11

A Bloomberg article by the economist Tyler Cowen attributes the following claims to Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism by Nima Sanandaji:

Danish-Americans have a measured living standard about 55 percent higher than the Danes in Denmark. Swedish-Americans have a living standard 53 percent higher than the Swedes, and Finnish-Americans have a living standard 59 percent higher than those back in Finland.

Are these statistics accurate?

  • We can't address a whole book in an answer. Also, please try to be neutral in your wording. You might not agree with the claim, which is perfectly fine, but coloring the question induces bias. Our questions need to be useful also for the next person coming through a search engine. – Sklivvz Aug 22 '16 at 12:44
  • 3
    I changed the link to go to the original article. This cites sources and explains then reasons why you might not want to rush to conclusions from the data. – DJClayworth Aug 22 '16 at 16:49
  • 17
    You'd expect this of any pair of first-world countries, because migration between first-world countries tends to be done by (and often, limited by law to) wealthier, higher educated people. In fact the article addresses this: "laborers were underrepresented [among Danes travelling to the US] and artisans and craftsmen were overrepresented by a factor of two. It is perhaps no wonder that the ethnic Danes in the U.S. are relatively high earners, because they are the results of a process of positive selection". You'd expect Americans in Scandinavia to be better off than average Americans, too – user56reinstatemonica8 Aug 23 '16 at 11:12
6

It is very hard to do a comparison when priorities are this different. One of the central questions boils down to: How do you actually measure living standard?

Given that living standard is usually at least partially measured as a function of disposable income it becomes a bit problematic of a measure. The original article notes that there is a bias towards higher earners in the data set:

or one thing, Nordic immigrants to the United States probably came from the better trained, more literate and more ambitious segments of the population

and later

It is perhaps no wonder that the ethnic Danes in the U.S. are relatively high earners, because they are the results of a process of positive selection.

It is thus not very surprising that USA comes ahead as the data is biased. Especially since the median disposable income of after purchasing parity 30,616 in USA versus 27,304 in Denmark according to wikipedia compiled list. While this list is not entirely accurate it is already in favor of USA by about 10 percent. Since we can conclude that the migrants probably are higher earners its more likely that the difference is even bigger than median in a group that is biased to higher pay.

Second point is also noted by the article itself Denmark is a small country which leads to less wealth inequality:

Furthermore, larger countries tend to have higher levels of income inequality than do smaller countries

On top of this Nordic countries rank low in income inequality due to generic policy that actively strives for keeping the disparity low.

So in the end if you have a system that gains certain benefits from equalizing peoples income and somewhat aggressive progressive taxation. Then it is highly likely that the life earnings of your person is lower. On the other hand these priorities give a lot of intangible benefits that are hard to measure and the numbers are hardly fair, a person with lower income may be better of when other factors are considered. But this is hard to prove and in any case easy to hand wave the data as inaccurate in face of hard numeric evidence of simple measurements.

I personally expect USA to beat all Nordic countries with any easily measured index simply because USA is richer. Because I am from Finland I hardly think Nordic countries are a utopia, I can see flaws daily. But the point of the argument is that USA could probably be much better of with a bit softer social policy which the numbers do not measure very well. However this said moving from a low social cohesion to a higher one seems to be challenging, but if any country can reinvent itself in this way USA has the possibility to do so.

PS: I am aware that my citations are weak and i should dig a bit deeper into the subject so take this with a grain of salt if you may.

  • 3
    "Nordic immigrants to the United States probably came from the better trained, more literate and more ambitious segments of the population" That would count more if they weren't also dead (for the most part). The typical emigrant arrived in the US between 1850 and 1930 and would be at least eighty-six now. The cited statistics don't compare emigrants to current citizens. They compare the living descendants of emigrants to current citizens. – Brythan Aug 26 '16 at 15:09
  • Good point @Brythan Money tends to pay for the next generations education. So higher educated parents are most likely to have better educated children. In either case Most of the social policies of nordic countries also did not come to play untill after that. But yes the article says this is part of the bias. – joojaa Aug 26 '16 at 15:12
  • "Especially since the median disposable income of after purchasing parity 30,616 in USA versus 27,304 in Denmark according to wikipedia compiled list." I'm not sure that you understand what the claim is. Bernie Sanders (and others) claim that Sweden, Norway, and Denmark currently have higher living standards than the USA. The claimed statistics in this question are counters to that. This is an example of another counter (specific to Denmark), although they would point out that the USA uses disposable income to pay for things that are provided by the government in Denmark. – Brythan Aug 26 '16 at 15:16
  • "On the other hand these priorities give a lot of intangible benefits that are hard to measure and the numbers are hardly fair, a person with lower income may be better of when other factors are considered." And the specific statistic that you picked reduces that measurement, as it subtracts out spending on government (taxes). But you provide no evidence that the original source used the same statistic you did. So it is a bit disingenuous to use that statistic without recalculating their statistic using that statistic. Since that statistic favors the USA more than similar statistics. – Brythan Aug 26 '16 at 15:23
  • @Brythan My point is that since living standard is such a diffuse concept you can claim what you want. Since its up to the person compiling the data to decide how much weight they put intangible functions. So you can always say that the standard is wherever you want. Yes i should really look up the sources of the statistics but they were not very well resented. – joojaa Aug 26 '16 at 15:24
0

Yes, if you measure "living standards" in monetary terms only.

However, this is a faulty comparison. You are slicing out a segment of the US population characterized by long-term advantages, and comparing it to the entire spectrum of another countrys population.

American-Scandinavians are 99% people descended from 19th century emigration.

They don’t include a lot of Black, Latino, Asian, or Native Americans, nor if we go back a bit do they include members of other groups that were previously given the stink-eye, such as Irish or Italians. So when you use “Scandinavian-Americans” as a comparison group, this is a group of the American population where every member has enough family stability to follow their families back for 100 + years, and whose families have been part of the top ethnic demographic for that time.

I do not know of any Scandinavian nations that keep track of groups by criteria such as ability to track their family back in the country, or long-term presence in an advantage ethnic group. The nearest would probably be the Swedish and Danish aristocracy.

You can look at comparisons across the entire country for some definitions of "standard of living" at the Human Development Index or Legatums Prosperity Index.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • You need to answer based on evidence: "If you were to compare..." probably should be "Here's a comparison of... and these are the results". – Sklivvz Aug 29 '16 at 14:39
  • Perhaps I misunderstood? Answering the question "is this comparison accuracte" with "the numbers are correct but the comparison selection is heavily skewed to advantage one group" seems accurate to me. As far as I know, Scandinavians do not see much use in tracking a group on the basis of how far back they can follow their ancestry, so an apples to apples comparison would seem hard to obtain, unless someone wants to do a paper on it. – Adam Irae Aug 30 '16 at 9:16
  • Answers on this site are expected to be wholly based on evidence from reputable sources. As it stands, your answer reads like an intelligent, yet completely subjective answer to the question. This is the reason people are down voting it, why it has the yellow banner and why it will be removed if not fixed. HTH. – Sklivvz Aug 30 '16 at 9:21
  • So if I understand you right, I should not point out that the original comparison referred to in the question is a faulty comparison, since there does not at the moment exist any non-faulty comparisons to refer to? Simply say that the numbers are correct? To me, this appears to be perpetuating an incorrect conclusion. – Adam Irae Aug 30 '16 at 10:46
  • You make a lot of assertions (for example "Yes, if you measure...", "a segment of US population characterized by...", "American-Scandinavians are 99% people descended...", "this is a group of the American population where every member has...", etcetera). All of these need to be supported by evidence. Can you provide evidence that if you measure 'living standards' such-and-such the answer is yes? Can you provide evidence that the segment of the population is biased? And so on. Investigate the facts and report them, this site is not the place to give your personal opinion. – Sklivvz Aug 30 '16 at 13:38

You must log in to answer this question.

protected by Sklivvz Aug 29 '16 at 14:39

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .