With the US elections approaching the close fought battle between Obama and Romney has become a recurring topic in the office. It is quite natural that people in Europe, and the rest of the world, are interested in the outcome of the US elections, as the policies of the US government tend to influence us all. But the discussions have not centered on the foreign policies proposed by the candidates, but rather the internal big-government vs small-government question. Perhaps this is not that surprising. Similar discussions take place in European countries as well, although with a starting point much further to the left than in the US.
Being from Finland, one of the Nordic welfare states, I naturally take the side of big-government and high taxes. Perhaps this is because we are creatures of habit that tend to prefer the system we grew up with, or perhaps because I am a bit of a bleeding heart. But in addition to this, I firmly believe that sharing wealth more equally by means of taxes benefits society as a whole.
I have always believed in solidarity with those around us. We live in an interconnected world, where the happiness and welfare of my neighbour, my countryman and even someone on the other side of the world, might affect me. By sharing my wealth with those around me who are less fortunate, I work toward a better society for all of us. We all want the same basic things from life, love, friends, family, a home and an income that can keep us safe, warm and healthy. I know that not everybody are satisfied with basics, and some people never have enough, but I do believe that if we can provide those basic things for our fellow humans the entire society will benefit. By making sure that all children have the same chance at a good home, nutritious food, a safe education and quality healthcare we increase the likelihood that they will grow up to be relatively happy individuals, less likely to commit crimes.
In the US the argument against big government tends to be that it infringes on our freedom. But what is freedom? Is freedom not having the same opportunity to accomplish our goals as those with more money? Are poverty and inequality not limits on our freedom? Is freedom really having the possibility to work two jobs in order to pay for your children’s university? In Finland universities are free and the only thing between you and an higher diploma is your intelligence and determination. Is that not what we mean by freedom? Is freedom not being able to walk down the street without fear of violence? Should freedom not be the right of everybody, whether rich or poor?
I do not think that it is a coincidence that 3 out of 5 of the highest ranking countries on the UN’s 2012 World Happiness Report are Nordic countries. The US does not rank badly, being at nr. 10, but an approach where the welfare of the whole population is put ahead of the wealth of the few, will naturally result in a higher number of happy people. And is not joy shared joy doubled?