Yeah…That is a shocking assertion. Unfortunately it is true. And while Donald Trump and the rest of the right jump around like syncopated baboons, the truth of the matter is that America’s decline started just about the moment Raygun took office, and modern conservatism gained political majority in the state and federal legislatures.
And unless there are some very fundamental changes in the sort of people who get elected in this country it is just going to get worse. And that needs to be a bipartisan change.
I mean as a recent example of the failure of conservatism, HTF do we get lead contaminated water killing and maiming the children of Flint, Michigan? I mean access to clean water is one of the measurements we use to gauge the progress of Third World countries. And we let a morally bankrupt political system based on the blathering of a neo-nazi sympathizer drive our state governments? Atlas “Shrugged” right after he took a shit all over you.
As a resident of white suburban America, I grew up believing that, as Fox News host Sean Hannity once so eloquently put it, “The U.S. is the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the earth.” This article of faith in the superiority of the U.S. was instilled deep within my brain as a child, right next to the belief that Jesus was born of a virgin and then visited by three Wise Men. But as I began to travel the world a few years ago — a globetrotting adventure that took me through Europe and Canada and inspired me to start a journal of international rankings of countries according to various metrics — it became increasingly clear that American exceptionalism is a baseless mythology of tribalistic self-aggrandizement perpetuated by people who (if I may generalize a bit) can’t locate Denmark on a map.
As it happens, the champions of this unique brand of nationalism are largely concentrated on the political right, where one also finds the attitude of anti-intellectualism in toxic doses. I don’t think this is a coincidence. The fact is that when one looks at infrastructure, life expectancy, family paid leave, health care, social mobility, income inequality, political corruption, government efficiency, economic stability, childhood poverty, student debt, water quality, education, prosperity, happiness and even Internet speed, one finds the U.S. absent from the top 10 “best countries” in every single instance. While the U.S. continues to have the largest economy in the world and by far the biggest military budget, in most categories relating to prosperity, security, happiness and well-being, the great American empire falls somewhere between the developed and the developing world.
But don’t take my word for it. As the ancient philosopher Plato once observed, beliefs without justification aren’t knowledge, and justification requires evidence. So, let’s take a gander at some statistics from various sources, beginning with the World Economic Forum (WEF), a Swiss not-for-profit foundation that’s “independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests.” According to the WEF, the U.S. fares as follows relative to the rest of the world: 16th in quality of overall infrastructure, 22nd with respect to competition, 33rd in terms of public institutions, 34th in terms of ethics and corruption, 35th in terms of health, 58th in terms of primary education, 67th in terms of security and 73rd in terms of wasteful government spending.
In terms of the WEF’s overall “global competitiveness index,” Switzerland comes in first with a value of 5.7 (out of 7), followed by Singapore with 5.6, and then the U.S., Finland, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands all tied with 5.5. So, not terrible overall — yet conservatives would cringe at the thought that we’re tied with multiple “socialist” countries for third place. As it happens, though, the U.S. is far behind such countries according to other international rankings. Forbes, for example, ranks the U.S. as the 22nd best place for business in the world, with countries like Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Finland above us. Eventhe Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of Economic Freedom leaves the U.S. out of the top 10, placing Hong Kong, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland and Denmark at the top.
In terms of “prosperity,” a concept that includes factors like governance, education, health, personal freedom and the economy, the London-based Legatum Instituteranks the U.S. 11th, with Norway, Switzerland, Canada and Sweden being the most prosperous. We’re also ranked 13th in the world with respect to social mobility, or the freedom for underprivileged individuals to climb the social ladder and become successful. The result is that, as Politifact confirmed in a “Mostly True” rating from 2013, it’s actually “easier to obtain the American dream in Europe” than it is in the U.S. Take a moment to let that sink in. According to the research that Politifact cites, “Of the 10 countries studied, the United States had the strongest link between parents’ education and a child’s economic, educational and socio-emotional outcomes … more pronounced than in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Nordic countries, as well as Canada and Australia.”
Social mobility is important in part because studies show that “a lack of wealth does make poor people sadder,” and social immobility prevents those without wealth from acquiring it. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the U.S. isn’t among the top 10 happiest countries. According to the most recent data, we’re the 15th happiest country in the world, behind Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and our gentle neighbor to the north, Canada. Another factor relevant to happiness concerns the overall empowerment of women, who constitute 50.8 percent of the U.S. population. As the Global Gender Gap Index reports, countries like Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark score the best, while the U.S. ranks a shameful 20th. Yet another happiness factor relates to the prevalence of childhood poverty. Here the U.S. ranks 34th out of 35 countries considered by a recent study. Sadly, this is consistent with a 2014 report from Johns Hopkins that found that “teenagers in Baltimore face poorer health and more negative outlooks than those in urban centers of Nigeria, India and China.” Other studies have revealed that rates of PTSD among inner-city residents in America are “as high or higher than [rates among] Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam veterans.”
There’s also evidence to suggest that people “are happier in times when the gap between rich and poor is smaller.” In other words, if a country is rich but all its wealth is concentrated among a small class of elite billionaires, society as a whole might be miserable. So, how does the U.S. fare in this respect? To quote a Pew Research Center article on the issue, “the U.S. has one of the most unequal income distributions in the developed world … even after taxes and social-welfare policies are taken into account.” In fact, of the 10 richest people in the world, eight are American. And the situation of inequality is only getter worse globally: just six years ago, the 388 most affluent people owned the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent. Today, Oxfam reports that “The world’s 62 richest billionaires have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population.” Yes, you read that correctly: 62.
The U.S. also ranks 43rd in the world for life expectancy, 37th with respect to health care, 20th in terms of political stability and 26th with respect to cleanliness, according to the Environmental Performance Index, maintained by researchers at Yale and Columbia University. And while we’re often an early adopter of new technology, we rank 22nd with respect to our Internet speed. Regarding our moral behavior in the world, the Global Peace Index, which ranks 162 counties according to their “national peacefulness,” places the U.S. in 94th place — closer to the bottom of the list than the top. (In fact, a 2014 global survey found that the world as a whole sees the U.S. asthe number one threat to world peace.) Furthermore, unlike many other countries in the developed (and developing) world, college education isn’t free for Americans, we don’t have a universal health care system, and we’re the only “major country” in the world that fails to provide family paid leave, as Bernie Sanders is fond of pointing out. Even our tap water isn’t among the safest in the developed world, nor do we have any of the best airports.