John A. Tures: 'Failed' revolution? News to us

July 10, 2013 

A Canadian historian publishing in the Washington Post wrote the article "Why America would have been better off without its revolution." He contends that the American Revolution was a failure, but his own research leaves a lot to be desired.

The freelance writer Paul Pirie claims that "the easiest way of assessing whether the United States would have been better off without its revolution, is to look at those English-speaking countries that rejected the American Revolution and retained the monarchy."

For evidence, he uses the "life satisfaction" measure on the annual quality-of-life study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The United States is tied for "14th" in the measure, "behind Canada (eighth) and Australia (12th)." He also cites a study by a leading Harvard economist where America is tenth in the world for happiness, behind Australia and Canada.

Based upon this analysis, he concludes "In these senses, the American Revolution was a flop," just as the Russian Revolution was. "Perhaps it's time for Americans to accept that their revolution was a failure and renounce it," as the Russians have done.

I looked at the same OECD study. Australia received a score of 7.2 on the life satisfaction rate. Canada got a 7.4. The United States received a 7.0. Just because the U.S. is 0.2 or 0.4 behind the other two countries, or a few spots in an international ranking, we can't conclude the American Revolution was "a flop."

Pirie cites the ability of Canada, Australia and Britain to get things done, due to that monarchy we abandoned. Yet Britain is 18th in life satisfaction, with a score of 6.8, behind the United States. So should we have left the U.K.? Pirie should say yes, based on his own standards.

In the same OECD measure, a measure exists which claims "Happiness, or subjective well-being, is also measured by the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and/or the absence of negative experiences and feelings." They surveyed how many people in each country reported "having more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishments, enjoyment, etc.) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc.). It's all a key part of Pirie's "pursuit of happiness contention."

On that scale, the United Kingdom reported 85% having more positive than negative experiences. Australia had 84%. The United States has 83% reporting more positive than negative feelings, while Pirie's Canada finished with 82% on the same scale. In other words, there's not much difference among the four countries.

Clearly, since I am using the same dataset and same numbers as Mr. Pirie, he should have known this information, and divulged it to his readers.

What we really find is that America, Australia, Britain, and Canada are all doing pretty well in the world, near the top of the heap, with populations that are quite satisfied (France, by contrast ranks about a 6.6 and has a smaller percentage of the population that experiences more positive than negative things). But there's no evidence that the American Revolution was a "flop" as Mr. Pirie claims.

John A. Tures, associate professor of political science, LaGrange College; jtures@lagrange.edu.

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