Many Americans have a flawed view of the USA’s standing among the community of nations. The self-perception is that we are number one by practically every meaningful measurement.
This view is not surprising given that every politician and all mainstream media saturate us daily with slogans such as:
• American exceptionalism (Does that mean we are the chosen people?);
• America is the leader of the free world (What countries belong to this club? Who is the leader of the unfree world?);
• America has the best health care system in the world;
• Most of the world supports the huge U.S. military because they know it is there to protect them (From who?);
My inspiration for writing this post came from a comment about the huge U.S. military, left last week on this blog. The following comment was in response to my post Global Prosperity Index Boots America From Top 10:
“. . .Also, something that continuously chaps my a$$ is that so many countries can use their resources to prosper because they can invest a relatively small amount for their own ‘defense’ as they know/believe that the USA will protect them.”
I replied this could be the greatest misconception of how Americans view themselves compared to how the rest of the world views Americans.
My other inspiration is Martin Varsavsky’s recent essay So What’s Wrong With The States? Varsavsky is a telecom visionary who made a fortune building and selling a number of disruptive companies. He’s a true global citizen, who loves America, a country that has been good to him and his family.
He’s a Jew from Argentina, educated in the United States, and has lived a great deal of his life in Europe. His family likely has Polish roots (“varsava” is the phonetic spelling of the Polish word for Warsaw). Currently, Varsavsky teaches at Colombia University in New York, among many of his activities.
In his essay he writes “But when I speak to some American friends they seem to be unaware of the shortcomings of the USA compared to others, and this is what I would like to focus on. Here are some quick examples:”
He goes on to list and expand upon a number of claims about USA global ranking, including:
• Ranks 38th in life expectancy;
• This generation is the first one whose average lifespan will be shorter than previous generations;
• The highest percentage of obese, 30%;
• Ranks 72nd in overall health
• 50 million uninsured (in an earlier column I noted that USA health care system ranks 37th in quality and 1st in cost)
• Ranks 1st in death penalty /execution rates in developed world;
• Ranks 1st in incarceration rate in the developed world;
• Ranks 1st in divorce rate in the world;
• Rapidly rising inequality – since 1979 the top 1% of population enjoyed a 275% wealth gain, compared to 40% for remaining 99% of population.
• The USA spends almost half of what the whole world spends on military;
• Ranks 1st in per capita pollution in the world. (I would argue with Varsavsky that in terms of pollution per dollar of GDP, the USA is relatively green);
• Consistently ranks around 20th in PISA (Programe for International Student Assessment) evaluation of high school students worldwide.
The Varsavky essay is an eye opener for most Americans, and it’s a good read. It’s important for Americans to develop a deeper awareness of how they rank in the community of nations; we have many strengths, and many weaknesses.
Varsavsky finishes with an inspirational quote of Bill Clinton “There is nothing that is wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what’s right in America.”
I would add the following: Everyone should be open to learning from others, for which the key is awareness of one’s universe.