Thursday, November 24, 2011

Progressive Economics: The Case of Northern Europe

Economist Jeffrey Sachs attacks the idea that we should cut government spending:

The upshot is that both parties champion the 1 percent, the Republicans gleefully and the Democrats sheepishly. Both parties have worked together to gut the tax code. Companies use accounting tricks approved by the IRS to shift their profits to foreign tax havens. Hedge-fund managers and recipients of long-term capital gains pay only 15 percent top tax rates. As a result of these irresponsible tax policies and rampant tax evasion, tax collections as a share of national income have sunk to 15 percent, the lowest in modern American history.


The lowest macroeconomic misery is in Northern Europe. Norway has the lowest score, followed by Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and Demark. All seven countries have lower unemployment rates, smaller budget deficits as a share of GDP, and lower foreign deficits as a share of GDP, than the U.S. We look pretty miserable indeed by comparison.

Yet, miracle of miracles, these seven countries collect higher taxes as a share of GDP than does the U.S. Total government revenues in the U.S. (adding federal, state, and local taxes) totaled 31.6 percent of GDP in 2010. This compares with 56.5, 34.2, 39.5, 45.9, 52.7, 43.4, and 55.3 percent of GDP in Norway, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark, respectively. ...

... In five of the seven countries, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Netherlands, and Sweden, government spending as a share of GDP is much higher than in the U.S. These countries enjoy much better public services, better educational outcomes, more gainful employment, higher trade balances, lower poverty, and smaller budget deficits. High-quality government services reach all parts of the society. 

I currently think it is absolutely essential that the US cut spending, so Sachs's data is very interesting. I've noticed several progressive writers using northern European countries as an example to show that conservatives are wrong about economics, so this is something that must be addressed. If it can't be, then conservatives need to rethink their economics. (And, of course, so do I.)

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