It’s the 4th of July here. The day we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Except that it wasn’t that simple. It was authorized on July 2nd, adopted by a 12-0 vote (with NY abstaining) on the 4th, made unanimous on the 9th when NY changed their vote, finally written on parchment on the 23rd, and then signed by most of the delegates on August 2nd – with several delegates signing later and, in fact, three not signing at all. Next time you complain about politicians taking too long to do something, remember that it’s nothing new. Heck, the debate on the Declaration took forever.
Our history is littered with the good (defeating fascism, winning the Cold War, the Apollo Program, the greatest economy the world has ever seen), the bad (slavery, the Trail of Tears) and the ugly (Civil Rights crackdowns, continuing racism).
Today everyone celebrates. But with the current political climate, I haven’t been able to compartmentalize things enough to simply celebrate. There are going to be a lot of “USA #1” sentiments out there.. And that’s what gets me thinking. So many people think that we’re the greatest nation on earth. Well, we’re certainly the wealthiest nation in the world (Almost 50 trillion dollars worth of wealth as of a few of years ago). But when you start looking at per-capita wealth – suddenly, we’re #3, behind Switzerland and Australia. And if you start looking at per-capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product), it’s even worse. We’re 13th. Sure, some of those countries are Gulf nations with oil (Qatar) and micro-nations the size of a large mall with tax laws to attract the rich (Luxembourg) but we’re beaten by Switzerland, Norway and IRELAND – remember Ireland? A few years ago they were one of the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain) who’s sovereign debt was threatening to destabilize the Euro). Now the Irish are back to being the Celtic Tiger.
So how DO we rank against the rest of the world? …at least in ways that we can measure.
Are we the best educated?
The answer is a resounding “Nope”.
- We’re 7th in literacy. (Behind Finland, all of Scandinavia and Switzerland)
- We’re barely above AVERAGE in science and reading and BELOW AVERAGE in math!
- We’re 19th out of 28 countries studied when it comes to college graduation rates.
- This doesn’t even take into account the crushing costs of universities here versus all the other countries that provide post-secondary education to their citizens.
Are we the healthiest?
Sorry, another “no” here.
- Our life expectancy at birth is 42nd, if you ask the CIA World Fact Book, or more recently, 31st or 43rd, according to the WHO or the UN.
- We are DEAD LAST in infant mortality among 28 OECD “wealthy” countries like Finland and Japan (tied for best at 2.3 deaths per 1,000 live births) Slovakia (in 27th, at 5.7 compared to the U.S. at 6.1). Oh – and the CIA World Fact Book has us at 56th.
- Dead Last (again) in overall health.
- We’re the most obese country in the industrialized world. While the linked article says we’re 12th overall, the 11 ahead of us are all small island nations, Qatar and Kuwait.
- We are the ONLY industrialized country that doesn’t cover it’s citizens with health care.
What about the workforce?
Let’s let the numbers speak for themselves.
- We’re 6th in median income.
- We’re 53rd in employment. While that’s a bit skewed by tiny nations, note that there are industrialized nations like Germany, Denmark, South Korea, Mexico, Iceland and Japan ahead of us on that list.
- Our minimum wage of $7.25 is pretty paltry compared to Australia’s $13.16, or France’s $11.03 or the $10 you’ll find in Germany and the UK. Not every country has a minimum wage law but those places like Denmark have collective bargaining agreements that cover entire sectors – and the lowest of those is $16/hour.
- We’re 5th in worker productivity behind Luxembourg, Ireland, Norway and Belgium.
- Though we ARE 2nd in exports, behind China, that rank plummets to 57th when you look at it per-capita.
Is there ANYTHING where we’re #1?
Of course there is.
- We’re #1 in overall prison population (2.1 million prisoners, outpacing #2 China’s 1.6 million).
- We’re also #1 in our rate of incarceration. We lock up 478 per 100,000 people. Compare that to 133.5 for Europe, 188 for Canada, or Japan at 51. Yes. 51.
- We spend more on defense than the next 29 nations combined, 25 of which are our allies.
- 42% of Americans believe in Creationism versus Europe where the highest percentage of belief there is 30% in Switzerland.
- Nobody beats us in fewest days of sick leave mandated by law. (None)
- And it logically follows that we’re #1 of all advanced economies in fewest paid vacation days legally mandated. (None)
- We export more weapons than any other country.
- We spend the most on health care but do not get the best results.
- We have the most super-rich people on the planet. (Which ought to make you think about those median income statistics)
- We have the highest level of income inequality in the world.
- We’re #1 in world for the divorce rate.
- We have the highest rate of illegal drug use on the planet.
- We lead the world in student loan debt.
So what the hell is left to celebrate?
There’s still something to being the “land of opportunity”. My fear is that rampaging corporatism is taking it away. Take that last bullet item above – student loan debt. We’re told that our economic recovery could be better but young people aren’t buying houses. Well, could YOU afford to buy a house if you left college with tens of thousands in college loan debt? And failure isn’t even an option since 2005 when banks helped rewrite the bankruptcy laws.
But there’s still ideals here. We still have the vote – though one particular party is trying REALLY HARD to reduce voting with everything from closing polling places in minority areas to writing Voter ID laws that specifically target minorities to gerrymandering districts.
I still have hope. If Finland could fight hot wars against the Soviet Union on it’s own border and still end up with guaranteeing health care, pensions and unemployment while simultaneously providing the best education system in the world and still having a healthy economy, there’s no reason we couldn’t do it.
If Switzerland could switch their healthcare system to implement the public option in 1994, we could do it here. It’s about time we started getting what we were paying for. since we’re already paying enough to cover everyone and only covering a small percentage.
We have a long and glorious history of Doing The Right Thing, even when were late to the party (England banned slavery long before we did and we were slow to help our allies in both World Wars). We’re still making progress on issues that matter, like marriage equality. Would would have thought that a complete turnaround in public opinion would happen in just a few years?
We have ballot boxes and examples of how new ideas can work all over the world. Our history is RIFE with people who came here from abroad with new ideas and changed the world with them! We can still do that! We do not have to tolerate being the only country where the term “medical bankruptcy” exists! We don’t have to be the only industrialized nation that views a high school graduate as food for our banks instead of the future in which to invest. We can still keep our freedoms, just like so many other countries have, and start treating OUR citizens as well as other countries treat THEIRS.
There is nothing wrong with The United States that cannot be fixed by what is RIGHT with The United States.