The idea that progressives are trying to make America more like Europe is a favorite Republican attack line. Why would anyone want to do that? In a recent New York Times editorial, David Brooks pretends to be amazed that so many young people are supporting Bernie Sanders, who is an open admirer of Europe.
But, really, it is not hard to understand why some people think America might do well to follow Europe’s lead. The fact is, Many European countries do a better job than we do of converting raw GDP — which the US has a lot of — into better lives for their citizens — where the US falls short. That is true whether you look at basic human needs like healthcare, shelter and personal safety; or at foundations of wellbeing like primary education, access to the internet, and environmental quality; or at indicators of opportunity like personal freedoms and tolerance.
There is a nifty data series, called the Social Progress Index, that combines all those things into a single number. Here is what you get if you graph the Social Progress Index against GDP per capita:
The chart allows us to compare how well people in different countries live compared to how well we would expect them to live, given their country’s GDP. What we see is that the high-income countries of Northern Europe (blue dots) consistently provide a better life for their citizens than does the United States. In fact, even the less prosperous Southern and Eastern European members of the EU (red squares) do better than they would be expected given their GDP.
The United States does only an average job at converting raw GDP to the good life, as shown by the fact that it lies right on the black global trend line. And keep in mind, that global trend line itself is pulled down by the low Social Progress scores of oil rich countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia.
So yes, there are good reasons why people would like America to become more like Europe.
For a more detailed discussion and more charts, follow this link.