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Denmark overtook Switzerland as the world's happiest place, according to a report on Wednesday that urged nations regardless of wealth to tackle inequality and protect the environment.
The report, prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, showed Syria, Afghanistan and eight sub-Saharan countries as the 10 least happy places on earth to live.
The top 10 this year were Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden. Denmark was in third place last year, behind Switzerland and Iceland.
The USSR collapsed because it couldn’t compete over time, despite its massive resources and devout ideology. The Soviets put a man in space before America but couldn’t keep up the pace against an innovating, free-market competitor. My Facebook post went around the world on technology created in America. The networks, the satellites, the software, nearly every ingredient in every mobile device and desktop computer, was invented in the USA. It is not a coincidence that the most capitalist country in the world created all these things. Innovation requires freedom of thought, freedom of capital, and people who believe in changing the world.
Yes, the free market can be cruel and it is by definition unequal. It has winners and losers. It also sparks the spirit of creativity that humanity desperately needs to flourish in our ever-increasing billions. Failure is an essential part of innovation and the free market. Of every 10 new companies, perhaps nine will fail in brutal Darwinian competition. A centrally-planned economy cannot imitate this engine of creative destruction because you cannot plan for failure. You cannot predestine which two college dropouts in a garage will produce the next Apple.
A popular rebuttal is to invoke the socialist leanings of several European countries with high living standards, especially in Scandinavia. Why can’t America be more like happy Denmark, with its high taxes and giant public sector, or at least more like France? Even the more pro-free-market United Kingdom has national health care, after all. First off, comparing relatively small, homogeneous populations to the churning, ocean-spanning American giant is rarely useful. And even the most socialist of the European countries only became wealthy enough to embrace redistribution after free-market success made them rich. Still, why cannot America follow this path if that is what the people want? What is the problem if American voters are willing to accept higher taxes in exchange for greater security in the embrace of the government?
The answer takes us back to all those inventions America has produced decade after decade. As long as Europe had America taking risks, investing ambitiously, attracting the world’s dreamers and entrepreneurs, and yes, being unequal, it could benefit from the results without making the same sacrifices. Add to that the incalculable windfall of not having to spend on national defense thanks to America’s massive investment in a global security umbrella. America doesn’t have the same luxury of coasting on the ambition and sacrifice of another country.