Chapter Summary

Americans are routinely warned that stronger social programs are steps towards socialism, and ultimately the demise of living standards.  The absence of strong social programs is argued to create a kind of economic dynamism that ultimately leaves Americans with a stronger economy and higher living standards.  Is there merit to these views? This chapter compares social programs and various facets of collective and individual wellbeing through a battery of empirics.

Overall, the picture that emerges is that weaker social programs and lower taxes have not made America a particularly wealthy or well country.  They look like a typical highly-developed country.

Key Findings

  • The US economy registers a middling macroeconomic performance, outperforming some wealthy countries but not others.  It has a high per capita GDP, but not particularly high growth or low unemployment.
  • Social spending in the United States is middling-to-low.  It’s public healthcare expenditures are relatively high, even if the country does not guarantee universal coverage for the money it spends.  
  • Parental leave support is very weak in the United States, which is likely to burden young parents.  This problem is compounded by the fact that child care is very expensive here.
  •  Higher education is also comparatively expensive in the United States, although the typical US university is of middling quality.
  • For its high healthcare expenditures, Americans do not seem to have across-the-board better access to healthcare resources.  They seem to have an abundance of equipment, but not especially good access to service providers
  • Housing affordability is middling in the United States
  • Americans register average levels of savings and debt, but register high average wealth levels
  • On quality-of-life metrics, America is like other highly-developed countries:  They score comparatively well on some metrics, and perform more weakly on others.  

Tables and Figures