In my travels through Europe, I often wind up debating whether policy is better in the United States or Europe. I generally try to explain that this is the wrong comparison, both because Europe is not a monolithic bloc and also because most individual nations have both good policies and bad policies.
But sometimes you have to use blunt comparisons, which is why this data on living standards is powerful evidence that Europe is paying a high price for excessive government.
When I cite such data, proponents of statism often respond by arguing that I’m being unfair by lumping together more efficient welfare states in Northern Europe with poorly run welfare states in Southern Europe.
That’s a very good point, and I’ve acknowledged that nations such as Sweden and Denmark are examples of how to do the wrong thing in the best possible fashion. They have large welfare states, but they compensate with very pro-market policies in other areas.
But I argue that these good reforms don’t fully offset the damage caused by excessive government spending. And now I have a new – and very pointy – arrow in my argumentative quiver. A study from the London-based Institute for Economic Affairs has found that Swedes in America earn significantly more money than Swedes in Sweden.
Here are a couple of excerpts from the IEA study.
The 4.4 million or so Americans with Swedish origins are considerably richer than average Americans, as are other immigrant groups from Scandinavia. If Americans with Swedish ancestry were to form their own country, their per capita GDP would be $56,900, more than $10,000 above the income of the average American. This is also far above Swedish GDP per capita, at $36,600. Swedes living in the USA are thus approximately 53 per cent more wealthy than Swedes (excluding immigrants) in their native country (OECD, 2009; US Census database). It should be noted that those Swedes who migrated to the USA, predominately in the nineteenth century, were anything but the elite. Rather, it was often those escaping poverty and famine. …A Scandinavian economist once said to Milton Friedman, ‘In Scandinavia, we have no poverty’. Milton Friedman replied, ‘That’s interesting, because in America, among Scandinavians, we have no poverty, either’. Indeed, the poverty rate for Americans with Swedish ancestry is only 6.7 per cent: half the US average (US Census).
This is remarkable information, and it reminds me that Thomas Sowell had similar stats for other groups in his great book, Ethnic America.
I’m not familiar with the methodological issues involved in this type of research, but is certainly seems like this is a good way of getting apples-to-apples comparisons of different economic systems.
Like many other people, I’ve argued that the success of the overseas Chinese community (compared to their counterparts stuck in Communist China) is a damning indictment of statism.
Now we see that Swedes do reasonably well when living in a country with a big welfare state, but they do even better when living in a nation with a medium-sized welfare state.
So you can imagine how prosperous they would be if a bunch of them lived in places such as Hong Kong and Singapore!