Sunday, February 20, 2011

Proud to be an American?

I liken the U.S. to Sir Winston Churchill's quote ... "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried." I'd say America is the worst country to live in, except for all the others. 

That's not exactly true, of course. There are a number of lovely countries with idyllic landscapes, great weather, robust economies, and representative (free) governments. But the U.S. with its unparalleled freedoms, cultural diversity, widely varying topography, ample arable land, etc. is a pretty unique place in the world. 

But our American exceptionalism has disappeared. Evaporated. 

Take a look at this graphic from the New York Times. And then let's break it down column by column.  

1. We now have higher income inequality than all but Hong Kong and Singapore among "Advanced Economies". Analogous to this, though not shown in the figure, is that wages as a percentage of U.S. GDP have reached an all-time low. Let me repeat that. Wages - our paychecks - have reached an all-time low as a percentage of our economy. Since the government began keeping statistics on this issue, at no point have American workers taken home a smaller piece of the economic pie.  

2. The second column reflects the current unemployment rate for each advanced economy. As you can see we're not the worst at 9%, but we're at more than double a number of "social democracies", which are supposedly bad for business. Well, we're at a point where "bad for business" means "good for workers" so we're at a stalemate I guess. 

3. "level of democracy" ... should be our bread and butter, right? Nope. We're in the middle of the pack. I haven't researched how this metric is calculated, but if we take it on face value we're pretty much "average" when it comes to our democracy, at least among advanced economies.

4. "wellbeing index" ... that's the percentage of our citizens who are "thriving" ... we're at 57% ... or middle of the pack again. 

5. "food security" based on a question about whether in the past 12 months people have lacked having enough money to put food on their table. This is expressed as a percentage of the country. A full 16% of Americans answered yes to this question. 16% of us have not had enough money to adequately feed our families or ourselves in the past 12 months. Compare that to 3% in Denmark. Or 6% in Germany. 

6. Life expectancy at birth. Here we're in the "red zone" ... We rank ahead of just 5 of the 32 other advanced economies. We're fat. We're unhealthy. We're eating copious amounts of processed foods high in salt and preservatives. We have limited access to quality health care thanks to our predominantly employer-based private health insurance system. It's now being estimated that our children will have shorter life expectancy than we do.

7. We have more than twice the prison population (as a percentage of our citizens incarcerated) of any other advanced economy. 

8. We now rank equivalent to the Czech Republic in math and science scores based on international standardized tests. The Czech Republic. 

We can do better, people. But it requires cooperation, hard work, and sacrifice. All things that seem to be rapidly becoming exceptional behaviors in our republic. 

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