Thursday, January 08, 2015

Exceptionalism Imperative

My lineage as an American goes back 376 years.  By 1840, all but two lines had perpetually been frontiersmen and would continue to forge new settlements for another hundred years, long after the Census declared the frontier closed.

This gives me a different understanding of American “exceptionalism” than many today.  All of my ancestors came to this country in search of religious freedom as Remonstrates, Huguenots, Quakers, Amish, Palatines and Mormons to name a few.

But while forging a new land, they continued to reach back to their homelands and import “best practices.”

Many who wrap themselves in “exceptionalism” today may not have the benefit of that perspective for they seem to have given up on learning from other countries.

A few of my ancestors were Scandinavian including the linage of those who rode with William the Conqueror nearly a thousand years ago to establish what we know as Great Britain.

While throttling American progress over the last three decades or more with anti-tax, antigovernment rhetoric, today’s “exceptionalist wannabees” have ridiculed Scandinavia countries as tax and spend welfare states.

But they have ignored that Scandinavian countries also have some of the strongest economic outcomes in the world.

This country’s founders made it imperative to study and glean everything they could from the powers of that day.  Maybe that is the part we have neglected.

A new study by Dr. Henrik Kleven, a researchers and economist at the London School of Economics, who has also studied at Columbia and UC-Berkeley, unwraps some things we can learn from Scandinavian countries.

Apparently, the data shows that three factors are more important than the level of taxation:

  1. Broadening the tax base.
  2. Limiting legal tax avoidance (e.g. loopholes.)
  3. Public spending focused on complements to work.

Complements to work include using tax revenue to fund universal child care, preschool and elder care etc.

A key finding in the study is that Scandinavians have a different view of poor people than most Americans.  In surveys, only 10-15% of Scandinavians view poor people as lazy compared to 60% of Americans.

The study also notes that “large tax collections go hand in hand with a number of measures of social cohesiveness like civic participation, voter turnout, trust, low crime and so on.”

As for something Americans have been arguing about since our nation’s founding, the study finds that there is a small amount of “tax-charity crowdout,” or the reduction of philanthropy when taxes go up.

But studies show no negative relationship between coercive taxation and voluntary donations, nor does it indicate that Scandinavians are less involved in charity than populations facing smaller tax takes.

There is much to learn from this study but unfortunately belief systems are rarely based on facts.

No comments: