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Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, May 16, 2009

OECD: High Taxes Make People Happy

MarketWatch:  The Happiest Taxes on Earth:  More People Are Satisfied in Heavily Tariffed Nations, by Thomas Kostigen:

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says people in Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands are the most content with their lives. The three ranked first, second and third, respectively, in the OECD's rankings of "life satisfaction," or happiness.

There are myriad reasons, of course, for happiness: health, welfare, prosperity, leisure time, strong family, social connections and so on. But there is another common denominator among this group of happy people: taxes.

Northern Europeans pay some of the highest taxes in the world. Danes pay about two-thirds of their income in taxes. Why be so happy about that? It all comes down to what you get in return. The Encyclopedia of the Nations notes that Denmark was one of the first countries in the world to establish efficient social services with the introduction of relief for the sick, unemployed and aged. ...  Simply, you pay for what you get.

Taxes in the U.S. have taken on a pejorative association because, well, we are never really quite sure of what we get in return for paying them, other than the world's biggest military. Healthcare and other such social services aren't built into our system. That means we have to worry more about paying for things ourselves. Worrying doesn't equate to happiness.

The U.S. ranked 11th on the OECD list. In addition to the top three, we were beat out by Sweden, Belgium, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Norway. ...

It may not just be taxes, of course, that lead to happiness. There are other factors to consider. But better social services and less worry about having to pay for things such as medical bills, retirement and education do help with the happiness factor. Yet, we are so dead set against paying more taxes that it's even spawning nationwide protests. Tea party, anyone? Maybe it's time that we looked at taxes differently. We have to pay them anyway. So they might as well make us happy. If Northern Europe is any benchmark, the more we'd pay the happier we just may be.

Here is the OECD data:

OECD

(Hat Tip: Ann Murphy.)

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2009/05/oecd-high-taxes-.html

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Comments

Surveys of the "happiest" countries nearly always pick Nordic nations first. Why then do few if any people want to visit these places, vast numbers instead flocking to Italy, Spain, and other supposedly less happy places? And why is immigration to the U.S., which usually ranks somewhere in the middle, so much higher than to these supposed utopias?

Is it possible that these surveys reflect the values of the people writing them, rather than anything inherent about the countries?

Posted by: mike livingston | May 16, 2009 11:39:42 AM

You are certainly confusing correlation with causality. It's not the level it's the use of the taxes collected. I have lived in the USA and now live in Netherlands. In the US the taxes are used to fund a domestic and global police state that generally harms most people. In Holland the taxes are used to help people. That's why people are happier here. THEY PAY MORE TAXES AND GET MORE BENEFITS! The US is failing because it's leaders serve such a tiny percentage of the population, with the enormous taxes collected, that they have lost the "Mandate of Heaven" as the Chinese would say.

Posted by: U R Wrong | May 16, 2009 12:38:41 PM

You know, I really hate to mention this,but..
All the countries listed in this article have (or did have) racially homogeneous populations when the collective social programs developed. Excuse me, please, for mentioning the obvious, but when a tribe (homogeneous population) are tasked with taking care of their own, mutual survival is paramount. It seems apparent to this reader, that in a country of multiple states, religions, and races, it is impossible for these entities to ever agree to programs that for the homogeneous societies were just a matter of course.
I don't claim to have a better proposal, just stating the obvious.

Posted by: Billy | May 16, 2009 1:21:54 PM

Danes, lake British Columbians, like the tax returmn they get fom their carbon tax as well. We are brain washed by the few. Is it not time to ask ourselves what we can do for our county and fellow citizens. Is it not time that we can make a fair return on our investments, like we where able to do with the Income Trust Funds? What can you buy with the interest you make on the $5,000 tax free savings? When all pot-holes are fixed we will face over $80 billion in debt, still have no high speed trains etc. How are we going to pay this back with less income form GST and personal income tax?
Peter Armand

Posted by: Peter Armand Schenk | May 16, 2009 2:59:45 PM

Socialists are happier than capitalists?

OMGWTFHAX!!1

Posted by: Karmakaze | May 16, 2009 5:01:36 PM

If the purpose of life were contentment, we should all aspire to be my dog Bella.

She is the most content and untroubled being on the planet. She wants for nothing and has no responsibilities other than to refrain from soiling the carpet.

In short, everything Bella needs is provided for by her "government", moi.

But if the purpose of life is to realize your full potential as a creative, productive, loving human being, then the more you are governed (i.e. taxed) the less likely it is that you will fulfill that purpose.

I concede that the mass of men have no greater aspiration than to be their government's pet, but I don't think we should enact policies based on the neurotic dependency needs of the lumpenproletariat.

Posted by: peter | May 17, 2009 6:00:11 AM

Years ago I realized that half the tallent (women) were being excluded from the game and the "game" was suffering as a result. In the Scandinavian countrys a higher proportion are in the game to the bennefit of all.

Posted by: ehswan | May 17, 2009 7:35:56 AM

The OECD itself does not seem to have correlated tax rates with life satisfaction. Why pick taxes as the differentiating factor? In fact, all of the top 13 countries have life satisfaction rates between 7 and 8 and they include both high tax and low tax jurisdictions. The correct conclusion, based on the minimal data you are presenting, would seem to be that taxation rates do not have any implication for life satisfaction.

Posted by: no correlation | May 17, 2009 7:44:52 AM

The ignorance and foolishness of people like commenter UR Wrong (see above) is exceedingly common. That commonness makes them even more remarkable.

Without the US "police state that generally harms most people", the country UR Wrong now contentedly inhabits would be part of the Third Reich.

The taxes the rapidly dwindling number of US taxpayers pay go in part to provide western Europe's security umbrella under which UR Wrong now lives.

Posted by: EREF | May 17, 2009 7:48:16 AM

First, I don't see a statistically significant difference in the "satisfaction" level between the US and those northern European countries. Double the tax rates in Denmark, if there is a correlation, should make the people much happier than in the US. It apparently doesn't.

Second, notice that other nations with much higher taxes than the US such as France, Great Britain, Austria, etc. are less happy.

Seems like the data is being cherry-picked to support the administration proposals of socializing the economy and redistributing the wealth.

Posted by: Ed Rasimus | May 17, 2009 7:55:13 AM

I've seen a survey making similar claims, only the methodology was NOT to test happiness directly but to assume that each social service provided by the government increased happiness. Very self-justifying. This one likely has a similar methodology.

Having hosted well over a score of Europeans visiting the US long-term, especially Dutch and Swedes, I can assure you that most had open misgivings about the role of government in their lives back home.

Posted by: Charlie in Texas | May 17, 2009 7:59:39 AM

My family and I emigrated from the Netherlands in the 1950s. This was less than a decade after the end of World War 2 and Europe had not fully recovered. The Dutch had managed to lose to the Germans in a relatively short time and waited for the British, Canadians and Americans to bail them out.

Today that generation is dead or dying. All the current population has experienced is socialism and an influx if Moslems which now form an unassimilated mass within the country. If my elderly relatives are any indicator, they are afraid to go out alone in the most densely populated country on earth. The fertility rate is 1.7. It takes 2 children per couple to replace the population so the Dutch population is gradually dying off.

But as they age happily in their little apartments, being careful of their safety, they defend themselves by driving out people who speak out like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Posted by: Moneyrunner | May 17, 2009 8:00:29 AM

Yes sheep are happy, and annually fleeced.

Posted by: Jim | May 17, 2009 8:05:18 AM

Seems to me that the reason they can live in relative safety and cluelessness is because the people of the United States have protected them from the tyrants that would keep them in bondage etcetera. If it weren't for the US they would be marching to a different tune, that of Hitler, Stalin and their ilk.

Posted by: Doc | May 17, 2009 8:10:40 AM

You can spend money on touchy-feely, warm & fuzzy social programs when you rely on the United States to keep you free from the Nazis and then the commies for half a century.

Posted by: Drake | May 17, 2009 8:10:49 AM

As a scientist who used to evaluating statistics, I have to point out something obvious about the Life Satisfaction chart above: with the possible exception of Denmark, the nine countries that are "above" the U.S. on the list, are probably not statistically different than the U.S. (e.g. a rating of 7.2 for the U.S. and 7.6 for the second on the list, Finland). Yet what is indeed statistically different is the taxes paid (e.g. individual rates of 28% in the U.S. versus 45% in Finland [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Income_Taxes_By_Country.svg]). Note also that France has a 50% individual rate, but is "below" the U.S. in terms of Satisfaction.

In short, thank you for the suggestion, but I vote to keep my taxes and my liberty.

Posted by: pH-DependentNeocon | May 17, 2009 8:15:02 AM

But none of them are happy enough to replace themselves via their birth rate. The problems of having to import young workers to pay for the social welfare system have yet to be seen.

Like the poster's dog above, I was happy as a child and adolescent. I had no worries. My parents took care of me.

But I don't want the government to annex my responsibilities as an adult like it has in much of Western Europe. I prefer being an adult than a permanent adolescent.

Posted by: Greg | May 17, 2009 8:17:26 AM

Peter:

Bingo.

Unfortunately, for an increasingly indolent West, freedom requires sacrifice, hard work, and sometimes involves setbacks, suffering and failure. More and more of us are simply not up to the challenge.

Easier to bang on one's high chair about how tough it is to live at humankind's healthiest, most properous moment, and to casually discard the institutions that made it all possible.

Posted by: Vinny Vidivici | May 17, 2009 8:18:05 AM

There are lies, damned lies, statistics, and then there is Thomas Kostigen's interpretation of OECD statistics.

It is true that Denmark has a taxation rate of 50%, but Finland's is already down to 43.6% and the Netherlands down to 40%, no higher than the UK -- with the important difference that in the UK, public spending is close to 50%, so that Britain will soon have Danish tax rates with sub-American levels of life satisfaction.

Some other countries with higher taxes and lower happiness than the US:
Italy
Hungary
Portugal
Poland
Ireland
Greece
Czech Republic
Germany
Luxembourg
Iceland
France
Austria
Spain
(Tax data from wikipedia; happiness data from the graph provided in this post).

Note also that Swiss tax rates are hardly any higher than in the US, but the Swiss regularly come up near the top in happiness survey.

In short, Denmark (and to a lesser extent Sweden) is an anomaly best explained by Billy's comment above.

Posted by: Snorri Godhi | May 17, 2009 8:19:14 AM

It's easy to spend so much on social services when you don't have to worry about the military bit since the US takes care of it for you. All three of those top countries were able to spend on social programs because the US protected them with a nuclear umbrella when the SU would rather have gobbled them up like an appetizer. If the US were to say, hey, we will no longer protect you - have fun with Russia - I am guessing the social welfare state would take second place to protecting themselves...

Posted by: Alex | May 17, 2009 8:31:46 AM

I object to paying taxes because I don't trust the people spending them. It's that simple. How about another study comparing people's tax rates to their confidence in their government?

Posted by: John Stephens | May 17, 2009 8:33:22 AM

They are happy because they have no ambitions and because they are drunk most of the time. They live like dogs in tiny little apartments and brag about their lifestyles while having no idea what things are like in the U.S. All the unhappy people kill themselves so there is a survivor bias at work in the polls. First time I was in Denmark I strolled through the streets and all the outdoor cafes were full with people drinking ale. The only problem was it was ten o'clock in the morning.

Posted by: dan in michigan | May 17, 2009 8:34:29 AM

Seems to me that the people of Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands are being cheated by their respective governments. They only pay, at least in the case of the Danes, 2/3 of their income to taxes and are now only "happy"?

They should give 100% of their income to the government and transcend basic happiness, live their lives in a tranquil state of euphoric bliss the likes of which are routinely ascribed to heaven.

Get on it Europeans, you're missing out.

Posted by: Reggie Watson-PA | May 17, 2009 8:36:38 AM

Let's see. We have an organization comprised of governments claiming we'll all be happier if we give government more of our money. Self-serving, no?

And, of course, where does the money to fund this sort of rubbish come from?

Posted by: Vinny Vidivici | May 17, 2009 8:37:01 AM

Doc Said: ''Seems to me that the reason they can live in relative safety and cluelessness is because the people of the United States have protected them from the tyrants that would keep them in bondage etcetera. If it weren't for the US they would be marching to a different tune, that of Hitler, Stalin and their ilk.''

Exactly true Doc. That was my first thought about these so-called socialist utopias. What happens to them after the USA has been decimated by the present administration and the USA cannot and/or will not defend them? Maybe these countries should start thinking about it?

Posted by: TaxedToThePoorHouse | May 17, 2009 8:57:16 AM

I believe you are being intellectually dishonest. It seems somewhat improbable that you are completely unaware that your argument is mathematically unsupportable.

You also seem to be completely unaware that the "tea party" movement isn't just about taxation, but the wildly uncontrolled spending that is going on now under both Bush and to an even greater degree Obama. Of course, if your mathematical skills are as weak as it would seem from your understanding of statistics, it is possible that you don't really comprehend the nature of compounding interest on debt.

I would expect slightly more robust analysis from a professor of law.

Posted by: Warren Rutledge | May 17, 2009 9:05:21 AM

The most important part left out of the article was the questions used to rank happiness.

A few times a year somebody comes out with a "Best Places to Live" survey. Most of the places the surveys highlight are big cities. I have lived in bigger cities (Chicago, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Sydney and Denver) and would never go back. If you look at the questions used to rank the "Best Places to Live" they are always oriented to city life: access to theatres and cultural events, good public transportation, access to parks and zoos, good social safety net etcetera.

I choose to live in small towns because the cultural life is at the Junior High and High School auditorium, we don't need public transportation, my backyard is my park and zoo and my safety net is my family and neighbors. So if I rated the town where I live on the "Best Places to Live" I would rank it near the top but my answers to the formal survey, ranked by people that value different things than me, would put my town at the bottom of their list.

This "survey" on happiest people would be based on the characteristics the survey compilers felt was important for happiness. Did they ask people, "Do you have a chances to achieve your dreams" or "Do you feel your children will have a better life than you" or "Can you make and store enough wealth so you personally can get your children started and secure in life or do you have to depend on the largess and hard work of other people to take care of your children and their future?"

Posted by: Craig from Belvidere | May 17, 2009 9:07:23 AM

I would like to suggest that if the Fins or Danes or the Dutch actually had to, you know, pay for their own national defense instead of living under the protective umbrella of the United States military then perhaps they would have to choose between those wonderful social programs and a stronger military. They cannot have both and the U.S. has kept them from having to choose.

What I most appreciate is how, after we shield them with our military and keep them from having to choose between military spending and welfare, they tell us how uncivilized we are because we don't have socialized medicine like they do.

Posted by: SeanNC | May 17, 2009 9:15:56 AM

Of course, Mark Steyn (America Alone) has written extensively on the death spiral demographics of these very high tax countries. With inverse family trees - 4 grandparents, two parents, one child - it won't take too many generation before the Swedes, Dutch and other Europeans are literally replaced by unassimilated emigrants of a certain culture. Long before that and nearer to now, they will be (and already are) making accomodations in law, culture and values to these new "Europeans". When asked about their outlook for the future of their country, the response is bleak.

Posted by: Richard | May 17, 2009 9:18:32 AM

Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland have higher suicide rates than the US. How happy can they be?

Posted by: Mark | May 17, 2009 9:22:44 AM

When comparing tax rates we tend to compare, incorrectly, only income tax rates. We should compare TOTAL tax hits. One of the other things that is left off is the Social Security tax in the US. That alone adds about 16% to the total tax hit for most individuals (Yes I know that half is paid by employer, but it's still a tax on YOUR income).

Within the US, there are vast discrepancies in this total tax hit. While some locales have low taxes, there are others where the total tax hit on residents can exceed Europe.

I happen to live in Nassau County, Long Island, NY. It's generally considered one of the highest taxed counties in the US, relative to income. My neighborhood is mixed blue-white collar full of non descript capes on small lots.

I get to pay $9,000 in property taxes, regardless of income. That's an 18% hit for someone making 50 grand and MORe for someone making less. Many of my neighbors pay more, topping out at about 15 grand for houses within a few blocks of mine. Few pay less. I get to pay 7% state income tax (top rate starting at . I get to pay 8.75 % sales tax. I get to pay a 20% "gross receipts tax" on my utilities (which by law is not stated in the monthly bills). Add those to the combined federal Income and social security tax, and your talking a big hit - especially for those making in the 50 to 100 grand range.

Then you have to add various "fees" charged by government. For example, my wife has to drive over a toll bridge every day to work. The toll, EACH WAY, is $4.50. 90% of that toll is used to subsidize mass transit, most for New York City. (No, my wife cannot take mass transit. Her 25 mile commute would take about 3 hours each way if she did.). So your looking at roughly $2200 per year in "fee". for just one of such fees. The less you make, the higher percentage of your income goes to that one "fee". That toll money is paid by tens of thousands of New York area residents every day, just to get to and from work.

It's exceedingly hard to calculate any average total tax hits in the US due to various deductions to fed income tax, and the huge variance in state/local taxes, but it should be kept in mind that TOTAL tax/fee hits in the US can be as high as Europe.

Posted by: Max | May 17, 2009 9:44:45 AM

A country like Norway, semi-socialist as it is, only survives economically with its high taxes, because it mines and drills the living daylights out of its resources. Good for them. But since our Democrats in the U.S. don't want more drilling but they DO want higher taxes and taxpayer-provided full health-care, we're in for some BIG TROUBLE. The Democrats don't know how to make our economy work better. They love the "European" model, but they don't realize how that's going to crush us even worse. We already pay total fed, st, local taxes of nearly 40% of GDP. I'd say that's economic suicide especially with our idiotic energy policy.

These "OECD" studies are useless. They provide no answers of how to achieve the "American Dream". We need MORE freedom, not less economic freedom.

Posted by: steve bourg | May 17, 2009 9:48:53 AM

I would expect slightly more robust analysis from a professor of law.

Posted by: Warren Rutledge | May 17, 2009 12:05:21 PM

For such a scathing critique, you might want to have gotten who wrote the article accurate.

Analysis Fail, Warren.

Posted by: mockmook | May 17, 2009 9:53:16 AM

I wonder about the tax rate in third world countries. It may be that whatever the
official rate supposedly is the actual rate, that is what the public sector actually
extracts from it's citizenry is extremely high and quite possibly higher than that
seen in northern europe. In most of the third world public employees are underpaid
in their own eyes while at the same time there are so many regulations and laws that
almost any activity is going to be in violation of something.

The temptation to extract 'rents' or bribes from those that are not part of the
government must be high.

Almost any third-world country could be taken as an example, but let's take for
example Cuba. Somehow in the last 40 years, Cuba has managed almost no economic
growth and perhaps there's even been an actual fall in the standard of living over
that forty year span. Doesn't this almost imply a very high rate of real taxation?
Higher than that of northern europe?

Of course it's hard to get real economic data on third world countries. Not only
is it hard to get honest numbers if the news is bad, but in general these countries
don't even make a nominal effort to collect this information anyway.

But one way to interpret what we are seeing is to assume that almost all productive
growth is taken and "consumed" by people belonging to the governments of these
countries.

Posted by: Mark Amerman | May 17, 2009 10:10:44 AM

<< What I most appreciate is how, after we shield them with our military and keep them from having to choose between military spending and welfare, they tell us how uncivilized we are because we don't have socialized medicine like they do. >>

Considering that certain European nations were ambivalent (at best) about resisting Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism, it might be best for everyone if the US withdrew it's military umbrella. Many of these nations seem to be welcoming their new Muslim Overlords with open arms. The jizya will just be viewed as another tax and make them happier still.

It really is not our place to defend a civilization that has lost the will to defend itself.

Posted by: wuzzagrunt | May 17, 2009 10:11:38 AM

Happy? Are the socialist subjects described herein truly happy? It sounds more like they are content and just think they are happy because they know nothing better.

The socialist/secular European model breeds dependence and destroys the drive to create and innovate. From what I see, the Europeans are too fat, dumb, and happy to see that their culture is being destroyed from within.

The unpredictability of creative destruction has become distasteful to Europeans and is now a uniquely American trait even as our new "enlightened" leadership attempts to drag us toward the stagnant European model.

The citizens of the US, those of us who work for a living anyway, understand that no one can truly be happy if they are dependent for their livelihood on the labor of someone else.

Posted by: Mike Constitution | May 17, 2009 10:22:31 AM

In unrelated news, nurses report that needles fill their patients with a sense of euphoria.

Posted by: Cincinnatus | May 17, 2009 10:24:00 AM

This is one of the shittiest studies I've ever seen. The differences in happiness are down in the statistical noise for most developed countries, and not at all correlated with level of taxation. But look for it to be cited and repeated endlessly by the locusts in government, academia, and the mainstream media. I would not be surprised to hear Obama refer to it when he breaks his campaign tax promises and prepares to scalp every one of us who has a job.

Posted by: John Skookum | May 17, 2009 10:29:34 AM

You overlooked one common denominator that is much more important than taxes — homogeneity.

These countries have a history of very stable, homogenous communities. (Recent immigration trends are introducing more upheaval, which should be reflected in future studies.) Happiness is a byproduct of such homogeneity. If you look at the US and other countries which have tremendous racial and ethnic diversity, they do not rank high in happiness. This is because the source of much conflict, stress, and unhappiness is related to this diversity. We're a stronger nation for it, but it does create conflict.

Posted by: debbiesim | May 17, 2009 10:42:58 AM

Denmark is happy because women there put out. Seriously, go find out for yourself.

Posted by: B | May 17, 2009 10:58:11 AM

Actually, I have to admit that I find Kostigen's conclusions more than a little baffling. Looking over the actual OECD data summary, I find discussions of a number of measures of "quality of life". This data appears quite reasonable, but what I don't see is any measure of satisfaction as expressed directly. So, what we have is a measure of satisfaction, not as it is but as the folks at the OECD think it should be. And surprise surprise a group of government professionals (bureaucrats has taken on too much of a negative cannotation) have decided that giving the lion's share of society's wealth to the government is in the best interest of the country's satisfaction.

Posted by: Bill Dalasio | May 17, 2009 11:08:36 AM

Send each of those Northern Euro societies a few, or a few dozen millions of unskilled, uneducated, culturally backward third world "immigrants" with 6 or 8 children per family. How happy are they with their taxes now?

Posted by: Roberto | May 17, 2009 11:13:07 AM

At last (!) an explanation for why people are leaving the US in droves for the good life in Scandinavia.

OECD might want to talk to government officials in Norway who, to their chagrin, have discovered that in just two generations the work ethic can be bred out of hard-working people who formerly led hardscrabble, minimalist existences. Their oil income and resultant welfare state have created a nation of sloths. Additional North Sea oil reserves recently discovered have saved their bacon for the time being, but what happens when that oil is finally depleted? Few Norwegians, it seems, have a taste for hard work and achievement nor do they see any reason why they should.

Posted by: SukieTawdry | May 17, 2009 11:38:01 AM

Their content (which is what they likely experiencing, rather than pure happiness) must stem from the lack of avarice, ambition, envy, anger and pride. No wonder Ralph Waldo Emerson called these five human emotions the "five great enemies to peace".

Posted by: Translation for Lawyers | May 17, 2009 11:41:55 AM

European countries spend almost nothing on defense. They can afford their expensive social welfare systems because they can devote almost all of their tax revenue to them. The prosperity and "happiness" they enjoy is paid for by US taxpayers. Since the end of WW II the US has contributed more to European defense than Europeans have. After 60 years all the United States gets from bleeding dollars into Europe is snarky BS about how unhappy we are and why Euroweenie socialism is superior to the economic engine that shielded western Europe for the last half century.

Enough! Since Europeans are so successful, let them pay for their defense. We need to restore our economy by returning to lower taxes and greater economic activity fueled by the capitalism that Europeans despise. I can see some hope for eastern Europe but the EU core has been a parasite on the American economy for more than long enough. For the folks like U R Wrong, who think of the US as a police state, enjoy your fantasies until the Russians, Chinese or Arabs arrive with a real version. The European enlightenment gave birth to the American dream. We have repaid that debt over the 20th century. And the Europeans have abandoned the enlightenment.

The happiness involved in this "study" is the ecstasy of the addict with a new fix. Like an addict, Europe has ignored the necessities to spend its money on a social system that is like heroin. Americans have maintained Europe's house long enough. Let the roof fall in. We can't afford it any more. Europe needs an intervention and I, for one, am willing to do it.

Posted by: Ken Hahn | May 17, 2009 12:43:56 PM

Amateur statistics mistake number 1: Confusing correlation with causation.

Posted by: Bob B | May 17, 2009 1:45:06 PM

Maybe just three most complacent nations in the developed part of the world up there: seems like they would tolerate almost anything on their soil. And if one percent of the nation pays 70 percent of national expences then, sure, those other 99 percent are happy as clams.

Posted by: Sergey | May 17, 2009 1:52:39 PM

You wanna see some northern (and southern) European societies start getting unhappy? Announce the US is going to start shuttering its cash-cow local military bases.
The resulting uproar will make a G8 protest look like a BRAC commission hearing.

Posted by: Reverend Jim | May 17, 2009 1:57:50 PM

High taxes cause happiness? Yeah, right. Happiness, and it's polar opposite, fear, are two of the most powerful psychological motivators. If high taxes made people happy, around the world people would be begging to give more to their governments. Doesn't happen. Fear is what motivates people to give to their governments.

Maybe it's the other way around. Happiness enables governments to get away with higher taxation.

Posted by: Dave | May 17, 2009 2:18:45 PM

This reminds me of those 1930s reports and studies which showed the Soviet Union as the happiest place on earth. Not that Denmark has locked anybody up in the gulages, but the effect is the same if you're a successful Dane when you can walk over the border and pay less taxes.

Regardless of the Danes, I wonder if Americans would score higher on the happy meter if we were not in the middle of a huge housing implosion due to bad credit policies, an immigrant influx which has created an instant underclass and had not spent the last 6 years listening to daily anti-war propaganda designed to "bring the war home" via the MSM?

Posted by: K | May 17, 2009 2:41:56 PM

Shocking. The higher the overall tax burden in a progressive taxation system, the more the net benefit accrues to the majority at a greater cost to the minority. Hence the aggregate level of happiness increases.

Posted by: Gord Richens | May 17, 2009 2:59:16 PM

You said: "...other than the world's biggest military." No, China is

1) People's Republic of China 2,250,000
2) United States of America 1,452,
3) India 1,325,000
4) Russian Federation 1,245,000
5) Democratic People's Republic of Korea 1,106,000

Now for the "happy" folks

70)Netherlands 53,000
71)Uzbekistan 53,000
72)Bulgaria 51,000
73)Croatia 51,000
74)United Arab Emirates 50,000
75)Cuba 46,000
76)Portugal 45,000
77)Oman 42,000
78)Belgium 41,000
79)Burundi 40,000
80)Finland 37,000
81)Tunisia 35,000
82)Austria 34,000
83)Sweden 34,000
84)Hungary 33,000

Posted by: Sam hall | May 17, 2009 3:20:40 PM

It's most ironic that our U.S. taxes don't add up to our current debt, and that's not counting the socialist promises of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Social Security and Medicare, which are "off budget" and going broke faster than expected.

We could raise taxes until the government took everything we make and it would not add up to what has already been spent.

California is our future: even if the greatest tax increase in history passes next Tuesday, we're still billion$ in debt.

More taxes simply don't fix the problem.

Posted by: Koblog | May 17, 2009 6:54:30 PM

For such a scathing critique, you might want to have gotten who wrote the article accurate.

Analysis Fail, Warren.

Posted by: mockmook | May 17, 2009 12:53:16 PM

Actually, the analysis is sound. It is my failure to read closely and incorrect attribution that failed. I definitely apologize for that sloppiness and will try to slow down and read more closely next time.

Posted by: Warren Rutledge | May 17, 2009 7:50:15 PM

Then the Democrats Obama picked for his cabinet must be the most miserable people on the planet, them not bothering to pay taxes.

Posted by: Peter | May 18, 2009 12:49:40 AM

As someonewho knows Denamrk well, taxes are one of the biggest complaints. denmark is a WONDERFUL place - imagine how happy they would be if their taxes were low.

I suspect factors like:
--an aging population (the old are happier)
--cultutal homegeniety (when the culture is a highly functional one)
--overall wealth
--attractive geography
--quality infrastructure
--low poverty rates (which doesn't necessarily correlate with taxes)

are all major contributors. Given the number of factors, it would be hard to isolate tax as a single factor.

Posted by: aclay1 | May 18, 2009 10:12:16 AM