Comparison is the root of envy, as the saying goes. This is often because the comparison is not a very good one. For instance:
Amsterdam has/Sweden has/in Canada they/if only we were like (insert country here).
It’s like comparing yourself to strangers on the internet. You are different people with different genetic codes, environments, capabilities, interests, education opportunities and levels of self-confidence. Want her makeup? Chances are it won’t be as good on your face. Want his abs? You have no idea what he has to do to get them (but it probably means a lot of discipline and denial).
It is very similar for countries. They all have different cultural development histories, population characteristics, war scars, religious dominance, values, resources and land areas. Our base error in comparisons, then, are that we are not comparing similar things.
When we look at Sweden’s health care and mourn our comparatively poor offerings in the US, we are ignoring that they have previously had very low in-migration rates, that their country is ethnically homogenous and that their tax rates are higher and more progressive than those here in the States. They also have a colder climate and are either cloaked in darkness or washed in sunlight, depending on the season. Sweden still has a monarchy and their elected representation (back to the ethnically homogeneity) deals with urban/rural and geographic and employment differences more than it does values and cultural differences.
Why is Sweden’s health care better relative to ours? It really doesn’t matter, because a comparison can’t be realistically made.
If we zoom in from a country-level view to a city-level view, we tend to make similar (unreasonable) comparisons. If Amsterdam can have so many bicycles, why can’t we make more people ride bicycles in Austin, Texas? It’s a comparison that ignores differences in climate, building density, age of buildings, relative cost of vehicular transportation, social structures, transportation networks and tolerance for sweat. It ignores the complex histories of racial zoning and ethnic enclaves. It ignores canal systems, street widths and vehicle sizes. Is there a study that shows how many residents of Amsterdam cycle when in US cities? Those numbers would be helpful.
Why do so many more people bike around Amsterdam compared to Austin? It really matter, because a comparison can’t be realistically made, and somehow bike advocates don’t understand the deterrence of high temps and the length of a Texas summer.
We could be asking instead, “What policies would improve our health care based on our situation?” and, “Do we want more people to bike in Austin, and if we do, how do we facilitate that choice?”