A perplexing survey confirms all my priors

In the past I’ve pointed to New Hampshire as a sort of neoliberal model.  No income taxes, no sales taxes, very high levels of income, and less inequality than almost all other states. Indeed they have the richest poor of any state.  Even adjusting for ethnicity it does well, easily outpacing other mostly white states.  Now the OECD has come out with regional rankings of “well-being” measured “holistically.” In other words, just the sort of ranking liberals love.  And New Hampshire comes in number one in the US, at 77.6/90.  I don’t know how it ranks at the global level, but it seems to score above all other countries, but below certain regions like Canberra.

Speaking of Canberra, Australia seems to be number one among countries, at 76.5/90. (I’m not quite sure because I saw no totals, and quickly did math in my head.)  It’s one of my favorite countries, with just about the lowest level of government spending of any developed country (outside East Asia.) Small government may not produce high living standards, but sure it doesn’t prevent them.

The second highest state was Minnesota (76.2/90), which of course has a large Scandinavian population. Many progressive commenters tell me that the Nordic system is better than the American system because they have less inequality.  But Minnesota does much better than Sweden 68.7/90.)  Let’s be honest; Swedes are likely to do pretty well under any reasonable democratic system, and third world immigrants to Sweden don’t do very well at all.

So all my priors were confirmed.  Most bloggers would stop there.  But then I started digging into the data.  What does “civic engagement” mean?  I would expect ultra-democratic and ultra-decentralized Switzerland to easily lead the world.  Instead they scored 1.1 out of 10.  Turkey scores 8.8.  Perhaps credit is given to the “engagement” of Kurdish rebels.  I don’t think I’ve been to a cleaner country that Switzerland, which scores only 3.5 out of 10 on the environment. Austria only gets a 3.3.  In contrast, spotlessly clean Istanbul gets a 3.9, and Mexico an astounding 5.3.  Is this like golf, where a low score is better?

In other words, I have no idea what the OECD did to come up with these numbers. But since they confirm my priors I should probably just collect my chips and go home. 



31 Responses to “A perplexing survey confirms all my priors”

  1. Gravatar of David Pinto David Pinto
    7. October 2014 at 17:37

    Know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em.

  2. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    7. October 2014 at 17:47

    At times like this I remember most peer-reviewed studies are also wrong, and throw up my hands at the prospect of there ever being clarity on complex subjects.

  3. Gravatar of Brett Brett
    7. October 2014 at 17:58

    I think it’s the “vice” and “tax shelter” state among its neighbors (meaning you get liquor, fireworks, and a place to locate your family trust). Not exactly an exportable model, although it works well for them.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. October 2014 at 18:26

    Brett, Those are trivial factors, the model is exportable. However the results would not always be as good–just as is the case for Sweden.

    Kansas should copy New Hampshire.

  5. Gravatar of Andrew Edwards Andrew Edwards
    7. October 2014 at 18:49

    I wonder what it is that liberals as an undifferentiated mass love so much about such nonsensical “analyses”….

    By the way – low civic engagement is a good thing – it means that you are content with the status quo, and that no political forces in your area represent major threats to that status quo. I’d be worried if anywhere in the US had “high” civic engagement relative to Turkey.

  6. Gravatar of Dean Dean
    7. October 2014 at 19:13

    Looks like “civic engagement” means voter turnout, and Switzerland scores very low there. Even lower than the US! And only Mexico is lower.

    Environment is air pollution, which is pretty hard to see so you may have missed that when visiting Switzerland!

    Yeah digging deeper spoils the good story, though maybe this will give you a new angle.

  7. Gravatar of Michael Watts Michael Watts
    7. October 2014 at 19:29

    This reminds me of a survey purporting to show the friendliness-to-bicycles of various world cities (unfortunately, I don’t remember its name). I was shocked to see in its results that chinese cities such as beijing and shanghai weren’t very highly ranked. Looking into it, what seems to have happened is that they defined a number of categories (“share of commuters who bicycle to work”, “explicitly bike-friendly local policies”) and ranked cities according to the sum of their score in each, while completely discounting the idea that “explicitly bike-friendly policies” such as a public statement of support by the mayor don’t make it as easy to ride your bike around as, say, “dedicated bike lanes” do.

  8. Gravatar of Edogg Edogg
    7. October 2014 at 23:35

    Try the second link on the Vox story to have some idea what the OECD did to come up with those numbers. Civic engagement is just voter turnout. Environmental outcomes is just a satellite measurement of “fine particulate matter”.

  9. Gravatar of J.V. Dubois J.V. Dubois
    8. October 2014 at 01:11

    I quickly checked some of the stats on the web. And it seems that for “Civic Engagement” it seems that voter turnaround is a very important “indicator”. So Eastern Switzerland with 46.8% of voter turnaround seems to fare worse than Istanbul with 86.5% voters.

    Similar goes for education where the main indicator is percent of labor force with secondary education. This immediately skyrockets all former Eastern Block countries to the top as their their education system is well designed to do well in this area.

    This goes on with environment where air pollution is the name of the game. Here it is all about Air particulate matter (PM 2.5).

  10. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    8. October 2014 at 04:02

    Has there been any research done on the suicide rate among American Swedes? It could be an interesting guide to the “climate or culture?” question regarding Scandinavian suicide rates. Apart from Alaska, all American states are at a lower latitude that Sweden, and so are better served with sunlight.

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. October 2014 at 04:28

    Everyone, Thanks for clarifying that the indicators for civic engagement and the environment are as idiotic as I’d assumed. To me, civic engagement is lots of referendums, like Switzerland, or town meetings to determine whether to build a new high school, like New Hampshire. Non-civic engagement is like Los Angeles, where voters feel they have no power over their schools. Of course where people vote more often (like Switzerland), turnout tends to be lower for each election.

    There are 100s of ways of despoiling the environment; given the ultra-long life expectancies in place like Hong Kong I think we can conclude that moderate air pollution isn’t the only important one–and surely pollution is far far lower in Switzerland than HK. Someone mentioned that air pollution is hard to see in Switzerland. I agree, but not in Mexico or Hong Kong. You could argue that air pollution that is invisible is primarily a health problem, but Swiss life expectancies are nearly the highest in Europe.

    W. Peden, That would be interesting.

  12. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    8. October 2014 at 05:02

    Still, in city life there are commute times, crime, air quality, recreation and schools…none measured into GDP per capita.

    Worth noting: a crummy place to live is not going to prosper…well, okay, excluding oil states…

  13. Gravatar of MG MG
    8. October 2014 at 05:53

    The Vox headline “The Case for Moving to…” begs two questions. One appropos to your comment. First: Are they implying that moving to Minnesota will make you more Scandinavian, so a lot of your pathologies will go away? The second: So what does the actual domestic immigration/emigration rate look like against these rankings?

  14. Gravatar of Steven Kopits Steven Kopits
    8. October 2014 at 05:58

    Labor Force Participation Rates (a draft paragraph from my book):

    “According to a Gallup poll of January 2014, nearly three-quarters of baby boomers, those born 1946-1964, expect to retire at 65 or older. http://www.gallup.com/poll/166952/baby-boomers-reluctant-retire.aspx This compares to labor force participation rates for this group of 18.5% in 2012 and projected at 23% in 2022. Talk is cheap, and actual retirements may better resemble observed trends than survey answers. But if respondent claims proved true, the US workforce would be 30 million greater in 2022 than the BLS currently expects””from this adjustment alone. This would increase the US labor force by 20% compared to current BLS projections for that year.”

  15. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    8. October 2014 at 06:28

    I am feeling mischievous so Louisiana arguably has the best food and music in the country much better than New Hampshire. Maybe Louisianans are smarter than New Hampshire’s people and are unwilling to waste their childhood studying. So you give up a little on life expectancy in Louisiana but in Louisiana the cooks even can make beans and rice taste good! Do leftist want us to all be and live the same?

  16. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    8. October 2014 at 08:30

    Speaking of confirming priors–in this case, those of the economics profession pretty much as a whole–maybe in-migration of the well-educated explains New Hampshire;


    ‘Immigration usually had a positive effect on the average wages of less educated workers in the 35 OECD countries…. This is due to higher education levels of the OECD immigrants relative to the non-migrant natives. Educated people are job-creating and complement less educated workers in productive activities. Hence, higher immigration leads to more job creation and higher demand for people further down the job ladder. Less educated workers experienced particularly large wage and employment gains in countries whose immigration systems favour educated immigrants, like Australia and Canada.’

  17. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    8. October 2014 at 09:36

    New Hampshire also always has the smallest percentage of charitable contributions as a percentage of income of any state.

  18. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    8. October 2014 at 09:43

    David Glasner has a new post:


    “I think that monetary policy could be doing more to promote recovery, and I wish that it would, but unfortunately, the policy is what it is, and it will continue more or less in the way that Janet Yellen has been saying it will. Falling oil prices, because of increasing US oil output, suggest that growth may speed up slightly even as inflation stays low, possibly even falling to one percent or less. At least in the short-term, the fall in inflation does not seem like a cause for concern……”

  19. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    8. October 2014 at 10:07

    Dow Up 100+ on Fed Minutes!!!!!!!!


    “Fed Worries About Global Slowdown And Strong Dollar”

  20. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    8. October 2014 at 10:43

    What does this mean for TIPs spreads???

  21. Gravatar of Justin Irving Justin Irving
    8. October 2014 at 10:55

    “Let’s be honest; Swedes are likely to do pretty well under any reasonable democratic system, and third world immigrants to Sweden don’t do very well at all.”

    I think the blogger Tino dug up some numbers a few years ago showing that “Swedish” Americans had meaningfully higher incomes than other white Americans. The ‘Swedish model’ isn’t high taxes and state enforced radical feminism, its thousands of years of selection for traits useful for lactose-tolerant farmers a pitiless winter environment (plus all that stuff that happened in Beowulf). So we just need to make sure everyone gets some of that…

  22. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    8. October 2014 at 12:04

    John Thacker:
    You’ll find charitable contributions correlate pretty well with religious attendance of which New Hampshire’s is near the bottom.

  23. Gravatar of Edward Boyce Edward Boyce
    8. October 2014 at 16:30

    Australia has compulsory voting, which leads to voter turnout over 90% (it’s less hassle to vote than to pay a small fine). That’s why it gets 10.0/10.0 for civic engagement from the OECD.

  24. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    8. October 2014 at 16:36

    Nordics in US > Nordics

    Is another click-whrrr, that makes Bruenig go automatically silent.

    We saw the same thing with Matty way back when.

    As tournament debate tactics go, when you get that bomb dropped on your head and lose a round, and then you RERUN your old argument at the next tourney, it’s admission of case defeat to every judge on circuit.

  25. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    8. October 2014 at 16:38

    Case defeat means that your case can only ever win on technicality, the opposing team unable to follow paint-by-numbers.

  26. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    8. October 2014 at 20:43

    Paul Krugman has a cover story in Rolling Stone:


    “Paul Krugman was a notable Obama critic. Now he’s calling the president a historic success. Our full cover story”

  27. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. October 2014 at 04:48

    Floccina, Good point.

    Patrick, Yes, and of course those on the left would deny that low tax rates cause this immigration. Remember that low taxes mean low services, and thus NH must be a hellish place to live.

    Travis, I agree with David on inflation.

    Morgan, Good point.

  28. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    9. October 2014 at 07:13

    John Cochrane (new paper):

    “A gold standard, or even a commodity standard are not practical for a modern economy. Gold and commodity prices diverge too much from the broader measures of inflation that we really care about…..”


  29. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    9. October 2014 at 09:06

    James Bullard today. Dammit.

    “Right now, “the markets are making a mistake” and expect the Fed to maintain its ultra-easy policy stance longer than Fed officials themselves currently expect, Mr. Bullard said. When it comes to these expectations, “I would prefer that those be better aligned than they are.”


  30. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. October 2014 at 07:19

    TravisV, Thanks, I did a post over at Econlog.

  31. Gravatar of Shellington Shellington
    15. October 2014 at 15:54

    Hi Scott,

    Part of New Hampshire’s lower employment may be in part due to the comparatively large effect of Dartmouth College has on employment on the state. As the state’s largest employer, the College has a known tendency to pay much higher wages than surrounding employers due to its large endowment. It’s no coincidence that the county with the lowest employment, Grafton, is home to Dartmouth.

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