Robert Reich: Canada is leaving American capitalism behind

Yes, the American economy continues to grow faster. But faster growth hasn’t translated into higher living standards.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org

For years Americans have assumed that our hard-charging capitalism is better than the soft-hearted version found in Canada and Europe. American capitalism might be a bit more cruel but it generates faster growth and higher living standards overall. Canada’s and Europe’s “welfare-state socialism” is doomed.

It was a questionable assumption to begin with, relying to some extent on our collective amnesia about the first three decades after the Second World War, when tax rates on top incomes in the U.S. never fell below 70 per cent, a larger portion of our economy was invested in education than before or since, over a third of our private sector workers were unionized, we came up with Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor, and built the biggest infrastructure project in history, known as the interstate highway system.

But then came America’s big U-turn, when we deregulated, de-unionized, lowered taxes on the top, ended welfare, and stopped investing as much of the economy in education and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Canada and Europe continued on as before. Soviet communism went bust, and many of us assumed European and Canadian “socialism” would as well.

That’s why recent data from the Luxembourg Income Study Database  is so shocking.

The fact is, we’re falling behind. While median per capita income in the United States has stagnated since 2000, it’s up significantly in Canada and northern Europe. Their typical worker’s income is now higher than ours, and their disposable income—after taxes—higher still.

It’s difficult to make exact comparisons of income across national borders because real purchasing power is hard to measure. But even if we assume Canadians and the citizens of several European nations have simply drawn even with the American middle class, they’re doing better in many other ways.

Most of them get free health care and subsidized child care. And if they lose their jobs, they get far more generous unemployment benefits than we do. (In fact, right now 75 per cent of jobless Americans lack any unemployment benefits.)

If you think we make up for it by working less and getting paid more on an hourly basis, think again. There, at least three weeks paid vacation is the norm, along with paid sick leave, and paid parental leave.

We’re working an average of 4.6 per cent more hours more than the typical Canadian worker, 21 per cent more than the typical French worker, and a whopping 28 per cent more than your typical German worker, according to data compiled by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

But at least Americans are more satisfied, aren’t we? Not really. According to opinion surveys and interviews, Canadians and northern Europeans are.

They also live longer, their rate of infant mortality is lower, and women in these countries are far less likely to die as result of complications in pregnancy or childbirth.

But at least we’re the land of more equal opportunity, right? Wrong. Their poor kids have a better chance of getting ahead. While 42 per cent of American kids born into poor families remain poor through their adult lives, only 30 per cent of Britain’s poor kids remain impoverished—and even smaller percentages in other rich countries.

Yes, the American economy continues to grow faster than the economies of Canada and Europe. But faster growth hasn’t translated into higher living standards for most Americans.

Almost all our economic gains have been going to the top—into corporate profits and the stock market (more than a third of whose value is owned by the richest one per cent)—and into executive pay (European CEOs take home far less than their American counterparts).

America’s rich also pay much lower taxes than do the rich in Canada and Europe.

But surely Europe can’t go on like this. You hear it all the time: They can no longer afford their welfare state.

That depends on what’s meant by “welfare state.” If high-quality education is included, we’d do well to emulate them. Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 rank near the bottom among rich countries in literacy and numeracy. That spells trouble for the U.S. economy in the future.

They’re also doing more workforce training, and doing it better, than we are. The result is more skilled workers.

Universal health care is another part of their “welfare state” that saves them money because healthier workers are more productive.

So let’s put ideology aside. The practical choice isn’t between capitalism and “welfare-state socialism.” It’s between a system that’s working for a few at the top, or one that’s working for just about everyone. Which would you prefer?

 

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Bill Clinton administration. Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 13 books, including the bestsellers Aftershock and The Work of Nations. His latest, Beyond Outrage, is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of  American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, Inequality for All, is now available on Netflix, iTunes, DVD and On Demand.

 




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Robert Reich: Canada is leaving American capitalism behind

  1. From Canada:
    IMO, the average American doesn’t know squat about the difference between socialism and communism. I have two second cousins born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. During a visit a few years ago, we got into a discussion about health care. When I brought up the topic of universal health care in Canada, they blew me off with the statement, “Ah that’s just a bunch of Communist BS. I was absolutely astounded, because Canada is the oldest democracy in the world. Of course, what they really meant to say was “socialism” instead. But in their world, socialism and communism was the same thing. I really don’t understand why the average American believes socialism is evil and capitalism is good. Sounds like they’re brainwashed at an early age by both parents and the education system.

  2. …yes, America had started to leave it’s “Capitalism” a long time ago, with “Reaganomics”-all for the sake of a few at the top.
    But remeber too, that America spends more (as in $Trillions), on their gigantic “military” infrastructure, than (probably), any other countries combined ! -so there’s where their money is gone.

    However, We, Canada, are not doing that good either. We desperately need to start “capping” the outrageous salaries for ALL of our own public-sector ceo’s,…, not to mention the insane salaries of our Canadian Bank CEO’s which has gone thru the roof. – ie. RBC Executives made $50 million last year.
    “Ontario Power Generation CEO Tom Mitchell is paid $1.7 million a year while homeowners pay some of the highest electricity rates in Canada”.
    Now mulitply that with our other 11 Provinces, and you can clearly see where this is wasted.
    Therefore, Canada is also very much afflicted with these (over-privelaged) “1%” fatcats here too.

    So as you can see, our CONS, as of late, have also done some slow, creeping, and deliberate damage with Harper’s own version of “deregulated, de-unionized, lowered taxes on the top, and stopped investing as much of the economy in education and infrastructure.”

  3. Capitalism died in 1989, same time as socialism and communism.

  4. The American system has transcended from capitalism into oligopoly. Until they make extreme changes in how their elected representatives are chosen all bets are off.

  5. I wouldn’t be too quick to praise Canada and Europe. Canada’s growth is resource based which has seen many an ugly down-turn and Europe? Hasn’t there been a little issue of Europe’s financial house, of countries defaulting on debts.

    • No, we are not resource-based.

      3/4 of the work force is in the service industry.

  6. That is because Canada is more capitalist than the US is now.

    (sigh)

  7. Implying socialism and capitalistic oligopolies are the only two valid choices…

    A free market with a social welfare net is preferable to both. And no, capitalism ≠ free market and a social welfare net (free healthcare, OAP) ≠ socialism.

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