Adaptive Learning: Summary and Opinion


Adaptive learning is a method of learning experience design which leverages technology and algorithms to deliver learning tailored to the individual’s unique needs. Some conditions are required to create such an experience:

Delivery technology: a learning management system (LMS) which tracks learner progress through the content

Modularised content: decomposed to “granular” learning objectives with matching assessments, enabling pinpointing of gaps in comprehension. A common example is pre-test to understand where to initially place the learner in the course.

Algorithms: predict which “probes” or problems the learner may be able to answer correctly and which are the next level of difficulty, guiding the learner to the next content. For example, vendors such as McGraw-Hill include attributes such as: response time, learner confidence in the answer, and accuracy in the calculations.

Adaptive learning includes some concepts of cognitive psychology:

  1. Deliberate practice: intentional focus on concepts the learner needs development in at the next level of skill
  2. Ebbinghaus “Forgetting Curve”: a theory of repetition, how concepts are encoded from short-term to long-term memory, and when is the best moment to influence this encoding
  3. Metacognition: the learner reflects on his or her own confidence in the concepts
  4. Gamification: introduction of fun and competition to stimulate engagement.

Potential impact on teaching and learning:

The benefits in an adult learning context:

  • Learners don’t waste time covering concepts they are already familiar with, which is more engaging for the learner and more efficient from a business perspective.
  • Learners get constant reinforcement and encouragement, building confidence.
  • Suitable for situations like “pre-boarding” in universities, where the instructor would like to ensure all students are at the same skill level before proceeding with the course content.

The potential drawbacks:

  • This subject reminds me of Skinner’s learning machines in the 1930’s and 40’s. Technology will never be a 100% substitute for a great teacher who facilitates a group of humans to interact with each other. A good helper to the instructor, yes. It’s important to remember that!
  • Adaptive learning as presented here requires significant  programming: of the learning objectives, “probes,” assessments, algorithms to make this approach work ideally.
  • The effort and investment required means it would work well for subjects in which the content is not changing constantly, such as subjects taught in K-12 or theoretical introductory courses. In a corporate scenario, I would imagine only compliance training or say, introductory leadership and management courses would justify such an investment.
  • Most organisations I have worked with say they want this type of approach, but when it comes down to committing resources, learning is not prioritised for investment.


Image Source:

Posner, Z. (2017, January 11). What is Adaptive Learning Anyway? Retrieved from

Capstone Assignment Presentation: Selecting and implementing a lifelong “Portable Transcript”


A screenshot of my Degreed digital transcript, which if you are a Degreed user, you can see here. Degreed is one of the platforms I would include in my learning about portable lifelong transcripts.

The presentation video is just a few seconds over eight minutes! I discuss more background about why I’m passionate about this subject, how I would organise the learning, illustrate the concept of functional requirements, and finally how we can measure whether learning has occurred.

To see the planning worksheet for this assignment, please visit the earlier post Signature Assignment Planning Worksheet.

I genuinely hope you find this concept as interesting as I do! I hope we get to actually build these things, I’m excited.

Sources for content in the presentation:

Handyman standing in front of home. (2017). Retrieved from
Holm, A. (2017). Black and white photo of an old fashioned office environment. Retrieved from
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. (n.d.). Interior designer at work. Retrieved from
Technologies, C. (2015). Instructional designer blended skills. Retrieved from
The World Economic Forum. (n.d.). Future of Jobs Report 2018. Future of Jobs Report 2018. Retrieved from

Signature Assignment Planning Worksheet

My signature assignment is on portable “lifelong” learning transcripts. These digital tools allow professionals to showcase their lifelong learning, both formal and informal, as they go through their careers.

Imagine you are employed at Company A for several years. Over that time you have been fortunate to get quite a bit of training, but your learning history is locked in their Learning Management System. Wouldn’t it be nice to keep track of all of that somewhere else, so when you go looking for a new role, you can tell Prospective Employer Company B what you have learned. Maybe at the same time you have been studying at night for an additional credential. The portable transcript allows you to keep it all in one place.

See my initial design for the learning course here.

Designing High-Quality Learning Objectives


For this week’s assignment, we were required to write high-quality goals and learning objectives for two given scenarios. I used techniques described in the readings from Shabatura (2018) and Smith (2012) to inform my assignment.

Inspired by Smith’s (2012) technique, I first thought about the “noun” of what I wanted to learners to acquire without getting stuck on selecting an action verb. Once this was done, I added an action verb. Finally I thought about how I could assess that learning had taken place, or what was the deliverable of the objective and built that into the objective whenever possible. As Shabatura (2018) recommends, I have included a number indicating the action verb’s Bloom’s Taxonomy Level and done my best to ensure the learning objectives are not at a higher level than the overall Goal for the learning

Scenario #1:

For the past ten years, KawKan has been using a lean manufacturing approach in the assembly of their motorcycles.  Over that decade, business has remained strong, but operational costs have continued to increase despite increased sales every year. Management has considered the idea it might be time to switch from the Lean process to a more robust continuous improvement model. Since the company is immersed in the practice of Lean manufacturing model, the management team is not familiar with the basic elements in the continuous improvement model. Management has asked you to prepare a presentation outlining the continuous improvement process and how implementing how it can improve the overall manufacturing output. The designated contacts for this project include the director of supply chain management and the director of continuous improvement for production.

Your role: Assume the role of an instructional designer developing an outline for a training resolution. How would you address the following to correctly identify the learning objectives for this project:

NOTE: I see this entire activity as more than a “presentation.” It would have to take the form of a change management workshop, potentially with some time allocated in the beginning for prework, and several activities designed to get participants to be honest with each other about what’s not working and moving toward the conviction that change is needed.

Goal description
(Bloom’s taxonomy level in parentheses)

In an atmosphere of trust, the management team determines (5) the potential impact of migrating to a continuous improvement manufacturing model. The team can evaluate (5) potential benefits and risks, visualise the future, and list required next steps.

 Learning objectives/outcomes

  • (1) List the factors which have led to increasing operational costs over the last five years.
  • (2) Discuss what it means for you as a professional when sales are rising but so are costs. (The “background” objective is to elicit any frustration at this situation—setting a good climate to consider whether change is necessary.)
  • (5) Predict what direction operational costs will take over the next five years if the ways of working do not change.
  • (2) Describe the fundamentals of the continuous improvement process.
  • (2) Contrast the benefits and drawbacks of the continuous improvement process versus the lean manufacturing model.
  • (2) Visualise how a typical day, month, and year would be like once we were fully working with the continuous improvement process.
  • (5) Evaluate whether this visualisation is realistic and the direction we want/need to go.
  • (6) Assuming we want to proceed, outline the parameters (initial design) of a pilot project to help us make data-driven decisions.
  • (1) Enumerate what resources we need to kick off a pilot project.

Potential Subject Matter Experts/Define their role in the project:

The supply chain director and continuous improvement director are potentially powerful change champions for this initiative. They need to be supportive for it to progress so giving them pieces of the agenda to facilitate makes their leadership visible.

Actions steps to address with a SME:

I would use the SMEs as the primary facilitators for steps in the agenda, especially in the section on the fundamentals of the continuous improvement process and contrasting it with how they work today. For example, the supply chain director could kick off the agenda and lead some exercises outlining the need for change. Then, I would have the continuous improvement director hand out one or two good summary articles on the fundamentals for everyone to sit together and read for 30 minutes. Then, s/he would facilitate a discussion on reflections, and summarise with his/her own summary. This person would then lead a discussion comparing continuous improvement with lean manufacturing. I assume that this person is comfortable facilitating—perhaps some assistance would be needed.

Scenario #2:

MedPat is a moderate-sized medical device manufacturer with offices, distribution centres, and production facilities scattered across North and South America. The company’s growth has primarily been done through the acquisition of smaller and competing business in the same market.  Given the degree of displaced locations, different operating procedures, and non-integrated systems, the operations have become too strenuous.  One of the larger sites has been chosen as a test site to harmonise the setup and production of the company’s new devices.  Soon, other sites will be manufacturing this same device too.  MedPat needs to remove itself from a paper-based operation because it slows down production, the records are hard to consistently manage, and it leads to communication issues with the site and field reps.  The designated contacts for this initiative consist of a process improvement expert and the vice president of production.

Your role: Assume the role of an instructional designer developing an outline for a training resolution. How would you address the following to correctly identify the learning objectives for this project:

Goal description

Affected stakeholders are prepared to execute the new processes and systems included in the harmonisation project. This includes predicting and anticipating (5) change impacts on the organisation and actively preparing a plan of mitigating actions.

Learning objectives/outcomes

  • (2) Describe in business and human terms, why MedPat must harmonise ways of working across the entire business.
  • (2) Summarise what specific metrics will define whether this effort is successful.
  • (1) Reproduce the new processes and systems using paper-based tools.
  • (3) Successfully simulate the new processes and systems given a realistic scenario, materials, and sample data.
  • (1) Name the actor involved in executing each step in these new processes, as well as timelines.
  • (4) Analyse the change impacts in terms of people, process, technology, culture.
  • (5) Recommend the preparations and responsible for each, which your team needs to take to be ready for these changes.
  • (6) Develop a change readiness action and time plan for your team, to which will all physically sign as a statement of commitment.

 Potential Subject Matter Experts/Define their role in the project:

The process improvement expert will be documenting the new processes and ensuring any supporting systems are ready for roll-out. The VP of production must be the visible driver of the initiative and display buy-in to the training approach.

Actions steps you would address with a SME.

The process improvement expert will assist in developing training material according to a defined template, potentially delivering some portions of it and acting as an assistant trainer in the practical sessions.

The VP of Production should deliver an inspirational speech to the learners about why we are undertaking this initiative. If possible, it should include a human-factor story about how the way they are working is negatively affecting a real customer or other stakeholder. S/he should explicitly state s/he is the programme sponsor and supports the training approach.


(n.d.). Asia-Europe Foundation Photographs. Retrieved from

NOTE: for image

Shabatura, J. (2018, March 19). Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Write Effective Learning Objectives. Retrieved from

Smith, T. (2012, July 2). Writing Measurable Learning Objectives. Retrieved from


Rapid E-learning– a “Standard Operating Procedure” approach


Ready…set…LEARN! Image courtesy of

This week’s assignment was to compare our ADDIE mindmap and task list to what is possible with Rapid E-Learning, being clear that the steps in ADDIE still need to be done, but in an abbreviated way.

My reflection is that we want to make Rapid E-Learning as repeatable a process as possible, so we need to develop “Standard Operating Procedures” to how we work with it. To do this, we can get the client to make decisions up-front about the scope, including challenging whether learning is really what is needed or rather an adjustment to the business process, technology, policy, etc. Then if you can template absolutely everything, starting from the request form, to the learning templates, to the follow-up evaluation checklist, Rapid E-Learning can have a higher chance of combining quality, speed, and cost.

Please see here for my ideas on how to adapt ADDIE for a more rapid approach.

Understanding By Design method


This method is simpler and closer to what I usually have implemented when I design a single learning course as opposed to a larger-scale curriculum. It starts with exploring the rationale for the educational intervention in the first place– the “bigger picture.” Usually in corporate training we are urged to think about the “what’s in it for me” if the learner understands this.

In my submission I used a situation I believe I likely will need to design for– learning a new Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) system as the final piece in the puzzle before beginning to handle calls with customers. When I was discussing the requirements for this training with a colleague, he said, “well, it’s not really rocket science, just log them onto the system and call in with your mobile phone!” When I really dug into it, I put myself in the shoes of the care centre agent– I definitely would want to practice using all aspects of all hardware and software (headsets, CTI system, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system) together before beginning to talk to real customers. As I thought about it there are several scenarios and skills one needs to practice to make this a high-quality use of time.

When I thought about appropriate “essential questions” for this type of training, I wondered how much patience students would have for this type of discussion. I suppose the underlying thought is to remind them that we treat customers as we would want to be treated. Part of this could be for example, knowing how to transfer a call to a colleague without making the customer explain themselves all over again. Who doesn’t hate that?

Click on the link to see my learning design.


The ADDIE Design Method– a Mindmap

Who doesn’t love a nice mindmap to get the old brain synapses firing? Click on the image or on this link to see one for the Week 2 assignment:


The Mindmeister tool tries to make it convenient to collaborate on mindmaps digitally, but I have used some other tools I liked better, like Mural whiteboard. Another idea– who can really complain about just putting a good old Google doc together and sharing it with your team? Anyway, any day I learn something new is a good day, so I’ve chalked this up as a win!

My thoughts about the ADDIE model are that it’s been a good workhorse for us and it would work in a situation where there isn’t much VUCA going on…but I’ve not worked in an environment like that since I started working. A long-ass time ago.

The Swedish Nerd’s take on the Dick and Carey design model– a podcast


Click on the image or here to access the podcast. (Transcript is below if you want to read it instead!)

Image courtesy of elearning Industry Dick & Carey model

I like this image– It represents the designer taking many resources, grinding them up in the computer and serving that delicious knowledge sausage up to the learners.

I realise I forgot to mention in my podcast, how well this model would work for my needs and my take is– it works better than ADDIE for a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, Ambiguous) work environment. It is more compact, yet it includes the important step of designing business-impactful performance objectives and evaluating these.

Below is a transcript of the podcast, which is read by the lovely Hazel at Speed 9, from

Hi, I’m Kristin the Swedish Nerd! Welcome to my podcast today talking about the Dick and Carey instructional design model. Exciting stuff, hey? I’m using a voice simulator to create this audio so some of my personality is lost. Sorry about that, I am paranoid about privacy.
So, getting back to the Dick and Carey model. I find these models difficult to grasp without a scenario, don’t you? So for today’s review of the model, I’d like you to consider the following challenge as a learning designer. Your learners are call center agents working for a company selling subscriptions to a product. Their incoming calls are often from consumers who aren’t yet customers. These prospective customers have questions about the contractual terms and conditions as well as insurance for the subscribed product. This is NOT, I repeat, NOT exciting stuff, yet these agents need to feel confident that they know the answers before they begin accepting incoming calls.
How do you train this concept? Let’s use the Dick and Carey model to think about it, shall we?
Step 1 is defining the instructional goal or desired state at the end of the instruction. Then you have to analyze to what degree the learners can already achieve the goal today. In our example, the desired state is that the learners can confidently answer incoming consumer questions, OR know where they can quickly find the answer for the question while they have the customer on the call. Most of the learners come into the job knowing absolutely nothing, so we are starting from zero!
Step 2 is analyzing what skills are required for achieving the goal. This could include knowledge of how to execute tasks and procedures, how to conceptualize information, or other skills. In our example, the learners need to come to the job with good verbal and written communication skills in the local language, as well as good interpersonal skills. Sometimes it takes a bit of patient back-and-forth to understand what the customer really wants to know. Also they need to know some background about the commercial offer, even if they don’t know all the specifics, as well as how to use our Customer Relationship Management System, or CRM, to log the call correctly and look up answers they might not know right away.
Step 3 is understanding what behaviors and learner characteristics do the learners bring to the course, and what would attract them to the course? I could see this step being really important in non-traditional adult learning scenarios. In our example, it’s a helpful step to remind us about the prerequisite training which needs to happen before this one. Everyone needs to have a baseline in written and verbal communication skills to take this course. However they don’t need to know how to use the CRM system at first, they just need to practice answering questions. We probably could take their learnings from this one and we can use great realistic scenarios for CRM system training. This would be a second-stage training incorporating the same concepts but including the aspect of how to “look up” the answer in the system when you aren’t sure.
Step 4 is translating the goals to specific performance objectives. These objectives should be structured as so: Conditions, desired Behavior, and Criteria. We should plan to evaluate the performance objectives in a realistic situation. What does this mean for our scenario? Maybe something like this: Given an incoming consumer call, correctly answer questions regarding the contractual terms and conditions and product insurance, using printed learning materials made available. Answers must be given within 1 minute , and the expectation is 95% correct answers.
Step 5 is diagnosing whether the learners already have  the knowledge or skills they need to take the course. You can decide how you want to assess this– perhaps you give a pre-test, you interview them, or you observe them in a realistic scenario. In our scenario, we will assume we know the learners already completed the required communication prerequisites, so we know they are ready for the next bit of information.
Step 6 is when you get to the good stuff– how in the heck will you train this material, which in our scenario, is dry-as-dust? As this is really a memorization exercise, we need to provide iterative ways to help people remember, then to understand where to look up the information when in doubt. In our example, I find it very important that the learners actually sit and read the boring contractual conditions and insurance information, because this is what the customers will receive. How fun can we make it though? Let’s first challenge them to get active with their learning. As they read, they should come up with three questions they think consumers would ask. Then they try these questions out on each other– say we have them go through three rounds with different partners to test out their questions. Then the really fun part. We play a game show in teams, say Jeopardy? These learners can get really competitive. Then we practice some scenarios. One learner is the customer and the other is an agent. The customer calls in with questions and the agent is allowed to use the learning materials to answer if they get stuck. PHEW! What a plan! I wonder if the learners will have fun and learn something?
Step 7 in the Dick and Carey model (remember that’s what we’re supposed to be doing here, right?) is collecting or developing all the materials and content to support your training session. In our scenario we need to print out the boring documents, author the Jeopardy game in some form (I have a PowerPoint document) and create some scenario cards to use for the partner exercises.
Step 8 is including a formative evaluation. Try your design out on a pilot group of learners and make adjustments.
Step 9 is to execute your summative evaluation. I see this as two things actually, although the literature I’ve read doesn’t seem to mention this. First, the learners need to have a feeling for themselves that they learned something. In our scenario, the partner exercises seem to do that. The second consideration is that management also needs to have confidence that their investment in the learning is meeting business objectives. I would hope if we can say that everyone managed to complete the final scenarios according to the performance objectives, that would suffice.
After Step 9 of course I’m going to want to make some improvements! And as I mentioned, use these learnings as a basis for creating good scenarios as we train CRM system skills.
Well, that’s all we have time for today in this podcast on the Dick and Carey instructional design method. Actually we went over time, but I hope you enjoyed it anyway. Take it easy from the Swedish Nerd, or as we say, “ta det lungt!”

Does the US have a “progressive taxation” policy at the federal level?


This came up during a social media conversation. One of my friends posted an article from Wall Street Journal (Saunders, 2018) with the title screaming, “Top 20% of Americans Will Pay 87% of Income Tax.” The article seemed to me intended to outrage higher earners who will pay the bulk of income tax contributions and therefore, carry the rest of the country on their backs. The article did not mention other forms of taxation, which people who do not earn enough to pay income tax in the US, still pay.

The distinction is important for me as a result of comments made by Mitt Romney when he was a presidential candidate in the 2012 race, deriding the 47% of Americans who do not pay income tax as entitlement-claiming victims who will always vote Democrat. (Moorhead, 2018) Many voters found his comments insensitive, as a large proportion of these 47% of people also work full-time at an hourly rate and have federal payroll tax deducted from their paycheck. Often these people do not meet the minimum income threshold for additional income tax liability.

By doing this research, I wanted to check whether the entire taxation picture for all US citizens is indeed “progressive” or not. When I was an Army officer I had an additional duty of Tax Officer. I used to help soldiers in my company file their income taxes so they wouldn’t have to go to H&R Block and pay fifty bucks. I enjoyed it and it gave my inner nerd a chance to shine.

My verdict:

The entire federal US taxation system is broadly progressive, although it’s hard to understand its effects when looking at comprehensive household income for people in various income brackets.

My calculations (assuming they are correct hahahaha) show that the households who pay only payroll taxes are nearly covering the same proportion of the raw contributions to the federal budget, at least in 2016. This is amazing!

Whether one believes progressive taxation is a good thing or not largely depends on a person’s values and what society one wants to live in. If data is something that lights your fire, at least one reputable study shows a strong correlation between progressive taxation in a country and the happiness level of its citizens.

What is “progressive” taxation?

The Wikipedia page on this is quite informative (see Sources below.) Broadly speaking it means as a taxable sum increases, the amount of tax burden on that sum increases. Wikipedia states, “Progressive taxes are imposed in an attempt to reduce the tax incidence of people with a lower ability to pay, as such taxes shift the incidence increasingly to those with a higher ability-to-pay.”

Often in terms of income tax, a certain amount of income is exempt from taxation, up to a certain amount is taxed at a flat rate for everyone, and any amount over that will fall into higher-taxed “brackets,” with the percentage required increasing for each bracket.

Tax included in a discussion of progressive tax doesn’t have to include only income tax. The US government collects revenue in forms of corporate, estate, Social Security, Medicare, and excise taxes. It can also include state and local taxes, but I’m not going there!

What are the primary sources and proportions of US federal government revenue?

Please see the Tax Policy Center links for more details.

The primary source of revenue in FY 2016 for the federal government was indeed income taxes, at 47.3%.

Next were:

  • 34.1 Payroll taxes
  • 9.2% Corporate income tax
  • 2.9% Excise taxes
  • 6.5% Other (includes estate and gift taxes, customs taxes and Federal Reserve deposits)

All working people, including the self-employed, pay payroll taxes. All people who purchase tobacco, alcohol, and gasoline pay excise taxes.

According to the Tax Policy Center in 2016, (Williams, R., 2016)  26.4% of households paid payroll taxes only. My rough calculation (see Notes) shows that these households covered about 23.3% of all the federal revenue collected. If my calculations are correct, these households are pretty much pulling their weight in terms of contributions. The trouble with ideology kicks in with the benefits and tax credits some of these folks receive. Some people believe they aren’t fair.

What are “payroll taxes”?

Payroll tax includes Social Security and Medicare contributions. All working people earning wages pay these taxes. For 2017, the Social Security taxable maximum was $127,200 [annually] (Frankel, 2017). If you earn more than this, you don’t pay Social Security on that marginal amount.

Medicare is taxed at the same rate for everyone up until $200,000 (Frankel, 2017). So any amount earned beyond that will drive a small increase in amount withheld from the paycheck.

What is the proportion of household taxation paid by those who only pay payroll tax?

This is devilishly difficult to figure out and it seems there are plenty of figures available for taxation subtracting benefits, but not including household income.

I’ll try to do the simplest simulation possible on a single wage-earner, assuming the person does not purchase alcohol, tobacco or gasoline and therefore pays no excise tax. The person does not claim dependents.

10, 399                Gross annual income (10,400 is the threshold for income tax filing)

-644.74               Social Security contribution @ 6.2%

-150.79               Medicare contribution @ 1.45%

Total tax bill: 795.53. This implies a 7.65% tax liability on gross annual income.

This person has then 9603.47 left over to live on for a whole year, theoretically. Lucky him or her!

How does the tax burden as a proportion of household income compare, payroll tax payers only vs. income tax payers?

I have to do a little comparative simulation again on the most boring income tax filer ever, who is single, can’t take anything but the standard deduction etc. I’m using the Tax Foundation table on tax brackets (Pomerleau, 2016).


100,000              Gross annual income (this seems like a liveable amount at the 28% bracket, and 6,350 is exempt)

-19,203               Income tax bill

-6200                   Social Security contribution @ 6.2%

-1450                   Medicare contribution @ 1.45%

Total tax bill: 26,853. This implies a 26.8% tax liability on gross annual income.  This person has 73,147 left over to live on, theoretically. Lucky him or her!

This simple simulation gives some evidence that the tax system for all people earning wages is progressive. The Tax Policy Center makes the same conclusion when considering taxation mitigated by benefits and credits, not a proportion of total household income (Williams, R.C. 2016). Some people believe that offsetting payroll taxes with various tax credits means these people have a net-zero contribution to their society.

Who are the people who don’t pay income tax? How much “free stuff” are they getting?

Forbes provides a really interesting breakdown though (Williams, 2016):

  • 60 percent of those who pay no income tax will work and owe payroll taxes.
  • Most of the other 40 percent are retirees whose income is too low to owe income tax. One assumes that they worked their entire lives or don’t work at all.
  • Of those who work, two-thirds will have payroll tax liability in excess of any refundable income tax credits.
  • Thus, only about 9 percent of households have their payroll tax fully (or more than fully) offset by those refundable credits.

For those who assert that people whose payroll taxes are offset by refunds, pay “nothing” toward their society, they are correct for nine percent of American households.

Is “progressive” taxation a good thing or a bad thing?

This is an emotional question of one’s fundamental values. I have heard some people complain that poor people “pay nothing” but get all the advantages of a developed society such as infrastructure, public education, and defense. My humble personal opinion is that a stable society depends on working people who contribute their labor and pride in having a purpose in life. Additionally, that person’s labour contributes to mention fulfilment of the business owner’s dream, shareprice for shareowners, the overall economy etc. Their labor is not “nothing!”

There has been a considerable amount of attention research recently into income inequality in developed economies and the numbers are out there for those who are interested in the trends. I happen to live in one of the most income-equal countries in the world as measured by the Gini coefficent, Sweden. By many measures it’s a great place to live and we Scandinavians regularly top the happiness lists, but my research shows that there is a weak statistical correlation between the Gini coefficient and overall happiness in a country.

My opinion only: do you believe everyone should have broadly the same minimum standard of living in the society you live in, and whatever someone chooses to do beyond that is up to them? If you believe it’s acceptable for people in your country to live in destitution even if they work hard, with all the other potential implications that might have such as crime, substance abuse, sheer waste of human capital, etc. perhaps you believe it’s onerous for those with a greater ability to contribute to the society should do so.

I am doing my best to stay neutral here. I reckon most people, regardless of their income level, would be much happier living in say, Scandinavia than they would in a country without the benefits provided by progressive taxation, income equality and a formal economy. I consider the “pillars” of a optimal society for good quality of life to be: infrastructure, a clean environment and water, universal healthcare, education including university level, social security, good police and defense. These make for a peaceful society where everyone has the ability to succeed if they work hard. Whether these pillars are possible without progressive taxation, I am not sure. But guess what, at least one study I found shows a correlation between progressive taxation and overall happiness! (Oishi, S., Schimmack, U., & Diener, E., 2012)

Just for fun: What about very wealthy US citizens who pay comparatively little income tax?

Wealthy US citizens have the means to structure their wealth in legal constructs such as trusts, as well as to move some of their wealth to jurisdictions where it will not be taxed by the US government. Even some wealthy people who don’t take these measures can earn a significant proportion of their living through capital gains on their investments. Capital gains are taxed at a much lower rate than earned income is (see article), with the rationale that this policy stimulates investment in the US economy as a whole.

My personal opinion only: It’s certainly nice to have had the advantages in life which allows one to earn a living this way, either through having sufficient support, resources and education to start your own business, have the knowledge to save and invest wisely, to have inherited a fortune, or all of these things. I don’t begrudge these people their fortune. It’s important to feel that one has the possibility to get ahead if one studies and works hard, and if you have saved and worked hard you want to be able to leave something for your children when you pass away.

Whether or not I believe very wealthy can afford to pay more tax, I disagree with the disparaging attitude and conviction that someone got that fortune because he or she is a “winner” and poor people are lazy “losers.” It’s also important to acknowledge that not everyone has significant advantages in life from a very early age, and we should not be disrespectful of people because they have not. So much pure human capital, which could benefit all of us for generations to come, is wasted on potentially brilliant kids who live in poverty. We can only guess at how much.

Also for fun, an international perspective on every day taxation for a typical middle-class person.

As a “higher” earner in Germany, my income was taxed at 48%. There were no additional income taxes. Sales tax applies to everyone and when I lived there it was 18% (I believe). I paid 50% of my health insurance costs, my employer paid the other half. My healthcare was bloody brilliant, best I’ve ever had.

In the UK my income tax was 35%. We also were required to pay council tax each month, which was rated based on the categorical “niceness” of our residence, regardless of whether rented or owned. VAT was 18% most of the time I lived there. Healthcare was free and I was lucky enough to have an employer who offered a supplemental policy as a benefit. I paid for this myself.

In Sweden my income is taxed at 39.5%. We do not have state taxes. VAT is 25% on most items (I believe less for groceries?) Healthcare is free with a small co-pay for each visit up to SEK 1500 per year. Some employers offer a supplemental healthcare policy as a benefit, which allows you to access private specialist services more quickly. I didn’t choose to purchase this.


Saunders, L. (2018, April 6). Top 20% of Americans Will Pay 87% of Income Tax. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from

Moorhead, M. (2012, September 18). Mitt Romney says 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from

Progressive Tax. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2018, from
No author cited

Williams, R. (2016, September 6). Most Americans Pay More Payroll Tax Than Income Tax. from

Frankel, M. (2017, April 12). 2017 U.S. Payroll Tax: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from

Tax Policy Center. (n.d.). What are the sources of revenue for the federal government. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from
Cites Office of Management and Budget, Table 2.1

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Williams, R. (2016, July 12). A Closer Look At Those Who Pay No Income Or Payroll Taxes. Retrieved from

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Note and calculation:

According to the Tax Policy Center in 2016, (Williams, R., 2016)  26.4% of households paid payroll taxes only. Payroll taxes (see below, are paid by all who earn wages, so some, but not all people who pay income tax also pay payroll tax.)  My rough calculation (see Notes) shows that these households covered therefore about 25.5% of all the federal revenue collected.

In 2016, 7.2% of households paid income tax but no payroll tax (because they have non-wage earned income). This means 92.8 of all households paid payroll tax.

Assuming payroll-tax-only households purchase the same proportion of goods subject to excise taxes as those who pay income tax and they are very unlikely to pay the “Other” types of taxes, their share of the federal collection plate is the proportion of payroll taxes they paid plus proportion of excise taxes paid.

((.341 x .928) – (.341 x .264)) + (.029 x .264) = (.316-.09) + .007, which comes to 23.3%.

[proportion of payroll taxes paid by those who paid income tax also] – [proportion of payroll taxes paid by those who ONLY paid payroll taxes] + [proportion of excise taxes paid by those who only paid payroll taxes]