The American belief that we are the most ‘blessed’ nation, and that we are number one by virtually any measure has been for some time now, complete nonsense. Over the past three decades the cumulative effect of the disinvestment in our infrastructure, our workers, our education, has had an increasingly negative impact on the quality of life in these United States. The full-throated cry of “We’re No. 1!” one hears at every campaign rally and sees at every political convention as well as the conservative movement’s blind assertions of ‘American Exceptionalism’ betray a growing psychosis in the American psyche. A psychosis illustrated by the growing disparity between who we so steadfastly proclaim to be and who we actually are. Increasingly, the ‘shining city upon a hill’, and the ‘land of opportunity’, is becoming mere illusion. The promise that was once America has become a hollow echo, a cruel hoax.
Consider the numbers: Nicolas Kristof, writing in the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, “We in the United States grow up celebrating ourselves as the world’s most powerful nation, the world’s richest nation, the world’s freest and most blessed nation.” It is a delusion from which we need to disabuse ourselves.
In fact, according to Kristof, we rank 16th among developed nations in “livability”, 70th in health, and 39th in basic education; 34th in access to water, and sanitation and, thanks to the terrorist organization that is the NRA, 31st in personal safety. “Even in access to cell phones and the Internet, the United States ranks a disappointing 23rd, partly because one American in five lacks Internet access.”
“This is kind of a journey for me,” Porter told me. He said that he became increasingly aware that social factors support economic growth: tax policy and regulations affect economic prospects, but so do schooling, health and a society’s inclusiveness.
So Porter and a team of experts spent two years developing this index, based on a vast amount of data reflecting suicide, property rights, school attendance, attitudes toward immigrants and minorities, opportunity for women, religious freedom, nutrition, electrification and much more.
Many who back proposed Republican cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and public services believe that such trims would boost America’s competitiveness. Looking at this report, it seems that the opposite is true.
Ireland, from which so many people fled in the 19th century to find opportunity in the United States, now ranks 15th. That’s a notch ahead of the United States, and Ireland is also ahead of America in the category of “opportunity.”
Canada came in seventh, the best among the nations in the G-7. Germany is 12th, Britain 13th and Japan 14th.” (1)Moreover, the distribution of wealth within each country produces some surprising results. Comparatively, the United States in recent decades has not fared so well.
“Overall, the United States’ economy outperformed France’s between 1975 and 2006. But 99 percent of the French population actually enjoyed more gains in that period than 99 percent of the American population. Exclude the top 1 percent, and the average French citizen did better than the average American. This lack of shared prosperity and opportunity has stunted our social progress” (1)Clearly, it is long past time that we Americans reevaluate our estimation of ourselves, and reassess our position in the world; for we are no longer the champions of anything. We are the world’s most powerful nation, but it is a hollow boast for our military power no longer rests on the world’s largest economic engine, but instead upon a growing mountain of debt. It is also becoming increasingly clear that we are no longer that ‘shining city upon a hill’, that noble example beckoning the world to follow, but instead a humdrum run-of-the-mill contemporary society, struggling to adjust to the ‘new world order’. To boldly declare that ‘we are number 1’ is to not only shout our ignorance from the ramparts and to display our confusions for all the world to see, but to betray a deep and growing psychosis wherein our collective self-image diverges and is increasing at variance with demonstrable reality. Increasingly as the Friedmanesque conservative ideological imperative strangles the ‘American Dream”, it is imperative that the rest of the world does not follow. It is a rat-hole from which there may be no escape. Look at the numbers.