Second-Rate Industrial Nation

Cheerful stuff for a gloomy Friday. Christian Science Monitor: “The United States is the world’s only military superpower and has the globe’s largest economy. Yet, by some measures, the US is a second-rate industrial nation – at best.” Quoting CSM via

Most Americans take it as a given that the US economic model is the best in the world, way better than the interventionist models offered by European social democrats or by Chinese Communists. Many non-Americans disagree, and they argue that by some measures, the US is a second-rate industrial nation at best. 17% of Americans, and 21.9% of US children, live below the poverty line, the worst showing among 16 wealthy nations in a recent study. In life expectancy, the US shared the bottom rung of the study with Denmark, even though Denmark spends half what the US spends on medical care per person. Even in areas like productivity and employment, where the US considers itself a world-beater, it came in at number 5, even as Americans work the most hours. But in certain respects, the US is truly unequaled. For example, the US’ Defense Dept. budget is responsible for 47% of world military spending, with no other nation or combination of likely adversaries coming anywhere close. It spends 57 times more than all “rogue” nations combined.

So where does the perception that Americans live better than anyone in the world come from? Is it a left-over mystique from the 1950s that seldom gets re-examined? A lie we tell ourselves to reinforce the status quo? An artifact of hubris? Or are we just not paying attention?

Music: National Health :: The Collapso

6 Replies to “Second-Rate Industrial Nation”

  1. Knowing nothing about economics or politics but being an American I can say I don’t think capitalism has much interest in the poor. Sucks to be poor, but really sucks to be poor in the states. Poverty is one thing, but poverty in the face of consumer extragance is yet another level of inhumanity. When was the last time you heard a politician campaign on helping the poor? You help the poor by saving the whales or some other convulted rational.

    If you look at other countries, lets say Brazil, the government is more socialist and actually have interest in helping poverty. Lula’s primary goes as president of was to make sure everyone in the country has 3 square meals a day. Probably a lofty goal, but nonetheless it was his campaign promise. In Brazil anyone can go to the best University, it’s free. But you can probably never afford a second car or international travel. The states has lots to offer as far as choices for consumers, especially high end stuff, but little for people who can’t afford much, little is provided by the government.

    As far as culture goes, I think it plays a huge role in productivity also. I think lifestyle and a fullfilling life lead to a productive person at home and work. A healthy person, physically and emotionally, is a productive person. It’s not the hours you work or how many programmers you have but it’s the quality of work that makes one productive. Not only does the average american work more hours but they also spend more hours dealing with companies that are part of their lives and make sure not to get screwed as a consumer.

    There’s alot of people who’s life is much better than it was in their country and they came here for the opportunity and found it. If you have the will and are able to work you can find a job, no problem. That’s the great thing about the states, you can provide for a family. But quality of life is really another thing we haven’t nailed down yet and has alot to do with success.

  2. Measuring quality of life is tricky, since people view “quality” differently. We tend to think of quality of life as a function of economic indicators, but studies never ask things like “How many hours per week do you get to spend with your kids?” or “Do you think you’d be happier eating a papaya than a box of McNuggets?” or “Do you worry that your family would suffer if you became injured?” or “When was the last time you sat on the couch and listened to your favorite album start to finish?”

    If Brazil can do three squares, we should be able to guarantee people a trip to the doctor when they need it and the ability not to have to work two jobs to feed a family.

  3. Man what are you talking about?? WE’RE NUMBER 1!! Woohoo!

    Oh.. wait that’s here in Norway, where supposedly life quality is rated top ‘o th’ heap according to the UN (thanks to it being the #3 worldwide oil exporter). They have this crazy idea that natural resources are community property that everyone gets to profit from (as opposed to being sold off for pennies via sweet-deal drilling, logging and mining leases). The profits from oil go into a huge fund that now has about $500 billion and is tracking healthy growth (thank you ford, gm and chrysler)!

    Not really any poverty here, but there’s a lot of bored people who get drunk every friday. And we have a nice little community of heroin addicts who shoot up with state-sponsored needles in full view of the cops. Beers will cost you $7.50 in a bar and $3.50 in the grocer. And most stuff in the grocery is pee-ricey! But it doesnt sting when crap jobs pay the minimum wage of $16.50 an hour.

    The real goodie here is that its a great place to make people – new moms get 8 months paid leave and can take a full year at home at 80% pay and a second year at 50% plus you get a $400 monthly payment from the state per kid for child related expenses till they are 19 – now that’s family values. Did I mention the compulsory military service?

    Of course there are taxes, but you get a lot of ‘bang for the kroner’ in terms of state freebies. Free education, free day care, state health care, 5 weeks vacation, blah blah blah. Its kinda of like communism run by santa.

    And actually the ‘low taxes’ of the states is kind of a fallacy – if you add up fed tax, social security, state tax and health insurance, you are pretty close to the 35%-42% tax people pay here. We don’t get alot of things from the state in the US unless you count surveillance and the nice high tech bombs that we like to dispense and export liberally.

    Here the big diff is the 25% VAT that makes consumerism hurt. Actually I end up not buying so much here and not really missing it. And I got rid of the car – now its bike and public transport for me.

    So from this POV I kind of support the second rate USA idea when you look at the country as a whole – as opposed to the privileged class I grew up in there. What amazes my is how people have gotten brainwashed to the point where Adam Smith’s ‘rational self-interest’ (which is supposed to be the bedrock of capitalism) doesn’t apply to elections. I mean the majority of people are actually voting against their own interest – their economic situation is getting worse, and they don’t connect the dots. The US has a lot of resources (and Norway’s model which works for 4.5 million people can’t be overlaid easily), but the ‘me first’ attitude will kill us.

    Is this what it feels like to be in a downward spiral?

  4. Lee,

    Ignoring all substance of your comments and going straight for the cream:

    >Its kinda of like communism run by santa.

    LOL – I’m writing that down! Norway, Its kinda like communism run by Santa.


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