the facts they claim. These people are at least not dishonest out of the gate. They are openly conservative or openly liberal (which in the states doesn’t always mean liberal but more leftist).
Over time you can see is this side accurately representing the others position? Are they actually dealing with the facts raised by the other side or are they simply refusing to mention them? And of course you can draw your own conclusions on how each side is formulating opinions based on the facts. But the importance of reading both sides is because otherwise you won’t have all the facts.
“you don’t accept the data on happiness, even though it is well documented.”
I accept the data. I don’t think they are falsifying the answers people give to these questions. The question is more of a matter of how significant the answers are to true happiness in a Christian sense of the word. The studies themselves disagree with each other about what is happiness and which countries are happiest. One has Mexico as the second happiest country in the world. Yet many are trying to illegally enter the US. Its an odd thing that so many are willing to break the law in order to escape such a happy place. So my view that the conclusions of these studies should not be understood as some objective standard of happiness that everyone agrees on is supported by the various opinions from the reports you yourself use.
“But I have not said that all of Europe is wonderfully happy, I have simply said that when we look at the top 30 wealthy countries and the top 30 happy counties, wealth has no correlation with happiness. I said this because I had done the correlations myself. I have put the graphs online so you can see them for yourself at https://h2bh.home.exetel.com.au/gdp-vs-happiness/. (This is just a trial site I use to test things out.)
And I did NOT single out “tiny Finland and Denmark”, but I referenced THE WHOLE OECD EUROPEAN COUNTRIES, 26 of them. It is you who continue to not face the OECD facts.”
Why are you only looking at the top 30 countries? Not all the OECD countries are in the top 30. So yes you are excluding them. By limiting your analysis to the top 30 you are excluding many of these countries. You never explained why you only look at the top European countries.
Again my point is that the US is a huge and diverse country. It is not like Norway. If we adopt their policies we should not assume it will turn out just like Norway as opposed to Italy Portugal or Greece.
It is like me saying the US is doing great by every measure look at the top 20 states! Well what about the other states?
Hi Joe, I can see you feel strongly about this, so let me clarify a couple of things.
1. The quotes you attribute to me about right wing christians being “imposters”, etc, were not from me. They came from a guest post from a friend of mine and a reader on my blog who does not identify as a christian, I explained this clearly at the start of that post, where I said:
“A couple of months back, I published a post ‘Living in a toxic world’, where I discussed how our western societies seem to be losing compassion and community. In a comment on that post, friend and reader ‘westofthebluemountains’ offered some interesting observations of christianity, from a “heathen” viewpoint.
I thought these comments were worth presenting as a new blog post (even though I don’t necessarily agree with every detail). So here they are, unchanged except for the addition of some headings.”
I posted it because it was interesting to see how a non-christian saw the church.
2. You ask about my reading. I explained I read what I find as I search. But I should add that I have several good friends and a couple of close relatives who live in the US, and I have visited my relatives half a dozen times in the past 12 years and talk with them (phone & online) regularly. I hear what they tell me, I observe when I am there, I was there the week that Donald Trump was elected, and I get a lot of my information from them. Most of them you would doubtless call “leftist” but to me they are as much centrist as leftist.
3. I think this discussion has been helpful in me understanding your views, but I don’t think it is now generating much mutual understanding, so I will do as I suggested before and summarise (next comment) and finish up.
1) I totally skipped the intro as I often do. So I am very sorry for misrepresenting your views from that blog! I am glad they are not your views. I am happy to take out the referrences to that blog from my comment if you would like and put a note there that I did that, or I can leave it there. I generally don’t edit my posts when my mistakes are pointed out because I am fine with people knowing I sometimes make mistakes. But I also do not want to leave that up as it misrepresents your views.
2) I can only say that what you are doing is not a way to understand the thought behind US conservatives. I think you would be surprised how many conservatives are turned off by Trump’s character and regularly criticize him. If you want to understand the intellectual reasons people vote republican again I recommend national review online or the Ben Shapiro podcast. You don’t have to listen to shapiro every nor read every nro article. (you can search for topics on nro and only read the topics you are especially interested in) But I think you will start to understand US conservatives and how they may differ from conservatives in your own country or other countries.
3) I am glad this discussion has lead to you understanding my positions better. Although I would say I was not so much staking out positions as trying to raise some facts and considerations you may not have considered. I have also learned some things about your understanding of the issues. I think that is about the best we can do as far as sharing a mutual understanding. It is certainly true that you may not think the considerations I shared are as important or even relevant and vice versa. But I do think we at least understand where the other is coming from a bit better. I am happy to continue the discussion but I also agree we are getting more into politics than religion and that is not the focus of either of our blogs.
Just an addendum to my previous. You mention some other comments where I criticised US christianity. My criticism wasn’t political but christian and ethical. Specifically I said christians are supposed to be following a Jesus who cared about truth, justice, compassion (especially for the poor) and love, but seemed to have let these things go as they pursued wealth and power. I don’t see anything that you have said that changes my view. In fact, to be honest, it only makes me more concerned.
The explicit aim of my the Way? blog is: “This website and blog is aimed at helping followers of Jesus work through issues associated with living in this complex 21st century world. …. The mission Jesus has left for us, how the church is doing in that task, and how we might improve.” These comments come from that motivation, but you have mostly ignored the christian aspects and focused on political.
While I agree that most of the really strong anti political stuff was something you quoted from someone else in your blog, Saying “even though I don’t necessarily agree with every detail” Let me ask, do you agree with the general view? I mean you haven’t actually disavowed or try to rebut anything in what he or she said either.
You did criticize American Christians as not truly being Christians simply for voting for the republican presidential candidate. I quoted what you wrote and I am not sure how I can interpret it differently.
“Specifically I said christians are supposed to be following a Jesus who cared about truth, justice, compassion (especially for the poor) and love, but seemed to have let these things go as they pursued wealth and power. I don’t see anything that you have said that changes my view. In fact, to be honest, it only makes me more concerned.”
And your evidence that American Christians only pursue wealth power at the expense of truth, justice and compassion? They voted republican and they don’t agree with democrats on a whole slew of political issues.
I have given the evidence that republican economic policies do indeed help the poor more than the democratic policies. I ahve also given evidence that these republicans are giving more to charity. You seem convinced the best way to help the poor is government programs as opposed to free markets. That is fine. But to continue to say that just because you disagree with my analysis I and other Christians who prefer capitalism to socialist models must not care “about truth, justice, compassion (especially for the poor) and love” then I think you are indeed misunderstanding Christianity as being political.
Do you think I and other christians who prefer capitalism really don’t believe what we are saying and we are just lying about more capitalist systems leading to less poverty than socialist systems? And we are being dishonest because we think we will personally make more money?
On Justice you say:
“Many christians and churches support the justice aspirations of black Americans, but there are too many who seem unconcerned about justice and black lives matter.”
Do you think the lack of support for “black lives matter” has nothing to do with them being Marxist, attacking the nuclear family and advocating defunding the police? Do you think we really don’t think these policies will do great harm to all communities and especially certain minority communities? Instead we are just not supporting BLM because we are white supremacists? I mean you really have to 1) find that the support for our position is so lacking no reasonable person could believe them and then 2)plug in a really evil motivation to explain our positions.
As I have said I generally do not think people who disagree with me politically means they are necessarily less Christian. It seems you really don’t think that way at all. Your comments suggest you see Christianity as tied up with a political agenda. I think we have a considerable disagreement there.
“The explicit aim of my the Way? blog is: “This website and blog is aimed at helping followers of Jesus work through issues associated with living in this complex 21st century world. …. The mission Jesus has left for us, how the church is doing in that task, and how we might improve.” These comments come from that motivation, but you have mostly ignored the christian aspects and focused on political.”
I have commented on many of your blogs that do not involve politics. And I certainly agree very few of your posts are political at all. Your “Blowing in the Wind” post was, in fact, very political. When you say someone is not very christian if they vote for the republican presidential nominee, or don’t support universal healthcare, or doesn’t support BLM etc etc and I disagree I will have to explain why Christians may do this. And that will involve arguing the politics of these proposals.
Also my comments are often not posting to your site. I am not sure if that is intentional. But posts I have made days ago still do not show up. If you do not want me to post on your site that is ok. In any case, I probably wont post there until this issue gets cleared up.
Hi Joe, before I respond, maybe for the last time on this matter, I need to reassure you I am NOT wanting to stop your comments on my blogs, in fact I look for them each day to see if there are any comments there.
I have just checked the Spam and Trash for both blogs, and I found four of your comments in ITAG (3 to me and 1 to Travis) had ended up in Trash, I’m sorry. Of course I have spam filters and they are generally pretty reliable (I check occasionally), but since several of your comments have come through OK, I just assumed that the filter wasn’t stopping you posting.
Please accept my apology, I don’t know how that happened. I’ll keep more of an eye out in future.
Spam and worse are killing the internet. Their direct effect is bad enough, but there are flow-on effects. I am currently grappling with Gmail because, it seems, Google has introduced stronger filters to keep out spam, and they are filtering out content I want to see. And so far I can’t seem to alter the settings to receive what I want. So it may be that this is happening here as well.
I will read those 4 comments and respond in some way. Thanks for your patience.
No problem Eric. I’m glad to hear you are willing to put up my posts. One of the reasons I prefer the small blogging world is precisely for the discussion and often the bigger media never interacts with comments. I often have questions after I read someones article and I like the discussion. But when I don’t know my post is being posted (regardless of the cause) that really makes me think I am wasting time, and that blog is less likely to be read by me in the future. If there is a way you can whitelist certain people or something I would be interested in sharing comments on your excellent site again. I will still likely read it regardless.
Hi Joe, I don’t want to prolong this discussion, but I must point out, again, that many of you comments don’t fairly represent what I said.
“You did criticize American Christians as not truly being Christians simply for voting for the republican presidential candidate.”
No I did not. I didn’t mention the party of the President. I criticised American christians for overlooking his disregard for truth, even though Jesus said he was the truth.
“your evidence that American Christians only pursue wealth power at the expense of truth, justice and compassion?”
I didn’t say “only”, which alters the meaning. I think it is obvious that the christian right has sought political power (which they are entitled to do if they do it in a way that honours Jesus) and that the US church is very comfortable with wealth (see this post. Remember, I have been to the US many times and seen large churches with fountains and manicured grounds, large carparks and ornate buildings, and I have seen televangelists and prosperity theology.
“Do you think I and other christians who prefer capitalism really don’t believe what we are saying and we are just lying about more capitalist systems leading to less poverty than socialist systems? And we are being dishonest because we think we will personally make more money?”
No I don’t think you are being dishonest. I can’t know what your motivation and thinking is, except by what you say. But I have said many times I think you keep deflecting questions about Jesus’ teachings into political justification.
“Instead we are just not supporting BLM because we are white supremacists?”
No. But I have said several times that I don’t mind if you don’t support the movement BLM because you think they are wrong. But that isn’t my point. My point is that black people have been mistreated in many ways for centuries. Christians, who have often been complicit in this, should be apologising and asking forgiveness before they criticise. (Just as the country should apologise to the Native Americans.)
“Your comments suggest you see Christianity as tied up with a political agenda. I think we have a considerable disagreement there.”
We agree on something! (Your second statement! 🙂 ) I will say again: I am concerned about ethical and spiritual issues, and they happen to play out in politics. I think it is possible to use politics to avoid talking about the spiritual and ethical issues.
“or don’t support universal healthcare”
I didn’t say “Universal Healthcare” meaning a policy, but “universal healthcare” meaning a matter of health, equity and christian concern.
On my blog I have asked you several questions. I’d like to try to discuss the spiritual and ethical issues without the politics and see where they lead us.
In your blog Eric said:
“The current Presidency seems to be based more on fake news than truth and is promoting division and polarisation. Yet the followers of Jesus, who said he was the way, the truth and the life, voted for him in droves.”
We all know what party the current president is in so it is not like leaving that out makes it any less political.
You claim his presidency “seems to be based more on fake news than truth” and he promotes division and polarization. Which are both highly political claims. But then you don’t just leave it open to debate in a non-political way. Rather you assume that this highly political attack against him is true and therefore condemn Christians for *voting* for him.
If you just showed a poll that Christians are less concerned about truth and honesty from their political leaders than non-christians then that would not be political. I would agree. But you are over the top political. You assume the republican is less honest than the democrat therefore anyone voting for the republican must not care about honesty. If you thought Clinton was less hones then it wouldn’t make sense to say voting for trump meant US Christians didn’t care about truth.
Of course, many Christians are concerned about his honesty and fake news. But they also were concerned about that other candidate – you know the one who funded the Steele Dossier and corrupted our fbi to start political investigations against a party opponent, creating fake news rumors that Trump was a “Russian Puppet,” and lied repeatedly about all sorts of other things.
My point is, there are many reasons people might vote for a republican presidential candidate even though they are concerned about his level of honesty. But often the other candidate is not much better (or even worse) on the honesty scale and there are other issues of concern to Christians. So no you did not criticize Christians for failing to uphold a principle. You actually gave no evidence they don’t unphold the principles of honesty or truth you just assumed they don’t because they “voted for [someone you don’t like] in droves.”
Here is the difference:
1) A poll shows American Chistians agree with the statement “honesty or truth is unimportant” more than some other group. Therefore it seems American Christians are not upholding the value of truth very well. That would be non-political.
But instead you did this:
2) Donald Trump’s campaign seems to be based on Fake news instead of truth. Yet American Christians voted for him in droves. Therefore American Christians are letting go of a concern for truth.
If you don’t see how the second is so political while the first is not then Ok.
“Specifically I said christians are supposed to be following a Jesus who cared about truth, justice, compassion (especially for the poor) and love, but seemed to have let these things go as they pursued wealth and power. I don’t see anything that you have said that changes my view. In fact, to be honest, it only makes me more concerned.”
Joe then said:
“And your evidence that American Christians only pursue wealth power at the expense of truth, justice and compassion? They voted republican and they don’t agree with democrats on a whole slew of political issues.”
Now Eric says:
“I didn’t say “only”, which alters the meaning.
Take out “only” then. It really doesn’t change much at all. You are saying in your first sentence. That American Chrisitans are putting wealth and Power above christian concerns of “truth, justice, compassion (especially for the poor) and love.”
And your evidence of this remains that they voted for a republican president and do not support BLM.
“I think it is obvious that the christian right has sought political power (which they are entitled to do if they do it in a way that honours Jesus) and that the US church is very comfortable with wealth (see this post. Remember, I have been to the US many times and seen large churches with fountains and manicured grounds, large carparks and ornate buildings, and I have seen televangelists and prosperity theology.”
And again I encourage you to read some sources on both sides because the “christian right” seeking political power is far murkier than you think. But I am not surprised you think this at all.
The vast majority of Christians are not trying to force anyone to accept their version of religion through governmental coercion. They mostly just want to be left alone but the left is forcing them to do things that violate their religion – as they understand it. The left is pushing education that demeans religion or violates their beliefs and suggests that praying during school or at a school function is somehow a violation of someone elses “rights.” Maybe you and I agree with the left on some of these issues but I hope we can both concede they are legitimate issues.
You complain about big churches. As a Catholic I am used to that. My own view is that every culture values certain things and their works/architecture and art will represent that. Europe used to value Christianity that is why there were large beautiful churches built at great expense. As a society they valued their faith. Now those churches are empty or even scorned. I also love to travel to Europe and I am glad that I will always be able to find a seat for mass on Sunday at these beautiful Cathedrals. But you rarely hear complaints about extravagant government buildings from the left! Perhaps you should see the Federal Government buildings and monuments we have in D.C.
In america you bemoan large churches with large fountains and manicured lawns. You claim this is due to “prosperity theology” and you claim to know this because you have been to america. But just because Americans still value our faith and therefore spend money to express that importance does not mean we all accept “prosperity theology” as expressed by tv evangalists.
What prosperity theology means is unclear. Certainly I do not believe that someone who is wealthy is more likely to go to heaven than someone who is poor just based on that alone. But that does not mean God does not want us to enjoy any material goods or have any happiness in this life. Nor does it mean that our giving to charity is irrelevant to our life or judgment.
You accuse me of not considering enough information in comparing the USA and Europe. But you don’t actually talk about how Christianity is doing in Europe as compared to the USA, and I do wonder what you think.
Do you think it is important that churches actually be used as places of worship as opposed to some sort of historic museum?
Do you think faith is important for a Christian society?
If so do you discuss this at all in your comparison? It just seems odd that you don’t even mention this even if you want argue the fact that it is irrelevant that, for example, so many more Americans pray every day than Europeans. At least explain why you think that.
I would be interested in your thoughts. Do you think this is at least an important indicator that Christianity is in fact doing better in the US? Do you think so many of those republican Christians praying ever day are impostors (as the heathen you quote claims) that really Europe is doing just as well or better?
I think Christianity is doing better in the US is doing considerably better than most of Europe. I think that is because we have legal protection that protect the free exercise of religion and speech in our constitution/bill of rights. This has lead us to value Faith and religion more than Europeans. So it should not be surprising we spend more for structures representing what we value more.
We also have valued a smaller government and that meant churches and Christians on an individual level understood *they* were the ones who had to step up and help those in need, as opposed to just saying – well lets have the government deal with it. I think the constant protests in Europe show that people expect the government/others to answer their problems instead of thinking “here I am lord”
American Christians think they (individually!) are supposed to be the answer so if people are doing without we are the problem not some government guy. That is why Christians and republicans give more to charity than democrats. We go to church and listen to the gospel and listen how we are supposed to incorporate that in how we live.
Marching around protesting to get one or another political party is not the solution. The solution is to be that person giving food or making more money to give to those in need. Yes being able to help others is an economic motivator for many Christian Americans. Many of those horrible billionaires that the left loves to villify give quite a bit to charity. Many may not be religious(again I do agree that Christians should be careful not to focus too much on money and perhaps that is why so many billionaires are not christian) but christian values still permeate US society.
I read a book by Rodney Stark that offers many theories about why certain religious views are doing well etc. He tries to support these views with evidence. I don’t agree with everything but he is trying to actually look at data to support his conclusions which makes it well worth the listen/read.
Hi Joe, I started to write another reply when I realised this wouldn’t achieve anything. We are just going round in circles. So I started thinking. What is going on here?
I decided I think you are sounding like a lawyer defending a client you know is guilty. You don’t answer the questions directly, but keep (i) throwing up smokescreens like “where’s your reference for that” and “but you haven’t read the other side”, and (ii) make accusations of political bias while avoiding the christian/ethical issues that I keep asking you about. So I want to again ask you if you can answer these ethical/spiritual questions please, and leave the politics out for a moment so we can see what each other thinks personally.
1. Do you think black people generally have experienced injustice by being brought to the US as slaves and being discriminated against for centuries? Do you think Jesus would approve of how the blacks have been treated in the US?
2. Do you think truth should matter to christians? Do you think your President has told a lot of untruths over the past 4-5 years?
3. Do you think christians should accept scientific and medical truths when the evidence of experts is clear? Do you think that some christians too easily accept alternative views with too little evidence?
4. Regardless of how you feel about government vs private healthcare, do you think that Jesus would want the poor to be cared for? Do you think that many people in the US don’t get good healthcare (for whatever reason)?
5. Do you agree that Jesus taught non-violence – turning the other cheek, praying for enemies, etc? Do you think that 37,000 Americans dying of gun deaths each year is acceptable? Do you think Jesus would be happy about it? If other English-speaking, roughly similar countries Australia, Canada and UK have much, much lower rates, that maybe there is something the US could learn?
I have tried to answer every question you have put to me as directly and clearly as possible. If I missed even one I am happy to give my view. It seems to me we both somehow think the other is not answering the questions put to them. I had several that you did not respond to even in my last post and others. Perhaps you could read my answers and tell me if you agree with my answers.
I will add letters so you know which Question I am answering:
“1. A) Do you think black people generally have experienced injustice by being brought to the US as slaves and being discriminated against for centuries? B) Do you think Jesus would approve of how the blacks have been treated in the US?”
A) Of course, slavery was a horrible injustice. When you talk about black people “generally” I do get a bit uncomfortable because I want to avoid stereotypes. Some black people did not come here as slaves but sure I think we can at least allow for some sort of lasting effect from slavery that effects many black people today.
B) In some cases yes in some cases no. I am going to assume you mean how whites treated black people. But of course blacks and other races are every bit as much of america as whites. I think faith in Jesus was a strong motivator for the abolitionist movement. It is always hard to say Jesus would approve of war but I do think Jesus would at least be understanding for those who fought in the civil war to free slaves. I think Jesus would approve of Abe Lincoln forming the republican party to stop the spread of slavery. I also think Jesus is with those who marched with MLK and others against dejure segregation and Jim Crow. Like I said before as a christian I believe we are all made in the image of God and that gives everyone infinite worth. So when anyone is treated with less than that Jesus does not approve.
“2. Do you think truth should matter to christians? Do you think your President has told a lot of untruths over the past 4-5 years?”
Yes and yes.
“3. Do you think christians should accept scientific and medical truths when the evidence of experts is clear? Do you think that some christians too easily accept alternative views with too little evidence?”
Yes and yes. However I would add a caveat that I think you would agree with. Christians can believe in miracles. That caveat can be sort of a sticking point and I think the state should not force children to abandon their religious beliefs. Do you agree with that caveat?
“4. Regardless of how you feel about government vs private healthcare, do you think that Jesus would want the poor to be cared for? Do you think that many people in the US don’t get good healthcare (for whatever reason)?”
Yes Jesus wants people to be cared for. I think the health care in the US can be improved but it is not horrible either. Do people not get health care for whatever reason? Sure lots of people choose not to see a doctor here as I am sure in other places. But if they decide to get health care it is good. Healthcare costs more in the US than it does in other countries and the costs can lead people to not to seek health care or delay getting health care. Does that answer your question?
“5. A) Do you agree that Jesus taught non-violence – turning the other cheek, praying for enemies, etc? b) Do you think that 37,000 Americans dying of gun deaths each year is acceptable? c)Do you think Jesus would be happy about it? d)If other English-speaking, roughly similar countries Australia, Canada and UK have much, much lower rates, that maybe there is something the US could learn?”
A) pretty much yes. I don’t think you have to be a pacifist to be a christian but overall yes.
B) Is one gun death acceptable? I honestly don’t know how you define “acceptable.” But I do think we should strive to reduce crime and suicide rates.
C) No I think Jesus is not happy about any violent deaths or suicides whether they be from Guns or anything else. Do you think Jesus is especially upset if people kill themselves with a gun as opposed to hanging or overdosing themselves?
D) It is certainly possible. I am not sure why you limited it to English speaking countries as I think we could learn from any country regardless of their language. When you say we are roughly similar do you mean our crime rates are roughly similar or something else? I’m not sure what you are referring to.
Hi Joe, thanks for your answers. I agree with almost all of them, which is good (I suppose!). Just a few comments.
1. I agree with both your answers but I think I would be a little stronger than you.
2. We agree
3. We agree, and I agree with your comment about miracles.
4. I think this is the only one I disagree with you, and it isn’t on the principles, but on the details. From the stories I read and hear, I think there are many people who cannot afford healthcare, or have lost jobs and lose their insurance. I think you may understate the problem this is.
5. We agree, though again I would be a little stronger than you.
These are some of the main issues I am concerned about – (1) equality, (2) truth, (3) evidence, (4) wellbeing and (5) safety. We agree on most of them.
So I’m wondering why, when at the very beginning of this discussion, I suggested that these aspects of life should be given much greater weight in your consideration of how effective different countries are, you argued against me? Surely if you agree with me on how God sees these issues, they must be important measures?
Secondly, surely it is true that talking about these issues and making judgments about them can’t be considered as “leftist” or even “political”? Of course how we outwork them will have political implications, but clearly we both think these issues are integral to our christian faith.
I still cannot understand how you can defend the conservative side of politics on some of these issues, but I presume your argument on others would be that the relative wealth of the US capitalist system provides more for ordinary Americans and the poor than they would get elsewhere. My counter to that would be that wellbeing, health and happiness survey say otherwise.
I don’t really have more to say. I am happy to answer a similar list of questions you think I have missed if you wish.
First I am glad we agree on so much. One of the things that is happening is that many people in the US are getting so polarized that they tend to see the other side as villains. People can agree on the same goals but have legitimate disputes on what 1) how those goals or values should be weighed against others. 2) What role if any the government should have in achieving those goals 3) If government should have a role whether it should be done at Federal or state or local level. The constitution often limits federal actions and whether or not we should expand that federal power or not is something that is debated. But regardless there are questions of what questions should be rules accross the country and which should be up to local people. 4) then for any policy there may be a question of what actual effect the policy will have.
Christians can disagree on this and many other things. But our polarized press tends only to present their own side. And that polarization does work both ways. That is why I am saying don’t assume any press is in the center or unbiased. You just have to read/listen to both sides if you want a fuller understanding. And cable news soundblurbs are never going to be enough to understand the complicated nature of how to best govern a country of 330 million diverse people.
“So I’m wondering why, when at the very beginning of this discussion, I suggested that these aspects of life should be given much greater weight in your consideration of how effective different countries are, you argued against me? Surely if you agree with me on how God sees these issues, they must be important measures?”
I think it is important that government laws treat people equally. But I think it has proven to be harmful for the government to try to enforce equality of outcome.
But here are a few of the points I wanted to make in my discussion, I am not sure if you disagree with them:
1) What “well being” or “happiness” means is not exactly clear and people of good will can have legitimate disputes about how to measure it. When people design these tests they put in their values and say if the indicators meet these values they are more happy according to the weight given by those designing the test. But they are just people with opinions they are not God. That they are not God is proven by all these tests coming to different conclusions – sometimes drastically different conclusions.
2) The tie between “happiness” and government policy is more tenuous than the tie between government economic policy and economic gdp. I do not think economic policy completely dictates gdp but I think it is highly speculative to say a government policy will make people happier.
So even if we agree that the average Norwegian is happier than the average American it is not at all clear that this is because of some government policy, or even if it is, which government policy. For example one of the reports you use directly says generous wellfare programs are not positively correlated with happiness. Yes it says some of the top countries do have generous welfare but they say it is a myth to suggest there is a causative role between the two. And in fact studies show there is no connection or that there is a negative connection.
3) You are only using the top 30 or so countries which means you are excluding many Western European countries like Italy Spain Portugal and Greece etc. America is diverse and I do not think it is safe or prudent to just automatically rule out the possibility that soft socialism will not end up more like these countries if implemented here. If we want to suggest that some policy advances economic well being or happiness generally ok. But then lets look at all the countries that have implemented that policy and see how it has worked out. Or if you want to exclude Greece or Italy etc., then at least explain why you are doing that. I am fine with leaving out former soviet bloc countries because they are still bleeding from socialism that existed decades ago. But that is not the case for many of the countries you exclude. America is not a country of Norwegians. We have the cultures of all of Europe and several other countries. Where is Greece and Portugal on these happiness scales? Why are you so sure copying soft socialist policies won’t make America more like them? If you have an argument then ok but the US probably has more Greeks than Greece. And I am not convinced that socialist policies here will not yield America looking more like Greece than Norway.
I think many Americans think America is somehow invincible. If we adopt socialist policies we will of course end up like Norway not Greece! But I think one of the things that made america so strong in the past is we had so many people from different countries with failed government solutions so we have a healthy distrust of them. Americans are people from all over the world we are not better people but I do think we have a great system and yes perhaps the best system of any country that hopes to allow people from all over the world in. Changing it to policies that seem to be failing more than half of Europe in the hopes that we will be like the top 5% of Europe seems dubious.
Do you agree with any of these general points?
“4. I think this is the only one I disagree with you, and it isn’t on the principles, but on the details. From the stories I read and hear, I think there are many people who cannot afford healthcare, or have lost jobs and lose their insurance. I think you may understate the problem this is.”
My work involves quite a bit of medical billing and issues. At least for someone in my area I understand the options available fairly well.
Employers can provide health insurance for people who are employed by them. If the person leaves they can continue to make payments of their health insurance for a certain amount of time and keep that benefit.
Regardless of any employment anyone can buy health insurance from the federal marketplace. These plans can not discriminate against people on the basis of pre-existing conditions. Originally these plans were terrible. But that has changed sometime after Trump took office. I do not know if it was because of Trump or if the market settled or something obama did before he left. But the plans are now quite competitive and often better than employer plans. The cost of these plans are on a graduated scale so the less you make the less you have to pay.
If you have no income or very little the state of Illinois will provide you with a medical card so you can get health services.
My sense is many of those who are un-insured either do not qualify for the state card because they are deemed to make too much money or they just never bothered to apply. They may be young and not feel the need to see a doctor or they may be in between and think it is economically better to pay for care as they need it instead of paying a certain premium every month. Remember the plans can not discriminate against pre-existing conditions so if you find out you have cancer you can then buy the insurance after the fact.
But lets say someone doesn’t feel they can afford health insurance and needs medical care but they can’t pay for it. My community like many others have free clinics. The doctors in our area will take people in a rotation to help them. Also no one can be turned down from an emergency room visit due to an inability to pay.
But lets say someone doesn’t have insurance and they get in a car accident and have huge bills that they can’t pay. Well again many hospitals will forgive those bills or at least large sums of those bills under various charity programs. Moreover it is almost impossible to collect any bill from someone who really makes very little money. So even if they pursued them and got a huge judgment it may not be worth the paper it is written on. this means hospitals are willing to work with people not only because they are often charitable organizations often tied to churches but also because on a practical level it makes sense to be fair.
That is not to say our system is perfect. I do think many people may put off doctor visits due to copays. But often that is a personal decision along the lines of I have this knee pain I think I will just deal with it rather than going through the expense and lost time required for physical therapy.
So the system does involve some cost benefit analysis but I think that can be good. It is not always good though I agree.
The problem with the US doing a full on national health care is much larger than just how it would effect america. It would drastically effect the entire medical industry. The medical industry does not spend billions developing new technology to sell it to England or Canada. Because they know some bureacrat will just pull a number out of the sky and say that is what we will pay. The market has nothing to do with it. That is why people in the US pay so much more. We are the ones who are basically funding the worlds medical research because we pay what the market will bear. If we nationalize then the freemarket of medical supplies will greatly decline. I think Japan has one as well, but basically no one will spend the time and money researching new medical tech if they don’t know they will ever get repaid. This gets a bit more complicated but suffice it to say if the US goes with national health care it may be great for us but medical technology will not grow by the leaps and bounds it has in the last century.
Moreover, Although the NHS in England is often claimed to be so wonderful it too has issues:
I don’t think any health care system will be perfect. And I wouldn’t say the current situation in england is worse than the US. But I think england and Europe has in effect gotten a big subsidy from the US since we are the main country paying market value for medicine. If we go full on nationalized healthcare our entire system will have to be restructured because private pay already pays so much more than medicare for the same procedure.
Consider Trump’s favored nation status on drugs:
Once this is implemented Europe is going to find they have to actually pay the costs of some of the treatments they are getting for a fraction of the cost Americans are paying. And what you will see is that Europeans will either have to pay more or go without these medicines Americans can get.
“These are some of the main issues I am concerned about – (1) equality, (2) truth, (3) evidence, (4) wellbeing and (5) safety. We agree on most of them…..
I still cannot understand how you can defend the conservative side of politics on some of these issues, but I presume your argument on others would be that the relative wealth of the US capitalist system provides more for ordinary Americans and the poor than they would get elsewhere. My counter to that would be that wellbeing, health and happiness survey say otherwise.”
1) Equality I think the laws should treat everyone equally. I think it is a mistake for government to force equality of outcome. Those are two different things. Some people want to work more some want to work less. Some people think they will be happier if they pursue a lower career – others think pursuing a higher paying career will bring more happiness. That is their choice. Government trying to correct for that is foolish and harmful for everyone.
2) Truth: are you saying you think conservatives are less concerned with truth than those on the left? I think both sides have people who are happy to hide the truth when it is convenient to their narrative. If you think that is only happening on one side that is because you are only reading one side. Sorry to keep saying that but that is what I believe.
3)Evidence: Again I certainly don’t think socialists have the evidence. The evidence against socialism is overwhelming. I am happy to consider the evidence but I just think we should consider all the evidence. Not just the cases and countries that support our narrative. I don’t ignore Scandinavia I just also consider the many other socialist countries. You don’t, and I don’t know why.
I don’t ignore studies that suggest there is racism. I just also look at all the studies many show little racism. I also tend not to draw big conclusions from isolated cases like the left lately seems to so often do. I see that anyone can pick isolated cases and I think that is a poor way to make policy. But recently it seems like the left is much more inclined to do that. A big shooting? Do more gun control! A white guy kills a black guy? Oh it must be systemic racism! Someone said something mean or misleading on the internet? Let’s censor people!
Conservatives do this as well and at times conservatives are worse. But recently it seems conservatives are more inclined to look at studies for evidence rather than anecdotes to determine if policy should change. But again if you listen to both sides you can draw your own conclusions if you don’t listen to both sides then I don’t see how you have any sort of informed opinion.
(4) wellbeing: this is so broad I think conservatives have it right sometimes and the left has it correct others. But if you want to talk about a specific issue ok.
(5) safety: Have you heard the calls to defund the police? That is not coming from conservatives and it is making our country very unsafe for people who already live in the most dangerous areas. I’m surprised you would even mention that. Do you think democrat run cities are safer than republican run cities? If we are going to judge “safety” in a broad stroke of democrat versus republicans then the best democrats can do is muddy the water.
Hi Joe, here’s my answers.
“Do you agree with any of these general points?”
1. I agree that happiness and wellbeing are not precise terms. But if we don’t use them then either (1) we ignore wellbeing, or (2) we replace some defined and measured terms, albeit not 100% accurate, with some subjective non-defined terms. I think refusing to accept the result as the best we have and a good basis for decision-making just avoids the question. I used to work in environmental management, and if we had waited for precise data, we’d never make a decision and large swathes of the environment would be destroyed. You go with what you have.
2. Again I agree with some of the actual statements, but I think your overall view is obscuring the facts.
2.1 Yes, I agree that wellbeing isn’t just a result of government policy. But recall that I didn’t say that it was. In fact I have kept saying that it was the result of many factors, government policy just being one of them. It was you who kept reducing things to political statements along the lines of “our government policies are better than their government policies”.
2.2 I have already pointed out that your statement about there being no correlation between welfare and wellbeing is a misrepresentation of that report. Let me explain that again in detail. The report was this one I presume.
You said: “For example one of the reports you use directly says generous welfare programs are not positively correlated with happiness.”
This isn’t an accurate quote. What it says is that the amount of money spent on welfare wasn’t correlated with happiness in some early reports. But it goes on to make clear that (i) other reports do find a correlation and (ii) a welfare state is a major reason for Nordic happiness.
Here are some quotes from that report:
“welfare state generosity exerts a positive and significant impact on life satisfaction”
“indicators such as the extensiveness of welfare benefits and degree of labor market regulation had a significant positive association with life satisfaction”
“These and other studies suggest that one secret to Nordic happiness is the institutional framework of the Nordic welfare state. People tend to be happier in countries where there is easy access to relatively generous welfare benefits, and where the labor market is regulated to avoid employee exploitation.”
“indicators such as the extensiveness of welfare benefits and degree of labor market regulation had a significant positive association with life satisfaction”
“The Nordic countries are characterized by a virtuous cycle in which various key institutional and cultural indicators of good society feed into each other including well-functioning democracy, generous and effective social welfare benefits, low levels of crime and corruption, and satisfied citizens who feel free and trust each other and governmental institutions.”
So your conclusion is wrong according to the report we have discussed.
You said: “Yes it says some of the top countries do have generous welfare but they say it is a myth to suggest there is a causative role between the two.”
On the contrary, they say the opposite, as I’ve just shown.
You said: “And in fact studies show there is no connection or that there is a negative connection.”
If that means other studies, I don’t think I have seen them. Can you reference them please?
3. I have addressed this before. Your argument here ignores your very point #1 !! There are many differences between Greece or Poland and Germany or Norway. The fact that they are all European isn’t the only factor to be considered. The question is, what are their levels of welfare, healthcare, safety, health, wealth, equality, corruption, societal stability, etc, etc? I haven’t tried to find out, but there are obviously differences.
So remember my point, which was that wealth isn’t the only or best measure of the success of a society or culture or nation, and there are many other measures to consider. And if we want to improve the lot of people in our own countries, especially the poorer ones, it is worth considering the lessons that researchers have learnt. They quote Scandinavia not because that proves Europe is better (a silly statement) but because they illustrate how the principles of wellbeing work out in practice.
So that’s my answers. I say again. If you hold to the views in your answers to my questions, surely it is worth considering (1) the lessons that can be learnt from other countries with higher levels of wellbeing, and (2) which politician, which party, is most likely to implement those measures.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think we are sticking with eachother and I do think it is paying off in understanding. At least I feel it is.
I agree that simply because happiness measures are not perfect they should be completely ignored. But I am saying that we should allow for some margin of error. So a country being in the top 85% doesn’t necessarily mean it is not better than a country in the top 90%. I do think if a country is at the bottom 10% well yes then there are some problems that almost certainly need to be looked at.
As far as government I think we might agree that the policy differences between governments in europe and the US are not going to be as important as individual decisions. I think we might both agree however that government can become so bad that it is a major cause of unhappiness.
But I do agree that I misread that report on welfare! I thought that section was addressing myths but I agree that report was indeed trying to argue that generous welfare is positively correlated with happiness. The studies are mixed and the authors explained that more recent studies addressed what people received and not just what was spent and they felt that was better. I am not against that theory.
As they point out though there is a link between trust in government and welfare benefits. Scandinavian countries have a very high level of trust.
In the US well at least at the federal level we are not all that trusting.
But at the local level? I haven’t researched it but I would think there are some states that do have a high level of trust in their government. And indeed it may work out well for those states to have a more generous wellfare state. I am from Illinois and as I have traveled around the world the two things people think of when they hear Illinois is Al Capone and Governors getting put in jail for corruption. So I am a bit more hesitant to expand government’s role in my state. Nor am I thrilled about the federal government forcing expanded government. I am happy for states that want to try new things and then we can see how it works out. I am pretty terrified of this happening throughout the entire country.
So one of the issues is diversity and how that effects the reception of larger government roles. And this has to do with what people think they are getting from government. Now I don’t think either of us are creationists. But lets just try to understand their position. They are paying lots of money for public schools that teach what they think is false. Is that going to make them happy? Well no they are not getting anything and indeed they are getting something negative. Now of course if everyone in an area agrees with what public schools teach about evolution then they will be happy to pay for the schools that teach that. Now I am not trying to get into a debate about creationism etc etc. I am just making the point that when you have diverse points of view the likliehood that everyone will think they are getting value from a government program goes down. Now to be clear when I talk about diversity I mean diversity of opinions that stem from different religions and cultures and things like that. I am not talking about skin color.
Now I realize the report addresses that point. They say well Sweden is diverse and they have large welfare packages. And that might be but we really don’t have good data on that.
But it does seem pretty clear that most of the diversity is within say the past 10 years.
With a spike around 2016.
So just a couple of points:
1) It does seem to me that if you have a large welfare system you are more limited in the number of less economically successfull people you can take in. The money will simply run out and the government will become bankrupt. However if you have a system that does not provide entitlements you can take more people in and allow them to succeed.
2) Swedish and scandanavians generally are well known for a culturally strong work ethic at least here in the US. So it is not surprising that they do well.
3) They have recently taken in more immigrants and seem ok for now. What I want to see is if they can continue to taking in immigrants at this rate and continue to do well. The problem is they don’t seem able to properly integrate diverse foreigners:
“According to statistics collected by OECD, Sweden had in 2014 the highest negative gap in its employment rate between native and foreign-born population of the 28 OECD countries surveyed. This was for populations with both high and low education. Non-European immigrants with low education (sv: förgymnasial utbildning) of ages 20–64 had an unemployment rate of about 31.7% in 2005 which rose to 36.9% in 2016.”
“Sweden and the Netherlands have strong economies, but they have also the widest employment rate gaps between immigrants and non-immigrants of all OECD states. Before 163,000 asylum seekers that arrived in Sweden in 2015, the difference in employment rate was around 15% for those in between the ages of 15–64. For Swedes, 79% of this age group were employed while it was a mere 64% for foreign-born residents. When comparing native-born Swedes to non-EU immigrants, the employment gap between the two groups is even higher at 22.5%. This is in contrast with the U.S., where native-born Americans are around 2.5% more likely to be unemployed than immigrants.”
Is Sweden going to be able to maintain their immigration policy and welfare system with these sorts of numbers? I mean you don’t have to be a mathematician to see that is unlikely.
Now why is it that the US has lower unemployment for immigrants and generally lower unemployment overall? Yes there are all sorts of theories on this. But I strongly suspect government putting restrictions on how people can be hired and how much they can be paid is a big part of the problem. Also how much government simply takes from business means they can’t spend more on employees.
So I want America to remain a place that *can* take as many immigrants as possible. To me that is a value and I believe a christian value. I want to share the blessings this system has been for me and my family with the world. But I do not think the Swedish model can sustain that.
But again I am certainly willing to wait and see. The thing is socialism even hard socialism is not a disaster right away. It almost almost always has a glorious honeymoon period. For soft socialism that honeymoon period will be longer than harder socialism. It does take several years for the disaster to come home to roost. I think Sweden will either have to start turning away immigrants from diverse areas of the world or cut back on welfare programs if they want to avoid severe economic problems in about 20 years.
I tend to think they will stop taking in immigrants. Because it is always hard to remove socialist policies they are tar babies. But I am content to wait and see.
Don’t forget Sanders in 2011 said Venezuela was the new way to realize the American Dream! Chavez took power in 1999. So it wasn’t immediate collapse but collapse did come as it invariably does.
Again I am ok with individual states of local governments trying this. (let them learn the harsh lessons) But it is crazy to do this at a federal level and destroy the whole country.
“So that’s my answers. I say again. If you hold to the views in your answers to my questions, surely it is worth considering (1) the lessons that can be learnt from other countries with higher levels of wellbeing, and (2) which politician, which party, is most likely to implement those measures.”
Yes but as we both agree politicians/government are not the primary place to look for well being or happiness. At least as long as they avoid catastrophe it won’t have a huge effect on well being or happiness.
So lets get leaders that at least will avoid catastrophes. Do you agree socialist leaders have a bad track record?
“3. I have addressed this before. Your argument here ignores your very point #1 !! There are many differences between Greece or Poland and Germany or Norway. The fact that they are all European isn’t the only factor to be considered. The question is, what are their levels of welfare, healthcare, safety, health, wealth, equality, corruption, societal stability, etc, etc? I haven’t tried to find out, but there are obviously differences.”
Again I am willing to eliminate the former communist bloc countries. They are clearly still bleeding from socialism they suffered through in the past and will likely continue to bleed from that wound for decades to come.
But you not even trying to figure out the differences in Greece Portugal Spain Italy – all of which sent many people to America is the problem.
It seems to me we are no more like Norway than we are like Greece or Italy or Spain in any way except economically. It seems to me that these other western European countries have the same sorts of soft socialist influence in their welfare programs as the Scandinavian countries. It is just not working out so well.
So yes maybe it is a variety of reasons why it is not working out so well for them. But why assume soft socialism in the US would work out like it did in Norway rather than how it did in Portugal or Greece? We have more Greeks than Norwegian immigrants.
Again look at these countries they have at least as much socialist influence in their politics. Why is it not working out for them? Is that something that is very different than we see in the states. Not even wondering about all these other countries that have had bad results for soft socialism seems irresponsible.
I think Scandinavia and Germany is working out pretty well because they have a very strong cultural work ethic. This was well known and documented by the cultures they brought to the US. But we are not all Germans and Scandinavians. We have lots of different cultures and the views on the inherent value of work can vary quite a bit. So we shouldn’t assume all Americans will be inclined to work just as much Scandinavians or Germans if there is a lowered personal economic incentive.
So until you explain why we should exclude Italy Spain Portugal and Greece I will continue to say you are just cherry picking data. Saying you don’t know why soft socialism isn’t working there, is exactly my point. When we do this analysis we need to consider all the data.
“So until you explain why we should exclude Italy Spain Portugal and Greece I will continue to say you are just cherry picking data.”
And I will keep saying that I refuse to follow your approach of treating this like a competition! I don’t exclude those countries, in fact I have included them. And I am not cherry picking data because I haven’t put forward a hypothesis that involves all countries. What I have said is:
1. In response to your original discussion about GDP, I said there are other measures to be considered, and some of them are better indicators of what we as christians should think are most important.
2. In response to your claims that the US was “better” than Scandinavian or other countries sometimes offered as “better” I showed that on some of these other measures, those countries did indeed do better. Others in Europe and elsewhere, of course, do worse.
3. The matter of human flourishing is complex and cannot be reduced to wealth or political systems alone, but involves history, culture, wealth, equality, safety, corruption, crime, etc, etc.
4. If we are concerned (as we should be as christians) about human flourishing more than we are concerned about patriotism, we will be willing to learn what we can from whomever we can. If we can’t learn from Spain, Portugal or Greece, then let’s not talk about them, let’s talk about the countries we CAN learn from.
(I think we can in fact learn from other countries who might perform poorer overall, because they might be doing some things better, For instance, I think Portugal has a more successful approach to drugs than either Australia and USA.)
So I can’t understand, why do you keep turning back from considering what we can learn and instead focus on some competition about which is the best on some narrow measure?
“Do you agree socialist leaders have a bad track record?”
Here again, you seem to be more interested in “proving” that capitalism is good and socialism is bad. Again, I think that is far too simplistic. For a start, we have already agreed that on the definition of socialism that you gave, none of the countries we are talking about are socialist! It is doubtful if there are many socialist countries in the entire world on that definition.
Let’s also recognise that there aren’t many really capitalist countries either. Every country pretty much has a mixed economy. And we all know why. Unfettered capitalism (i.e. totally free market with no government at all) means the warlords control everything. Unfettered socialism looks like it is better, but it turns out to be just as bad, for, like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, it isn’t long before we get new warlords.
So we need some government control and some freedom, and we can argue about the exact amount.
But once we do that, it totally negates your question and your wish to come up with a simplistic answer such as “Capitalism is better than socialism.” For again, as with flourishing, there are many factors in a mixed economy, and these will vary across countries. Some countries will be more laissez faire in some ways and more government action in others, while others may be the other way around.
So if we use European countries as an example, which would be the least laissez faire? I don’t know, we’d have to get lots of facts and figures to determine that.
But if I had to make a snap judgment, I would say that the current wave of right wing leaders (e.g. in USA, Brazil, UK, etc) seem to me to be distinctly less christian in their values and significantly less beneficial to the poor than the slightly more left wing leaders in NZ, Germany, Finland, Canada, etc). But that is a value judgment, and I’d need to collect a lot of data before I would be more definite. And there are many countries in Europe who currently have right wing parties in power (I think maybe Norway is one), so generalising, as you seem to be doing, is futile.
I think it would be far better if you gave up this socialist vs capitalist meme and focused instead on which aspects of government aid human flourishing the most.
Pingback: Two Types of Soft Socialism Explained | True and Reasonable