America in denial: We’re number 29 (of 30)
US embraces policies and practices that place it at the bottom of advanced industrial nations for social outcomes.
Responding to the jingoism around the First Gulf War, Andrew Shapiro’s 1992 book, We’re Number One!: Where America Stands – and Falls – in the New World Order was a sober-minded reality check on how the US really measured up. Just last month, a worthy successor appeared, a short ebook, Decline of the USA, by Edward Fullbrook, comparing the US to the other 29 countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in a series of tables, with only a brief dash of introductory text.
Fullbrook is the editor of the Real World Economic Review, the online journal of heterodox economics that emerged out of the empirically-driven “post-autistic economics” movement of the previous decade. The data presented here – challenging presumptions of superiority and leadership with stubborn facts – epitomises what the post-autistic movement was all about.
The book looks at eight indicators each in seven categories, ranking counties in order along with precise figures for how they score. It also divides them into first, second and third divisions (in sets of 10), which comes in handy for gauging overall performance. The seven categories are: health, family, education, income and leisure, freedom and democracy, public order and safety, and generosity. Indicators include things like life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, share of income received by richest 10 per cent, years of life lost in injury, etc. Those with some awareness of these sorts of measures will probably not be surprised to learn that the United States ranks next to last overall (go Mexico!), while those who get their information from FOX or other corporate media may be stunned to the point of disbelief.
But there’s more to this than so-called “America bashing”. The indicators raise serious questions about what we value (even just attend to) and why, as well as presenting some interesting surprises. They also reveal who we Americans ought to be modelling our policies on if we really want our country to excel.