A better way is possible.

We spend more than $110 billion fighting wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but are plagued with a poverty rate of more than 17 percent. At 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, the U.S. had the highest infant mortality rate among the high-income nations in 2006. We buy millions of $3.50 lattes, but leave more than 25 million of our children homeless.

America has violated the social contract with its own citizens as is allows big business and wealthy individuals to take much more than their share and then look the other way as the U.S. has become the most unequal society (in terms of distribution of wealth) among all wealthy countries – less equal than even Turkey, Mexico and Chile.

Joshua Holland, an editor and senior writer at AlterNet, recently documented “9 Countries That Do It Better: Why Does Europe Take Better Care of Its People Than America?” Below I’ve quoted extensively from Holland’s excellent research and outstanding article.

Health Care: France does it better

“In 2008, the U.S. spent 16 percent of its economic output on health-care and covered 85 percent of its citizens. It was the only OECD country other than Mexico and Turkey to cover less than 90 percent of its people. We have the 37th longest average life expectancy…France, which has a health-care system ranked number one in the world by the WHO, spent 11.2 percent of its economy to cover everyone.”

Poverty: It’s better to live in Denmark

“The OECD uses a different standard of poverty than does the U.S. government. It counts anyone making less than half of the median income as living in poverty. By that standard, we are plagued with a poverty rate of more than 17 percent, higher than all the OECD countries other than Mexico, Israel and Chile. (The average among OECD countries in general is 11.1 percent.) Denmark, at 5.4 percent, has the lowest poverty rate among the European-style countries.”

Child Poverty: Again, Denmark leads the way

“One of the most tragic comparisons for America, among the richest countries in the world, is that more than one in five children live in poverty, as measured by the OECD. The OECD average is under 13 percent, and Denmark again comes in last, with childhood poverty at around 4 percent (Following it are Finland, Norway, Austria and Sweden.)”

The Gender Gap: Italy is the better place to be

“Italy has the second highest union rate outside of Scandinavia, and also boasts the smallest gender gap. A female worker in the middle of the pack makes just 1.3 percent less than her male counterpart in Italy. Compare that with American women, who earn more than 20 percent less than American men. (The OECD average is 16 percent).”

Taking Care of the Young

“The U.S. is also the only advanced country that doesn’t offer paid maternity and/or paternity leave. Sweden offers the longest paid leave at 16 months. Denmark allows the parents to divide a year off, with full pay.” Furthermore, at 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, the U.S. had the highest infant mortality rate among the high-income nations in 2006. Iceland, with 1.4 deaths/ 1,000 live births, had the lowest.

Taking Care of the Elderly

“We work our elderly a lot harder than most European countries do. Among those aged 55-64, more than 60 percent of Americans work, compared with just 35.3 percent in Belgium.” We also give back less: the US Social Security system replaces 42 percent of the median salary while Iceland replaces 109 percent of the earnings. The OECD average is 60 percent.

Taxing Corporations Versus Individuals: Luxembourg

“The U.S. government collects less in taxes than the other rich countries, on average, but that doesn’t tell us who pays what…The U.S. is tied for the OECD country that collects the lowest share of the economy in corporate taxes, at 1.8 percent of GDP (in 2008), or about half the group’s average.” Where does the burden fall? On individuals and households. Americans pay more in personal income taxes than the OECD average as a result – 9.9 percent, while the OECD as a whole pays 9 percent.

The myth of high European tax rates

“What about the “economy-killing” taxes under which those sad European socialists suffer? Well, in 2007 we paid 7.5 percent of our economic output less in taxes than the average of OECD countries, but citizens of the other wealthy countries got a lot more for their tax dollars than we did – free or very low-cost health care, college educations, better unemployment benefits, job training and the list goes on.”

What About the Debt?

“Perhaps these countries just ran up piles of debt in the course of taking better care of their people? That’s simply not the case; among the world’s wealthy democracies only six – Japan, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Belgium and Italy – had a higher ratio of debt to GDP than the United States last year. Denmark’s debt level was less than half of our own.”

Compelling data and stories. Let’s use this information as a jumping off point to do better by Americans.

Check out Joshua online at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate AmericaDrop him an email or follow him on Twitter.


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