Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Some thoughts about one of my favorite topics: How does the US stack up in the world, comparatively?
This is well worth asking again at this time, since America seems to be going through a rough patch - to say the least. Pessimists might argue that the US is reaching a stage of permanent decline. I don’t necessarily agree with this. But there is also still a lot of the opposite imbecility: Conservatives, business elites, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the dumb gullible red necks who have been brainwashed by them, still mouth off about “the greatest country in the world,” “the only super power,” “America only has to unleash its tremendous productivity,” “we still have the richest untapped mineral resources in the world,” “we are way ahead of Europe,”“China will never overtake us,” and other such nonsense.America Number One? In what respect? I am a statistics freak. I like comparative international statistics, especially those that deal with demographics, economics, quality of life indicators, things like that. Let’s look at a few areas - randomly:
What is the “we’re number one” cliché based on?
1) The most important ranking which yields an unequivocal first place for the USA is aggregate GNP. I am sure that’s what most people have in mind when they mouth off the tired “we’re number one” cliché.
2) A second way in which we are also unquestionably number one is military power. This is the measure for that other tired expression “America, the only superpower.”
I’m sure that there are other areas in which America still tops the world, at least if we compare countries in terms of their aggregate numbers, and not on a per capita basis. The American population is large (Although not the largest) and it is fairly developed (but not the most developed). As a result of the combination of these two facts, America often manages to produce the largest total number of “things” in a given area. For example:
3) Total number of Nobel prizes
4) Total number of Olympic Medals (Since the Communist governments of the USSR and East Germany stopped their massive cheating).
Unfortunately, there are also bad things in which we are number one.
5) I bet you that we are the most obese people in the world (probably...maybe I overlooked Samoans or some other small country...)
6) That our national health is so mediocre compared to the rest of the civilized world is sad, because we are at the same time also Number One in per capita medical expenditures.
7) We are by far the most indebted nation in the world. Our debt to the rest of the world is probably approaching 100 trillion, and it is growing by nearly one trillion a year.
But now, what about all the many other ways in which we are not number one? Here are a few:
1) We are not the largest country (Russia is)
2) We are not the most populous country (China is)
3) We are not the richest country: We are number #24 - right behind Malta. And I fear that we are going to slide further down in the next few years.
4) we don’t live the longest, we don’t have the best national health. Many countries outpace us in this regard, including Japan, Canada, many European countries, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
5) We don’t garner the most Olympic medals per capita. In Athens in 2004, we came in 39th. Some very small countries like Barbados and the Baltic States topped the list, and Australia and others were also ahead of us.
6) We do not have the greatest industrial production. Our industry was once the wonder of the world, but it no longer is.
There are also areas where we are often unjustly blamed for leading the pack, because these are bad things, and because there is a worldwide disease called anti-Americanism. But we are not number one in these areas either:
7) We re not Number One in per capita energy consumption: Several countries are ahead of us, including Canada, Kuwait, Dubai and others.
8) We are not the Number One Polluter in the world: China is.
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