Why are Canadians doing so much better than Americans?


Canadians are quickly moving farther ahead than Americans in important social, economic and political measurement. [Photo of Canada Day 2014 in Calgary, taken by Thanks for Visiting, Creative Commons]

The latest results are in and it’s not looking good for Americans as compared to their neighbors to the north. An article in Canada’s national news magazine, Maclean’s, lists a few of the ways that Canada has moved ahead of the United States in important economic, social, and political measurements.

For instance, Canadians live an average of 2.5 years longer than Americans. They are six times less likely to find themselves behind bars. They are the 6th happiest people in the world, while Americans are in unlucky 13th place. Almost 60% of Canadians have a college degree while in the United States it’s only 46%.

The libertarian Cato Institute ranks Canadians as the sixth freest people in the world, while the US can be found in 23rd place. The conservative Heritage Foundation puts Canada ten places higher than the US for economic freedom. Home ownership is 5% higher in Canada and Canadians earn more money per capita than Americans. Yet, Canadians also work 80 fewer hours per year than their American cousins and take an extra three days of vacation.

One of the stats that matters the most in a free society is press freedom. Reporters without Borders ranks Canada 18th, which is not what it should be, but the US limps in at 41st. (Yes, 41st.)

Oh, did I also mention that Canadians also have universal healthcare?

But why? Why has this happened? What differences have created this startling result between these two neighbors?

Let’s start with size. There are about 320 million people in the US, and only about 1/10 of that in Canada, despite the fact that Canada is a larger country. Finding the right mixture of economic and political policies for that many people is much more difficult. There is a reason that countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland rank so high in many measurements of a successful society. Countries with smaller populations are just easier to govern in most cases.

Military spending is also another very important factor. The United States spends more than Canada on the military by a gagillion dollars. Money that could be used to alleviate poverty, create the best healthcare system in the world, provide a college education to every American, is spent instead on weapons to keep the US at the top of the superpower food chain. Meanwhile, Canada’s spending on any military necessity is anemic, largely because Canadians count on the US to protect them in times of trouble.

Yet the most important differences are cultural and political. If America had a motto, it would be “every tub on its own stand.” (Which is actually Harvard’s unofficial motto.) There are many pluses to this view of the world. Individual Americans deal with failure better than any nationality in the world, and are quick to pick themselves up off the mat and make a new start. On the other hand, however, many Americans have a hard time caring about other people in the world, let alone other Americans. And the fractured US system of government, that is so local in so many places (and in such a large country), provides benefits but it makes it very difficult to install any national programs that would help all its citizens.

Canada is a nation largely created by its geography. Living in a much harsher climate, the importance of working together just to survive was important in early Canada. It’s an attitude that has remained regardless of the fact that most Canadians no longer live in danger of the elements. And the Canadian system of parliamentary government, while it certainly has its problems, does make it easier to create those much needed national programs.

There are other factors of course, but those listed above may be among the most important. Canada is far from perfect (it’s record on its treatment of its indigenous peoples is abysmal) but appears to be on the rise. As the United States moves into four years of Donald Trump as its president, it’s very likely it will continue to drop in all of the categories mentioned above.

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