Jared Bernstein makes an important point today: Several Nordic countries have made great strides in ending poverty, but it’s not because they have some kind of magic bullet. It’s because they give poor people more money and more services.
The chart on the right shows raw poverty levels in blue. The Nordic countries are basically about the same as the United States. There’s no Scandinavian miracle that provides high-paying jobs for everyone. However, once you account for government benefits, the poverty rate in the Nordic countries is about half the rate in America. Universal health care accounts for some of this, and other benefits account for the rest. Some are means-tested, others are universal. There’s no single answer. The only thing these countries have in common is a simple commitment to taking poverty seriously and doing something about it. Bernstein approves:
In the age of inequality, such anti-poverty policies are more important than ever, as higher inequality creates both more poverty along with steeper barriers to getting ahead, whether through the lack of early education, nutrition, adequate housing, and a host of other poverty-related conditions that dampen ones chances in life.
This situation is only going to get worse as automation improves. Still, we’re plenty rich enough to address it if we want to. There’s nothing stopping us except our own will to do it.