Thursday, August 5, 2021

Europe envy

This is Joseph

One thing that I always find intriguing is how much people seem to point to European countries as examples of better places to live as compared to North America. The envy of Scandinavia is long standing and people from the UK are seen as being classy but recently there seems to a new target: Hungary

As a person who has traveled to Europe a fair bit, I always find this attitude a bit odd. Now, this is not to say that I do not have interest in stealing good ideas from other places (wearing masks for people with active respiratory illness as a matter of social politeness is an idea I would love to steal from Japan). 

That said, there are always two points to keep in mind.

One, it depends a lot on who you are as to whether a specific system is better for you. If you are an immigrant you are better off seeking to live in Canada than Hungary, at least on average, in terms of acceptance. If you have no money and health issues, then maybe you want to live in a place like Canada or the UK which have decent free health care. But if you are sick and have money then I want to be in France -- even libertarians agree

Two, is that it depends a lot on social class. People who have the resources to visit Europe and who are able to move around the globe are likely upper middle class. I think it is obvious that the best place to be upper middle class, assuming you stay upper middle class, is probably the United States. Even the arguments about the poor climate seem to presume that people have yet to visit California.  

That said, I take Matt's point that which European country that people envy is a great way to get a sense of what is or is not valued. Not a universal point, preferences can be eccentric. But I always figured that the UK class system is what people in Canada envied -- liking the idea of social hierarchy that is a lot less present in Canada, despite the overall great standard of living in Canada. I would find envy of Russia concerning unless it was envy of something that was a very specific value (e.g., winter sports or cuisine). 

In any case, it has been fun to watch the defenses of Hungary, There are some really nice features about Hungary but I am still pretty convinced the best place in the world to be middle class is still the United States. Certainly, the pattern of immigration suggests the same. 


  1. As a Hungarian American, watching the rise of Orban was sad. Watching the lionization of his regime on the right is surreal.

    I think you're on the right track with selective envy. I would assert Hungary's earned envy for it's roster of 20th century physicists and mathematicians (only one of whom was Edward Teller, thank god) and an extremely overlooked legacy of desserts.

    Anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic authoritarians: not be on the list.

    1. George PĆ³lya remains one of my major influences.