Sweden is the 9th happiest country in the world, according to the UN’s World Happiness Report. By comparison, the United States is the 18th happiest. Nordic countries often dominate the top ten not despite their high taxes, but in part because of them.
Sweden has a tax rate of 70 percent on the highest earners, which is the same rate recently advocated for by freshman Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). Ocasio-Cortez proposed that rate on the richest 11,000 Americans — those making over $10 million annually — to support her Green New Deal policy package. And that’s a rate America has seen before, under Republican administrations.
Sweden touts the services it can invest in to help families from paid family leave (for both the mother and the father) to nearly totally free healthcare. Sweden even has paid sick leave “so you can concentrate on getting better.” Once someone turns twenty, visits to the doctor cost approximately ten dollars in U.S. currency. Before that, those visits are free. Once you spend a hundred dollars U.S., healthcare services are free. The average ER visit? $38 U.S.
And the Swedes don’t reflect the argument that free healthcare reduces quality of care that Republican opponents to single-payer have used — they have the 6th best health system on the planet while the United States ranks 17th.
The richest Danes, meanwhile, pay just under 60 percent in taxes and enjoy many of the same benefits. And like Sweden, Denmark constantly rates among the happiest places in the world.
“We are the happiest because we are the most secure,” Vassili Stroganov, a Danish writer at Delfinen Magazine told Inverse. “There is a social safety net that protects us.”
The commonalities between Nordic countries in terms of being highly graduated tax structures which heavily tax the wealthiest citizens, a strong social safety net, and wise use of those tax investments resulting in high economic performance and high happiness isn’t a new insight. In fact, it has a name: the Nordic Model.
The Nordic model doesn’t just address healthcare and income inequality, though. It also addresses issues of economic sustainability. While there is considerable promise in policy prescriptions like basic income to combat the rising certainty of a coming automation-linked recession, a strong social safety net coupled with a decrease in income inequality are useful tools against economic storms.
The Nordic model and taxes at rates like 70 percent have also produced some of the world’s leading economies in areas of technology and communications, a resounding culture of positive corporate governance, and a high degree of economic flexibility, according to economists from MIT.
And also some of the happiest, healthiest people in the world.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.