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Are we #1?

Are we #1
By Eric Black

Fareed Zakaria of CNN and Time magazine did a special Sunday night edition of his CNN show “GPS” called “Restoring the American Dream: Getting Back to #1.” Zakaria is smarter than the average TV host and I guess the show had its moments.

My favorite was the set of data that Zakaria used to set up his premise that something has to be done to get America back to #1. The premise is kinda shaky because, as I think Zakaria acknowledged, if you took all the ways there are to rank nations, the United States is probably still number one. But Zakaria, after showing a series of clips of politicians from both parties ritually reciting their belief that the United States is the greatest country ever, Zakaria ran down a list of rankings in which we are not. For example:

In overall economic “competitiveness,” the U.S. has recently been ranked #4.

  • Best Country in which to run a business: #5.
  • Enrollment rate for elementary school: #79.
  • Percentage of college grads: #12.
  • U.S. 15-year-olds science test scores: #19.
  • Math scores: #24.
  • Quality of our infrastructure: #23.
  • Infant mortality: #41.
  • Life expectancy #49

(Those last last two, while familiar, always occur to me when I hear the claim that U.S. health care is the greatest in the world. I never recall hearing anyone say that and then explain why, on average, citizens live longer in 48 other countries.)

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And lastly, in socioeconomic mobility (in other words, the likelihood that a individual will end up in a different class than his or her parents) we rank #10 among the wealthy nations of the OECD. The poor U.S. performance in economic mobility is getting a goodly bit of notice lately, and is especially noteworthy because of our self-myth as a class un-self-conscious land of opportunity.

Interestingly, the nine countries in which movement across class lines is more common than in the U.S. were a compendium of social democracies where, compared to the U.S., taxes are higher and social spending greater, namely, in order of greatest social mobility:

  1. Denmark
  2. Australia
  3. Norway
  4. Finland
  5. Canada
  6. Sweden
  7. Germany
  8. Spain
  9. France