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Americans Want A Society More Like Sweden’s


The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has just released the third iteration of its Better Life index with a fantastic data visualization tool that allows you to compare the 34 existing member countries based on 11 different indicators of human well-being: material conditions including housing, income, and jobs and quality of life conditions including community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety, and work-life balance. The purpose of this project is to get direct input from citizens across the globe about what matters most them to them in terms of their own lives and, subsequently, to relay this information to leaders to help shape policy decisions.

More than 2 million people from 196 countries have participated in this project so far. Across all nations, three variables have stood out above others as the most important factors contributing to well-being according to the project participants since 2011: life satisfaction, health, and education. These three variables also emerged as most important to participants from the United States. [...]

Overall, you get the sense from these indices that the United States is a great place to live as compared to many other countries in the world. But on things that really matter to Americans, like life satisfaction, education, health, and work-life balance, as well as metrics of inequality and opportunity, our nation could do a much better job of aligning preferences and policies to produce better lives for all our citizens.

This raises the question of how progressives can shift public discourse towards a wider focus on human well-being, particularly during a period of ongoing economic distress. The burgeoning “Beyond GDP” movement in the U.S. and Europe is attempting to challenge the notion that economic growth alone is a sufficient measure of progress. Lew Daly and Stephen Posner, in their overview of the movement, note that while “between 1980 and 2010, real GDP more than doubled,” that hardly captures the full reality of the situation.

“Across the 2000s, there was no net job creation, median family income declined, and $15 trillion in household wealth was lost, the sharpest such decline in 50 years,” they write. “Poverty is rising, and health gains have stalled and even regressed in many communities—the cost of obesity in America is closing in on $300 billion annually. American students are falling behind their peers in Europe and Asia, and for the first time in polling history, a majority of American parents do not believe that their children will fare better than they did.”