Monday, March 16, 2009

We're the 15th greatest country in the world!

I remember when I was a little kid in the 50s and I truly believed the much repeated propaganda statement that asserted, "America is the greatest country in the world!" Interestingly, the way that manifested in my mind was that I felt terribly sorry for all those people so unfortunate as to have been born somewhere else.

Do take a look at an article published by The Nation entitled "U! S! A! We're Number .... 15?" if you want to know what our actual standing is by a number of measurements. Here's a little bit of what it says:

The first bit of bad news is that America was slipping well before our most recent downturn. Whereas during the 1980s we were consistently No. 2 in the world (Switzerland occupied the top slot in 1980, while Canada did from 1985 to 1990), by the mid-1990s we had slipped to six. And by 2006 (the most recent year available), we had even fallen out of the Top 10 (to slot 15). Income clearly doesn't capture every dimension, since the United States still holds the No. 2 position in terms of income per capita. Rather, other aspects of American society make it less "developed" than it should be, given the resources available here.
There is, for example, the issue of nearly 50 million people who don't have health insurance. There is the fact that college completion rates have been flat since the '70s despite an increasingly technological economy. And there is the wage stagnation for the bottom half, a problem that has dogged us since the oil shock of 1973. But there is one larger force underlying these trends that has been gaining steam over the past three decades, and that's income inequality.

Income inequality has been rising since the late '60s and is greater in the United States than in any other developed (i.e., rich) country. Income inequality can matter for general health, knowledge and our shared standard of living, for several reasons. First, the more that Americans have vastly different economic means at their disposal, the harder it is to generate political support for investments that would raise all boats. For instance, inequality often leads well-to-do people to abandon the public school system -- or to move to particularly well-funded districts, where house prices are highest. Some scholars even posit that high inequality harms our health, as a result of the stress from relative deprivation and increased efforts to keep up with the Joneses (or, as the case may be, the Gateses). While this claim remains highly controversial among health economists, the observation that more-unequal countries generally display worse health than more-equal ones is not in dispute.

You know, sometimes I don't think conservatives even want us to be the greatest country - certainly not greatest in terms of "best to live in". Rather they want us to be the most dominant. And I would submit that this is not the same thing at all.

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