How Did Sweden Get its Welfare System?

If you believe that governments should look after their people, you’ll love Sweden. Sweden’s welfare system—the benefits the state gives to its citizens—may be the best in the world. Swedes live longer than people from almost every other country and they are happier, too. Part of the reason is their solid social safety net. How did Sweden get it?

Why is Tibet Not Free?

Tibet is not a country. It is a province of China. And that is deeply frustrating for Tibetans who believe they should be independent. This anger explains the bursts of violence that affect the region. More than a hundred people have burned themselves to death in the past ten years. So why is Tibet not free?

Why is Iraq So Unstable?

If you’re in search of bad news, you can rely on Iraq. Terrorists, internal conflict, poor government, lethal explosions—these are the all too familiar headlines. Iraq’s recent past is sad. Much of its distant past is sad, too. Why? What did Iraq do to deserve all this pain? Very little. Most of Iraq’s troubles have been caused by outsiders. But our story starts in the days when Iraq was powerful and majestic.

Why Doesn't the US Have Universal Health Care?

What does the United States have in common with Peru, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan? Answer: none of them have a universal health care system. The US is the only country in the developed world that does not provide health care to all of its citizens. The rest of the world thinks it’s strange and even heartless that the richest country on earth doesn’t seem to be able to look after its own people. That judgment may be harsh, as we’ll see. But the health care set-up in the US is certainly unusual. Why?

Can Communism Work?

In 1991, this question seemed like an easy one to answer. The Soviet Union had just come to an end, the other Communist states in Eastern Europe were no more. Since then, the remarkable growth of China has made the question more complicated. In 1991, the average person in China lived on US $360 a year. Now, the figure is US $8,500. When America’s capitalist economy dived into recession in 2008 and China’s didn’t, Chinese officials were quick to argue that their system was superior. So can Communism work?

Why Do Famines Occur in Africa?

Go into a school and ask children to draw a picture of a famine victim, and the colour of crayons they'll grab is easy to predict. The stereotype of a person suffering from famine is African. And it’s accurate. In the 1800’s famines took place on every continent. In the past 40 years, by contrast, all famines except one have been in Africa. Why? There are several possible explanations. I’ll give you the best four.

Why is North Korea So Dangerous?

North Korea doesn’t have an immigration problem. No one is lining up to move to a country known for its aggressiveness and shockingly low standards of living. For decades, it has threatened South Korea and Japan with missile strikes and it now has the ability to do the same to the USA. Why is North Korea so belligerent? Why would such a small country threaten the United States? Is Kim Jong-un really that bad? Or mad? Or is there something else going on?

Why Are the Streets So Wide in Paris?

Paris used to be known for its narrow, grimy streets. Cramped conditions and filthy water encouraged the spread of cholera and typhus. This was the Paris where Les Misérables of Victor Hugo’s imagination lived. Hugo set his story in 1832. By the time Hugo died in 1885, Paris was being called the most beautiful city in the world. What happened? How did Paris change so fast? And what was the point of all those new, wide streets?

Why is Singapore So Rich?

If you live somewhere that’s relatively wealthy and successful, following world news can be uncomfortable. As you see countries sunk in poverty, war, or injustice you may wonder why the world is so unfair. And you probably also ask whether there’s a solution—whether there’s a way for other countries to flourish. On the surface, Singapore seems like it offers hope. In the early 1960’s, it was poorer than Mexico. 25 years later, it was three times as rich. How did it do it? And should other countries copy Singapore?