Bigger government makes for more satisfied people, international study finds

August 15, 2014
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People living in countries with governments that spend more on social services report being more contented, according to a Baylor University study.

"The effect of state intervention into the economy equals or exceeds or employment status—two traditional predictors of happiness—when it comes to satisfaction," said Patrick Flavin, Ph.D., assistant professor of in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences.

The study—"Assessing the Impact of the Size and Scope of Government on Human Well-Being"—is published in the journal Social Forces. The researchers analyzed data from 21 advanced industrialized countries collected by the World Values Survey from 1981 to 2007, with nearly 50,000 respondents.

The Great Recession from December 2007 to June 2009 intensified debate about how much governments should intervene into the market economy. Conservatives and right-leaning political parties tend to champion free market capitalism and are critical of , maintaining it can lead to inefficiency and waste that hurts employment, wages, and economic growth. By contrast, left-leaning political parties and labor organizations argue for more intervention into the market to even out the ups and downs of the business cycle, Flavin said.

"We assessed respondents' subjective well-being using a very straightforward question: 'All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?'" Flavin said. On a scale of 1 to 10—with 10 the highest level of satisfaction—the average rating for all respondents for the duration of the survey was 7.48. The United States was ranked at No. 11 out of 21 on the list, with an average rating of 7.61.

Four measures of government policies were used by Flavin and co-researchers at the University of Notre Dame and Texas A&M University:

  • The overall size of government consumption as a percentage of national gross domestic product.
  • Social welfare expenditures as a percentage of the gross domestic product.
  • Welfare state generosity measured in terms of the ease of access to welfare benefits, the expansiveness of coverage to citizens of different statuses and life circumstances, and the degree to which social benefits replace incomes lost due to unemployment, retirement, or family circumstances.
  • Labor market regulations governing such circumstances as job dismissals, temporary employment, and mass layoffs.

The study's findings held true regardless of whether respondents were rich or poor. The researchers also ruled out alternative explanations such as an individual's health, education level, and marital status as well as the gross national product and unemployment rate of the country that he or she lives in.

"Are we saying we need a bigger government to be happier? No," Flavin said. "Instead, our goal is to objectively examine the data and let people draw their own conclusions. If anything, this study is a conversation-starter about what role we envision for government in our lives and the advantages and disadvantages of into the market ."

Countries ranked from most to least satisfied—with 10 the highest level of —included:

  • Denmark: 8.20
  • Switzerland: 8.10
  • Iceland: 8.04
  • Ireland: 7.95
  • Austria: 7.95
  • Finland: 7.82
  • Sweden: 7.82
  • Canada: 7.82
  • Norway: 7.78
  • Netherlands: 7.76
  • United States: 7.61
  • Australia: 7.58
  • Great Britain: 7.51
  • Belgium: 7.49
  • Germany: 7.08
  • Italy: 7.05
  • Portugal: 7.05
  • Spain: 6.96
  • France: 6.85
  • Greece: 6.67
  • Japan: 6.63

Explore further: Life satisfaction, state intervention go hand in hand, Baylor researcher finds

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3.6 / 5 (11) Aug 15, 2014
It is not for nothing that socialism is popular.......again!! Look at how the 'capitalists' and their toadies and sock puppets the 'conservatives' and the 'tea party' traitors are doing to 'better' our lives! Notice the 'tea party' idiots never want THEIR kids to work at 'walmart'!...for peanuts! One day we Americans will wake up..yes even the 'new Americans' the immigrants that the 'conservatives' harbor in their big box stores and in their restaurants and in their sweatshops out of sight. They are already waking up. The 'occupy' movement was just a taste. And those 'conservatives' are playing with fire when they bring those moslems here on H1B visas by the tens of thousands so they can learn hear how to destroy us back in their home hog heavens. One thing about capitalists is money makes them stupid.
2.2 / 5 (13) Aug 15, 2014
Start with Heinlein's observation: "The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."
The first group includes both those who want to be controllers and those who want to be controlled. They would approve of bigger government.
The second group includes those who would disapprove of big government - Libertarians, Anarchists, Iconoclasts, and those who would opt out of inane opinion surveys.
This 'study' is crippled by selection bias.
4.2 / 5 (11) Aug 15, 2014
tadchem, you start with stating what might have been Heinlein's take on this (he was a well know Libertarian sort) which is of course biased, then say the study was crippled by selection bias (ignoring that your own statement suffers from the same thing). Heinlein also had some pretty wacky social ideas... quite evident in his later works.

Also, should have led with TANSTAAFL.
5 / 5 (11) Aug 15, 2014
I suspect that the reason for the higher contentment is that people are less stressed knowing that their basic needs (some food, shelter, etc) are provided should they suffer misfortune. Another way of putting it would be that they probably have a lower base stress level. This is why we create societies in the first place - safety and support (safety from those that wish us harm and support should one fall upon misfortune).
3.4 / 5 (7) Aug 15, 2014
a proper and functional socialism of medicine and labour, must never be allowed in the USA, as the southern politicians (and associated religious casting) would lose all support.

America would begin turning away from it's current move toward open fascism.

What it is that controls the dialog and posturing in American could never allow that to happen as the falling stress levels, the easing of tension/loss/pain/etc would allow people to relax and being waking up.
3.4 / 5 (10) Aug 15, 2014
Forget the political arguments..
The study's own table refutes the headline - France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Portugal have substantially higher government intervention in their societies and they all rank below the USA.
Of those countries ranking higher than the USA, all but two (Canada and Switzerland) have small and relatively homogeneous poulations.
1.7 / 5 (11) Aug 15, 2014
It is interesting that Japan ranked so low with their culturally homogenous society.
Cross correlate this data to govt corruption as well as homogenous population and property rights and you may see a better picture.
Too bad they didn't ask, "Do you trust your govt.?"
Use Index for Economic Freedom for a comparison.
Population size and land area should also be factored in.
2 / 5 (4) Aug 15, 2014
"I noticed one difference between Denmark and many other countries with a high level of socialized services: it seemed remarkably un-bureaucratic. Things were organized without being regimented or restrictive. As I've been reading more about Denmark since returning, I've stumbled upon an element that I think may be key to understanding the Danish happiness phenomenon – and one that also explains this unusual combination of simplicity and structure.

It turns out the Danes also have high levels of trust. They trust each other, the government, and they even trust 'outsiders' – visitors and foreign nationals who come to Denmark to live and work."
1 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2014
Most trusted countries:
1 Denmark 9.3
1 New Zealand 9.3
1 Singapore 9.3
4 Finland 9.2
4 Sweden 9.2
6 Canada 8.9
7 Netherlands 8.8
8 Australia 8.7
8 Switzerland 8.7
10 Norway 8.6
11 Iceland 8.5
11 Luxembourg 8.5
13 Hong Kong 8.4
14 Ireland 8.0
15 Austria 7.9
15 Germany 7.9
17 Barbados 7.8
17 Japan 7.8
19 Qatar 7.7
20 United Kingdom 7.6
Compare this list with the one above.

4.2 / 5 (10) Aug 15, 2014

Laughing my ass off that you don't see the irony in your link.

1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 15, 2014
What irony?
I have stated, many times, the only successful socialist societies are voluntary, such as a monastery.
Denmark, New Zealand, Singapore are not trusted because of their socialism.
They can tolerate the welfare state because they are trusted to protect private property rights and those on the dole are trusted, or kept honest, to be truly deserving. Social pressure helps to keep moochers and looters from scamming the welfare state, and the state understands they must live within their means and can't afford to create an ever expanding Regulatory State.

"When faced with a powerful, threatening argument to a troubled paradigm, those in denial will first ignore. If this does not work, they will ridicule. And it this does not work, they will shout and even use hateful talk.

Read more at:
1 / 5 (6) Aug 15, 2014
"Janteloven is so ingrained in Danish culture Roskilde University Sociology professor Jan Kirstein scholar lectures on it. In an interview by the Danish expat video series (which is now on hiatus). Kirstein explains that Sandemose's story deeply offended Danish society because it exposed the true personality of the Dane: reluctant to meet foreigners, not that open-minded, and distant to other cultures and to emotions. (Oh, snap!)"
"So, in conclusion, if you want to know how to be Danish you'll need to experience a life that's heavy with societal pressure to keep enthusiasm in check, all the while secretly—and fiercely—believe that you are Awesome Personified.
1 / 5 (7) Aug 15, 2014
"Denmark's government unveiled its second growth package in two years designed to drag Scandinavia's weakest economy out of its crisis.

The plan will raise Denmark's structural output by 6 billion kroner ($1.1 billion) and cut costs for companies by 4 billion kroner in 2020 through 89 measures to improve the business climate and boost employment, the Copenhagen-based Finance Ministry said in a statement. "
"5.8 billion kroner in reduced electricity fees for businesses and a 650,000-krone tax break for investing in startups. Dividend taxes on unlisted companies will be cut to 15.3 percent from 22 percent. "
What a concept!
Cut the cost of government and lower taxes. Too bad the socialists in the USA forgot this method to stimulate economies.
1 / 5 (5) Aug 15, 2014
In AWT the socialistic economy works better for macroeconomy, whereas the free market works better at the microeconomic scale and they should be balanced with shifting of day of tax freedom to the middle of year. The centralist economy behaves like the overdumped PID regulator, which is resistant to periodical economical crisis and as such it's effective for braking of overheated economy. This is the reason, why in the times of economical crisis the generally dissipative centralist driven economy becomes more advantageous (which is why the China and various socialistic tendencies of Obama government are on the rise right now). But from long-term perspective of economical progress the socialistic economy cannot compete the free market economy: we indeed aren't building the economy for braking, but for steady-state growth.
4.1 / 5 (7) Aug 15, 2014
Cut the cost of government and lower taxes. Too bad the socialists in the USA forgot this method to stimulate economies.

And it's a good thing they did too, because that sort of idiotic lie promoted as fact without proof has devastated the US Middle Class and resulted in virtually income growth over the last 30 years to go to the top .01%.

The US is alone among Western nations in marking steady growth thanks to President Obama's stimulus package that succeeded. Had it been larger we'd be experienced booming growth.

Compared to Western Europe and Japan which followed that advice we are the wonder success story coming out of the 2008 economic collapse.

Furthermore, they did what you think works in Kansas and guess which state is pulling up the rear, which state is in fact falling further into recession vs a vs every other state in the union, yes Kansas.

Only a true idiot would try and push that big lie without apology.
1 / 5 (8) Aug 15, 2014
we are the wonder success story coming out of the 2008 economic collapse.

"Speaking on Monday to a conference in Sweden about the years since the financial crisis and Great Recession, Stanley Fischer said falling rates of productivity and labour force participation in the US among other factors may have scarred the country's ability to generate economic growth."
The same thing may be happening for different reasons in Europe, large emerging economies such as China, and elsewhere, he said, forcing central bankers to recast their understanding of inflation, employment and growth in general.

"The global recovery has been disappointing," Fischer said, adding that long-run annual growth in the US may now be as low as 2%, a full percentage point below the estimate of Fed policymakers as recently as 2009."

1 / 5 (8) Aug 15, 2014
"The other statistic that continues to cast a shadow over the recovery is the number of long-term unemployed Americans. The number of Americans who have given up on the job search is estimated at 5.98m, according to the Economic Policy Institute. If they were to be counted, the unemployment rate would be closer to 9.6%, instead of 6.1%. "
1 / 5 (9) Aug 15, 2014
"Retail sales have missed expectations for three months in a row and we just had the worst reading since January."
"Things have gotten so bad that even Wal-Mart is really struggling. Same-store sales at Wal-Mart have declined for five quarters in a row and the outlook for the future is not particularly promising."
"The tech industry is supposed to be booming, but mass layoffs in the tech industry are actually 68 percent ahead of last year's pace."
5 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2014
The was a "Great Recession"? Australia missed out again... :( It did hurt a bit for a few years with exports to some countries, with lower growth and a little higher unemployment but no recession.

Politicians are probably the most hated people here and we have had some terrible governments recently so not being particularly satisfied is no surprise.
5 / 5 (7) Aug 16, 2014
I note how the comments have sidetracked (devolved?) from happiness to economics. The assumption being a "stronger" economy is guaranteed to increase happiness? Or that happiness is little more than a synonym for wealth?

What's the point of economic growth? How do you measure that growth? Bet it's not at the point the lowest (or even average) wage earners get their paychecks.

An interesting study would be the charting of per capita wealth vs. happiness in different countries.

And all this libertarian rhetoric - libertarian fanbois impress me as selfish (i.e. non social) individuals who fancifully imagine they would do better in a world where there's no government between them and everyone else, good or bad. That all can benefit from this, or that those who can't are not significant.
1 / 5 (5) Aug 16, 2014
I note how the comments have sidetracked (devolved?) from happiness to economics.

Define 'bigger govt'. Govts that plunder more wealth from their citizens.
'Assessing the size and scope of govt' study implies that the more the govt interferes in the economy and people's live the happier they are.
How happy were East Germans when the state controlled the lives of others?
How about North Korea or Cuba? Are they happy? If not, why not?
1 / 5 (6) Aug 16, 2014
"John F. Kennedy campaigned for president in 1960 by belittling Dwight Eisenhower's three recessions and declaring, "We can do bettah." He was right. In the 1960s, after the Kennedy tax cuts were implemented, prosperity returned, the economy grew by almost 4 percent annually, unemployment sank to record lows, and a gold-linked dollar held down inflation."
"The blame falls on the White House and the Fed, and the discredited Keynesian model that government spending, debt, and cheap money are the way to restore growth. Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. "
Bigger govt is not making Americans happy. It may make the socialists happy, though.
1 / 5 (6) Aug 16, 2014
"We have paid people not to work by raising eligibility and time limits for various benefit plans, substantially raised marginal tax penalties when people move from welfare to work, disincentivized employers from hiring more workers (Obamacare, minimum wage), raised taxes on investment, passed new regulations to strangle our energy industry, unionized even when workers don't want it, continued corporate-welfare cronyism, and refused to fix a corporate tax system that sends jobs abroad. And then we wonder why the economy won't shift into a higher gear."
1 / 5 (5) Aug 16, 2014
"The leftists pushing for San Francisco to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour had some salient information handed them by a report from the city's Office of Economic Analysis: by 2019 the private sector will have approximately 15,270 fewer jobs. The report adds: "This represents approximately 2 percent of private employment in the city.""
1 / 5 (5) Aug 16, 2014
Joe Piscopo:
" was a Democrat because I believed in civil rights, like Lyndon Johnson. I was a Democrat because while it was clear to me that the Republican politicians were out of touch and cared for only the upper class, Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt cared for the masses and helping the working man. I was a Democrat because I believed in a strong defense and opposed communism, like John F. Kennedy. And I was a Democrat because I loved the fact that Kennedy understood we needed lower marginal tax rates.

By and large, none of these values are represented in the Democratic Party today. "
not rated yet Aug 17, 2014
The rich are people who are never satisfied with the amount of money they have.

Capitalism is about pleasing these few who cannot be pleased, at the expense of the rest of the world who are striving for the simple necessities and luxuries of life.

1 / 5 (4) Aug 17, 2014
The rich are people who are never satisfied with the amount of money they have.

It makes a difference how they became rich. If they are rent seekers, political 'capitalists', they depend upon a socialist state for favors and protections from competition.
True capitalists create wealth and enables the investments that creates the opportunities for those who are are striving for the simple necessities and luxuries of life to earn them.
Socialism destroys wealth and does its best to make all equally poor.
1 / 5 (3) Aug 17, 2014
" So finally the slumbering giant has awakened. The middle class understands the truth— Obamacare isn't helping us. Obamacare is our enemy. We now know Obama committed fraud when he said "If you like your insurance, you can keep it." We know he lied when he said our prices would go down. We know he lied when he said our quality of care would not go down. We know he lied when he said we could keep our current doctors. We know he lied when he said Obamacare would help the economy. We know he lied when he said it wouldn't kill jobs. We now know that Obamacare is the death of our middle class quality of life.

But that was the plan all along. It was never about improving healthcare. It was always about income redistribution to shift the cost to the middle class. It was always about making the middle class poor and dependent on government. "

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