Military and economic might once again fail to produce happiness


By Lawrence S. Wittner

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Although the leaders of the world’s major military and economic powers have repeatedly claimed that they are restoring greatness to their nations, their policies have not resulted in widespread public happiness among their citizens.

This conclusion emerges from the recent World Happiness Report-2022, published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Based on Gallup World Polls conducted from 2019 to 2021, this in-depth study provides eye-opening insight into how around 150,000 respondents in 146 countries rated their own happiness. The study’s findings underscore the limited levels of happiness in the world’s major military-economic powers.

There is little doubt which nations fall into this category. In 2020 (the last year for which precise figures are available), the world’s biggest military spenders were the United States (#1), China (#2), India (#3) and Russia (#4). Together, they accounted for nearly 59% of global military spending and the large majority nuclear weapons in the world.

When nations are ranked by total wealth, a similar pattern appears: United States (#1), China (#2), India (#7), Russia (#13). Despite their ostensibly different business models, they all claim a significant share of world’s billionairesand again their ranking is quite similar: United States (#1), China (#2), India (#3) and Russia (#5).

And what has this enormous array of military and economic power produced for their citizens? Well, it turns out that’s not much happiness. The most positive thing that can be said about this is that the United States is currently ranking a bit discouraging 16and on this point. China ranks 72ndn/a. Russia ranks 80thand. And India is 136and. Moreover, in the decade since the start of the annual World Happiness Surveys, in 2012none of these great powers has ever been among the 10 happiest nations.

In 2022, the 10 happiest countries were: Finland (#1), Denmark (#2), Iceland (#3), Switzerland (#4), the Netherlands (#5), Luxembourg (#6), Sweden (#7), Norway (#8), Israel (#9) and New Zealand (#10).

It’s deceptively easy to conclude that the explanation for this high level of happiness lies in the fact that these 10 are all fairly comfortable and economically advanced nations. Even so, there is no significant correlation between a nation’s happiness rank and its per capita income. Indeed, seven of the nations (Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Sweden, Israel and New Zealand) did not rank among the top 12 nations at all in terms of per capita income in 2021. Finland, ranked #1 for happiness for the fifth consecutive year, ranked 25th for income per capita. New Zealand, ranked No. 10 for happiness, ranked No. 31 for income per capita. Conversely, Singapore, which ranks 3rd in income per capita, ranks 27th in happiness, while the United Arab Emirates, which ranks 6th in income per capita, ranks 27th in happiness. 24th rank for happiness. Factors other than top incomes clearly played a role in producing the happiest nations.

One of these factors seems to be the provision of substantial public services. A striking feature of the nations of the world is that the five Nordic countries rank among the 10 happiest. What these five countries have in common is social democratic policies that counteract income inequality and significantly reduce poverty by providing free or low-cost health care, dental care, housing, education and childcare, as well as plentiful pensions and a range of benefits. Other Benefits of the “Welfare State”. In addition, the other five happiest countries also maintain important social protection systems.

The happiest nations are also distinguished by their relatively egalitarian character distribution of wealth. Each of the 10 happiest nations, with the exception of Israel, has greater wealth equality than the four major military-economic powers. And even that country’s distribution of wealth is considerably more equal than that of the United States and only slightly more unequal than that of China.

Another contrast appears when it comes to military spending. Given the enormous gross domestic product (GDP) of the four largest military-economic powers, adequate “defense” of their nations should be less of an economic burden for them than it would be for the economies of these 10 countries. much smaller and less wealthy. nations. But, in fact, the reverse is true in eight of the happiest nations, which have devoted a smaller percentage of their GDP to military expenditure in 2020 (the latest year for which precise figures are available) than all but one of the four major military-economic powers. Sweden, for example, spent only 1.22%, Denmark 1.44% and Finland 1.53% of their low GDP on their armed forces, while India spent 2.88%, the United States 3.74% and Russia 4.26% of their much larger GDP to finance their military might.

Certainly, poverty and national insecurity seem to play an important role in reducing human happiness. Lowest ranked nations World Happiness Report-2022 are very poor nations, or nations experiencing violence, or both, such as the Palestinian territories (#122), Myanmar (#126), Yemen (#132) and Afghanistan (#146).

Even so, as studies of global happiness indicate, great military and economic power only gets nations so far. Ultimately, a high level of happiness requires social solidarity.

Dr. Lawrence Wittnersyndicated by voice of peaceis professor emeritus of history at SUNY/Albany and author of Confront the Bomb (Stanford University Press).


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