Is this a great country, or what?

Surprisingly, not as great as we should be, given our size and resources per person. What you will find may surprise you, and should concern any citizen of the U.S.

We’re Big, that’s for sure.  In absolute terms, compared to the rest of the world, we have far and away the largest Military.  We’re 2nd in GDP, to China.  We’re 3rd in Population, after China and India.  We’re 4th in surface area and labor force.  But then questions arise; we’re only 22nd in Monetary Reserves, in spite of the size of our economy.  And then we’re 2nd worst in carbon emissions, and dead last in both the size of our External Debt and # of Prisoners.  The last two are surprising, because if we’re a dominant economy, shouldn’t we have less debt?  And if we’re full of jobs, why do we have the most prisoners in spite of only being 3rd in population – shouldn’t we be only 3rd, or better, compared to Dictatorships?  Finally, our Net Trade is negative $566 billion in 2017.  Far and away the worst in the world, in spite of us having both agriculture and technology to export.

We’re Big; for Better or Worse

When we look at Qualitative Measures of U.S. performance, things become even more troubling.  How should the U.S. perform?  With a free country, with GDP per capita among the highest in the world, at the 91.2% percentile, we should EXPECT to perform around that level in qualitative measures.  But we do not.  The red line on the chart below is at the level of our GDP per capita, the 91.2% percentile. Our level of Corruption is low, and our Human Rights Ranking is high.  There are three measures (in yellow) where it is not clear that More Is Better.  Firstly, we’re at the 87% of Net Migration, and it is currently debatable whether that level of Immigration is a good thing, but it is proportional to our wealth. Secondly, our military expenses are high, not only because of our size, but because we’re at the 84th percentile in rate of expenses as a % of GDP.  This high rate puts us on par with small dictator countries.  Some could argue this is not a good thing, and it explains some other aspects of our performance, like our level of debt.  Finally, our median age is high, at the 74th percentile, and it could be argued this is a bad thing, as we won’t have workers to support our retirees. But aside from those three factors, it’s pretty clear that a higher percentile ranking is good, and a low one is bad.  But are we as good as we should be, given our relative 91.2% wealthiness?

Qualitative Performance vs. Resources Available

Our Healthcare ranking, per the World Health Organization, is 37th out of 190 countries, 81% percentile.  This is 10 points BELOW the level expected given our GDP per capita.  Making this even worse, is that we are Dead Last in Health Cost as a % of GDP, spending not only the most money, but also the highest percentage of GDP on healthcare.  We should be 99th percentile on healthcare quality, given that expense.  Further, we’re only 78th percentile in Longevity, in spite of having a low rate of smokers and spending the most healthcare money.   Something is wrong, and a hint at it is our Obesity ranking at 6th percentile, only 11th from the bottom of 192 countries.

On several other measures, we are understandably average or modestly deficient. Our unemployment is also low, but not as low as it should be given our GDP.  Our GDP growth rate is middle of the road, which is understandable given our size – it’s harder to grow a large economy as rapidly as a small one (Note: China is a well-managed exception, or cheater, if you prefer).  Our inflation rate is also middle of the pack, and our population growth is a little below average.

We begin to fail on all measures of financial strength, expressed as % of GDP.  Our Federal Taxes are low, putting us at the 80th percentile.  This partially explains why our Budget deficit (which is going to rise given the recent Tax Bill) is a poor 42nd percentile, our Public Debt is a very poor 21st percentile, and our External Debt an abysmal 12th percentile.    Our net trade is a negative -4% of GDP, which puts us ahead of mostly small developing countries, at 57th percentile.  One would expect a mature economy to have things to trade profitably.

What is truly disturbing is everything else.  Our crime rate is 70th percentile, atypical of a country with a 91st percentile GDP.  Our prison population is not only the largest, it is also the largest as a % of our population, and is not justified by our crime ranking.  Our educational quality compared to developed countries is a very poor 31st percentile, which is partly due to our education expenses being only 64th percentile – despite our 91st percentile GDP.  Our pollution, measured by Carbon Footprint per capita, puts us at 7th percentile.  Finally, our Inequality is a very bad 26th percentile, which would be an astonishingly bad 6th percentile if ranked only against well-developed OECD countries.  We’re in Turkey/Mexico territory re Inequality.

Clearly, the U.S. as a whole is not benefiting from a 91st percentile economy, and that economy is not being managed in a sustainable manner. Our trade deficit is the largest in the world, our debt is extremely high, and the quality of life we’re delivering is nowhere close to what a 91st percentile economy should be.

Welcome your thoughts.


6 thoughts on “Is this a great country, or what?”

  1. Obesity and health costs are related. Prisoners is sad and some would say Education is similar to prison.

  2. Well said. I have lived in different countries and always am eager to
    enjoy home. But over the years the gap is narrowing and we are falling
    behind the upper level of countries because of our military spending and
    we are not fixing health and education. Our democracy is corrupted by
    money like clogged pipes. Over time less and less water getting into the
    house. Slow collapse. Global warming.

  3. Stats meh…. yes it is a great country…believe me. Do some traveling and soon you will know how spoiled we are.

    1. Sure, and after the parks are raped for whatever the big shots want and
      pollution is totally out of control, schools are privatized into Bible
      schools – yes, we are a great country.

    2. Certainly there is room for discussion, but what this comment tells us is that we have not done a good enough job establishing the concept of normative performance for a country of our resources. We are not saying the U.S. is a BAD country. We ARE saying that it is badly UNDERPERFORMING for its citizens. We’ll revise the text after more comments.

  4. Propaganda vs Reality
    Americans tend to measure based on myth, nostalgia, and sentiment, and the older
    ones tend to fear statistics and facts because they reveal truths they
    wish not to confront nor their place in those truths. We looooove the
    idea things like athletics propagate: we’re #1. Just don’t look behind
    that now-sagging curtain.

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