August 6, 2012 at 7:22 pm #167238
She was a nice young woman. Intelligent. Athletic. Well traveled. A clear Russian accent behind her words. She spoke numerous languages. I could tell it was a little painful for her to continue our conversation - as if she was afraid she'd offend me.
"America is not number one anymore." she said. The tone in her voice was the same as if she was telling me I had food in my teeth or my fly was down. "Americans don't seem to know this but people see it very clearly from outside the United States."
I ran into this woman with my son last week at a restaurant. I like to talk with working people no matter where I go. I've met some really fascinating people over the years and this woman was no exception. She brought us our meal and the conversation took off.
She and her husband had been around the world. Born in Russia, they lived in several countries around the world - usually picking up some odd jobs to pay the bills and support their nomadic lifestyle. From what I could tell, she was unassuming, curious about the world, and pretty well plugged in to international politics. Her words made me sad.
She explained that she had come to the US because she wanted to visit an English speaking country. In her mind, there were three to chose from: England, Australia and the United States. She had heard such bad things about the US, she decided that she had to see for herself if it were true.
She complimented me (as her token American for the hour) on the greatness of our land. She said we are a large country with a lot of geographical diversity. Her next stop is Utah because she wants to see the mountains there.
She described Americans as living in a fantasy. We generally consume too much and live in ignorance of how we're perceived by the rest of the world. The general impression is that we're "...in everyone's business" overseas and tend to mess things up wherever we go. Yes, she used the word "fat" which immediately struck me as contextually appropriate as I looked around. She herself was fit and trim and just about everyone around us was in the plus sizes. I frowned.
It seems the data supports her claims. Here's a few items of interest I found:
- "In 2010, for the first time ever, the United States fell from the ranks of the economically free in the Index of Economic Freedom, published annually by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. In 2012, the U.S. score dropped again, with the U.S. falling to 10th place." - Source RankingAmerica.wordpress.com
- The US Ranks 11th in happiness according to the Earth Institutes World Happiness Report on the Cantril Ladder
- According to Standard & Poor’s, the U.S. has a credit rating of AA+, which makes the U.S. rank seventeenth in the world in that category. Sixteen economies rank higher, at AAA. They are: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Isle of Man, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom.
- According to the CIA World Fact book, the US ranks 174h in infant mortality in the world - one click above Croatia and one below the Faroe Islands.
- According to the CIA World Fact book, the US ranks 2nd in the world in total health expenditures as a percentage of GDP.
- According to the CIA World Fact book, the US ranks 2nd in the world for external debt.
- According to the CIA World Fact Book, the US is the "world's largest consumer of cocaine (shipped from Colombia through Mexico and the Caribbean), Colombian heroin, and Mexican heroin and marijuana; major consumer of ecstasy and Mexican methamphetamine; minor consumer of high-quality Southeast Asian heroin; illicit producer of cannabis, marijuana, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and methamphetamine; money-laundering center
- The Huffington Post reported in 2010 that the US Education has fallen to "Average" according to the AFP. See also the AP Article on education from NBC News.
What are your thoughts about how the US measures up against other countries today?
Are we falling behind?
August 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm #167356
1) Ranks can be very deceptive, or at least people can read far too much into them. Which would you rather be, the 157th best-paid player in the NBA, or the 19th best-paid bus driver in your city? We often get these rankings, and neglect to notice that the pace between each rank is not equidistant, and is often negligible. And even when rank differences are substantial, they can be closed by some pretty simple actions.
2) People, and nations, DO catch up. Once upon a time all those alternative schooling approaches - Montessori, Waldorf, "free" schools, etc. - were radically different than public schools, but public schools caught up in their attitudes and practices, and there is now little real difference. Once upon a time, alternative birthing approaches were very different from what one would encounter in a hospital. Now there is little difference between what used to be "out there" and what happens in conventional maternity wards (unless you really want it to be WAY out there). Gaps close, and with that, rankings evaporate.
3) After watching the film "Inside Job", I'm not so sure I'd place creedence in Standard & Poor's ratings.
4) People really DO need to get out, see the world, and adopt a more comparative style. Kids who grow up in dysfunctional households, often don't know it, until they stay at someone else's house and realize that - holy doodle! - many families eat meals made from scratch at the dinner table together, clean up after themselves, watch a movie or TV show together, don't swear at each other constantly, and actually say "Thank you". There is always something one does on a regular basis that feels normal until you realize it doesn't have to be that way, and maybe life and everything would be better if you didn't do it anymore. You certainly don't have to feel self-loathing, but stepping outside your sphere of experience once in a while can be illuminating and positive.
5) As time marches on, I become less and less convinced that human history has any more room for "number ones", super-powers or any such resource-wasting nonsense. As China strives to pull ahead, and we obsess about it, in many ways they drag the world back. Terms like "world class", or "best", cease to have much meaning, and colleagiality is a more valuable world asset than power and influence. But that's me. I like to kvetch.
6) Reading - slowly - a book highly recommended to me by a former senior bureaucrat, written by Swedish political scientist/sociologist Bo Rothstein, called "Social Traps and the Problem of Trust". At the outset, he describes how is in Moscow to give a talk, and is approached by a Russian official, who wants to know if it is true what he heard about most Swedes paying their taxes. Rothstein replies, yes, the best estimates are that the Swedish government collects some 98.7% of all taxes owed it by citizens. The Russian official is flabbergasted, noting that the best estimates are that the Russian government is only able to collect about 24% of the taxes it is owed; mostly because everyone assumes that nobody else is paying their taxes and they don't want to be the sucker who does. Moreover, they don't see anything of much use to them personally being done with that tax money, so they are less inspired to fork it over. Of course, with less tax revenue, nations cannot provide the services that instill confidence. Nations CAN work themselves into untenable situations that require a considerable amount of mutual trust to get themselves out of.
August 8, 2012 at 11:28 am #167354
David B. GrinbergParticipant
Great post, David. It should be a no-brainer by now that the United States of America is not only falling behind in critically important areas, but has been for some time. You point out data which clearly make the case, and there's a lot more out there. Among other things, we need to radically revamp our education system, along with health care (see Affordable Care Act), and get private money out of politics (see Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for "Super Pacs"). It's a global embarrassment that we lag behind so many countries in math and science -- which are key to innovation and progress. If you watch the first episode of the new HBO drama, "The Newsroom" (created and written by Arron Sorkin of the critically acclaimed "West Wing"), you will see and hear the lead character -- a cable network news anchor -- deliver a stinging speech about why America is no longer the No. 1 country in the world. With the exception of our military, everyone around the world appears to realize this but us! Go figure.
August 8, 2012 at 12:37 pm #167352
I'm okay with us not being top-ranked in every category...but I do think there's some soul-searching that we need to do as a nation. Our values clearly point to greed, arrogance, independence and expediency, which leads to some of those indicators above. What if our nation was known more for being generous, humble, collaborative and deliberate?
August 9, 2012 at 2:55 am #167350
David B. GrinbergParticipant
"Amen" to that, Andy! Nicely put.
August 9, 2012 at 4:06 am #167348
I think the fact that one of the few things we are still ranked #1 in being the size of our military budget shows our misplaced values as a nation.
August 9, 2012 at 12:37 pm #167346
Good points, David. I wonder what the average government employees can do - if anything to help America kick things up a notch. Just noodling: Would it matter if we tried?
August 9, 2012 at 12:39 pm #167344
Andy - well said. I think there is value in making this personal. What can WE each do to help change the trends? After all, "the nation" is really just a collection of people - with the government employee being a daily representative.
August 9, 2012 at 1:02 pm #167342
Correy - as a nation, we do have a deep emotional connection to Manifest Destiny. It helped us expand from sea to shining sea on this continent. But even then, we ravaged societies weaker than us.
How do we stop that moving train and remake ourselves as something else? What would we want our nation to be? How might we shift gears to become more generous, humble, collaborative and deliberate as Andy suggests?
August 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm #167340
After listening to NBC's Olympics coverage and their fawning over American athletes and medal counts to the exclusion of all else, it's not hard to think that we, as a nation, are self-obsessed.
Add to that our presence, both diplomatic and commercial, in other countries, and you can see why many countries think the way they do about us.
The US has had 50 years or so where we were on top of the world. That's a difficult place to stay (witness Rome, England, Spain, the Ottoman Empire, etc). And our leaders seem to spend an inordinate amount of time telling us how awesome we are instead of telling us what we need to improve.
Are we falling behind? Probably. We'll still do a lot of things well, but until we are seriously threatened economically, militarily or politically, we won't do anything (as a nation) about it.
August 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm #167338
Good article, but here's another number I'd like to add for a few reasons; 39.9 million. According to the American Community Survey, 39.9 million is the number of foreign-born citizens living in the United States. That number is greater than the aggregate immigrant populations of the next four countries on the list. Why is this important?
1) People vote with their feet, and while perceptions of the United States are always fluctuating, by and large, it is still considered by many the place to be.
2) Foreign born workers bring unique skills, diversity and ideas that benefit all of us. There was an article in Forbes and reported also by Fareed Zakaria which noted that approximately 40 percent of fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their kids meaning, we're not only getting a bunch of people to come here, the people we're getting are awfully talented.
3) OECD countries have very low birth-rates meaning that winning the immigrant battle is something of a virtuous cycle. People come here because they see opportunity, they create jobs and strengthen communities, people in other countries see that theirs opportunity, so they move here... This also helps out with the fact that an aging population is a more expensive population. Immigrants will help balance those costs out in the long-run.
Now there are definitely some investments that we need to keep up to make sure that the costs of coming to and living in America still pay off (education, healthcare, work supports for low-income individuals). And obviously we're not going to be top in everything (but it doesn't hurt to expect to). But still, the United States is doing just fine.
August 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm #167336
Kevin, here's a question, since you mentioned the Olympics. How many Americans do you think use non-American media to follow the Olympics?
(Actually, I use NBC, CANADA (CTV) and BBC, and I'd say that there's been criticism levelled at all of them (and probably justly targeted), for rampant cheerleading. Personally, I like it.
You're right about the historical progressions of empires, and didn't someone say: The seeds of destruction always exist within the successful emprie? (I probably mangled that.
August 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm #167334
David, I don't think you "can" remake yourselves. Maybe. Maybe not. First, I think it's too late, and the process of change in values and culture needed for a successful remake is too lengthy to be useful.
If I had to make a guess, The USA will follow the path of the UK in a tumble.
The question that I've posed for the last five years or so is not whether the tumble is happening, but whether it will progress without serious disruption (and violence) internally.
Then again, you never know. Visionary, brilliant leadership can work wonders. It doesn't really seem to be available.
August 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm #167332
Michael, in the original post the comment that struck me so hard was to do with the obliviousness of Americans, and that those outside the USA see the decline much more clearly.
It's really hard for me to understand how, when your US dollar loses 40% of its value relative to the Canadian dollar, that it's OK. Or that, for example, fields where the USA used to stranglehold, or would stranglehold (e.g. technology to use wind power) are controlled by countries like China.
Or that key graduation rates for higher education (e.g. engineering, sciences, tech) are terrible in the USA relative to other emerging powers.
There are a lot more indicators if you look, and the decline has been going on for a fairly long time.
As a Canadian I have little emotional attachment as to whether any particular country is number one for anything, but I think that the concerns are that the path of decline will leave the world a much worse place, and that the standards of living for the American people will drop.
Yet, internal oblviousness is typical of countries that have been powerful for a long time.
August 9, 2012 at 5:36 pm #167330
Leonard C. Legotte Jr.Participant
You are right on target!
Yes, the United States need to start looking at themselves with an additional perspective. That perception is one that is globally inclined. America is falling behind in many categories as your statistics prove, and there are many more not stated above, particularly in education. I am concerned that this country is really unaware of the full effect of the global changes that have occurred in the past 20 years. America seems to be content with itself. This attitude will only make them (us) fall farther below the rest of the world. Yes America is #1 in Olympic Gold medals as of this morning. Unfortunately, that just means we are better in the sports realm than other countries. Sports is good and it is needed.
However, education, jobs, healthcare, and economics, are four major components that Americans should be comparing to see how we fair against the world. They should also be the focus of the current state of the union as well as the future of this country.
August 9, 2012 at 5:54 pm #167328
Thanks for all the great comments!
Yesterday, I posted a discussion titled "What Worries You About the Economy?" I curious - the group of people responding to this discussion seem to be pretty well engaged - are there specific things going on in the US economy that concern you? Is it all hype or is there something specific we should be paying closer attention to? I posted a few ideas of my own, but would love to hear from you.
If you have time, please take a look at the issues I listed there and share your opinion. I'll be reading each one with interest!
August 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm #167326
Leonard - there is something about the Olympics that I think resonates well with us. In those games, we fight by proxy.
The Olympic games were originally conceived as a way to reduce warfare - each country was meant to send their champions into the ring to battle over real issues. The Olympics have evolved over the years into more of a world show, but I wonder if this fight-by-proxy thing is appealing to the American psyche. So rarely do we see problems and point the finger at ourselves. We like to talk about changes that need to be made in education, for example, but when it comes time to spend more time with the kids doing homework, we don't have time.
Just thinking out loud here.
August 9, 2012 at 6:07 pm #167324
Robert - my personal experience is that the beer is better in Canada. 🙂
I did my undergraduate work at SUNY Plattsburgh - 30 minutes from the Canadian border and 60 minutes from Montreal. Those were years where the quality of beer was important. Canada won hands down and spurred many-a-field trip. 🙂
Of course, the cheesecake in Montreal was pretty awesome too!
August 9, 2012 at 7:04 pm #167322
There are so many dimensions to this question it is difficult to know where to begin.
1. Why is it so important to be "number one"? Countless millions in small and formally great countries seem perfectly content living with the knowledge their country is not and probably never will be "number one".
2. What does it really mean to be number one, most powerful? wealthiest? best place to live? best social services? Also, who makes these judegments?
3. Are we falling behind (a bad thing) or is the rest of the world catching up (possibly a good thing)?
4. Are we comparing apples to oranges? Yes, many small countries with a single dominant ethnic group dominating their demographics often outscore us in education and lifespan. How many nations with a population as large and diverse as ours can make the same claim? (Only India and China are larger than the U.S. with Indonesia running a distant 4th place; none have our level of ethnic diversity). Many of these comparisons also include "engineers" graduating from third world schools we would consider to be more VoTech than professional.
5. If we are not number one; who is? China? Been there and they are not even close. Europe? Read the financial pages. Russia? Are you kidding? India? With their levels of poverty?
6. What risks are we willing to assume to be number one? And moving forward, should we seek to figure aout which way the rest of the world is moving and run to the front of the pack or try to lead them in our direction? Europe and California were percieved as leading the world in social welfare policies for 50 years. Now they are recognized as the first lemmings over the cliff. At the risk of sounding less than a globalist, maybe we should be at the back of that stampede, not the front.
7. Who is the most oblivious; the insular American who recognizes that for all our very real problems, we remain the most prosperous and free nation on the planet or the internationalist hoping that somehow our decline will translate into their accension with little or no need to address their even more severe challanges?
Americans absolutely need to engage in some serious self examination in order to ensure we move forward in the future as we have in the past. But it would be a mistake to allow self examination to become self flagilation.
August 9, 2012 at 7:14 pm #167320
Excellent points, Peter! For all of our flaws, the US is still a pretty awesome place to live!
August 9, 2012 at 7:34 pm #167318
Indeed, the beer is excellent, although the American product has made huge inroads -- that light stuff that we used to say tasted like...well a word beginning with "P". Smoked meat good, too, poutine, pizza...particular to Montreal.
August 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm #167316
Perry, I agree with almost all your questions, and they should be asked. But I'm puzzled by # 4:
Yes, many small countries with a single dominant ethnic group dominating their demographics often outscore us in education and lifespan. How many nations with a population as large and diverse as ours can make the same claim? (Only India and China are larger than the U.S. with Indonesia running a distant 4th place; none have our level of ethnic diversity).
Is the US more diverse than India, China, Canada, the UK, Nigeria, and a whole lot of other countries? Or is it that you (well, most of us), aren't very well conversant with many of these countries to really know them?
I can't speak to Indonesia, but all the countries I've mentioned are incredibly diverse AND, unlike the USA, haven't necessarily focused on assimilation. The diversity of ethnic background, religion, and particularly language are huge in these countries. Many countries have several official languages, to correspond to the diversity going back centuries.
It's worth remembering that many other countries have been invaded over and over again, and each invasion results in increased diversity entering the country, something that hasn't been the case in the USA.
Our educational systems in the west aren't terribly good at educating people about other countries, and I wonder if that's part of the inward looking U.S. culture, that really doesn't teach its citizens much about other countries, neither does it seem to value understanding other cultures on an international level.
August 9, 2012 at 8:31 pm #167314
Robert -- I am not an expert on all of these countries but not completely ignorent either. China certainly has many ethnic groups, languages etc but government policy is largely of the Han, by the Han and for the Han (apologies to Lincoln). Canada and the UK have minority populations (about 17 percent in the case of Canada) but remain largely white european compared to the large black, hispanic and asian populations in the U.S. where white europeans actually make up less than 50 percent of the population. The division of the subcontinent between India and Pakistan clearly did not produce a completely homogeneous population in either country but it did leave an overwhelmingly dominent ethnic group in each. Indonesia is propbably the most truly diverse of all the asian nations; but I do not believe thier percentage of minority populations is comprable to the U.S.
I would agree that many asian and european countries make more of an attempt to educate their students regarding foriegn cultures than we do. But when I meet and talk with their students and government officials, they seem to have a very distorted, unrealistic view of our nation and culture. It is almost like listening to someone describe a painting they are viewing backwards in a fun house mirror after living with the real thing since birth. (which makes me question the accuracy of my own education regarding other cultures) I have also noticed the number of immigrants who are shocked to find life in the U.S. bears little resemblence to what they were taught in school (or equally likely reruns of Dallas).
Also, many of the tests in question tend to directly compare the U.S. to cherry-picked small countries such as Sweden, Finland, Singapore etc.
Finally, it is useful to keep in mind that while the U.S. has never suffered a military invasion, we have enjoyed multiple waves of mass immigration starting in colonial times and continuing (not always legally) to the present day. Despite our mythologies, assimilation has often taken 3-4 generations and the various ethnic groups notuncommonly resist the process by settling in close neighborhoods, discouraging marriage outside the group etc. We tend to be more of a stew with sometime conflicting flavors tha a true melting pot where all are blended into a common identity.
August 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm #167312
I'd say very few, given the lock down of outlets by the IOC and NBC. Most of them aren't tech-savvy enough to know how to access other media, or they don't care quite enough to go to the effort.
I'd love to get to watch the games from a country that doesn't expect to medal in anything, or to medal in sports that we don't expect Americans/Chinese to win.
August 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm #167310
I agree with the points that you made. I am just curious about the comment you said in relation to distorted and unrealistic views of our nation. Who have you talked to and from what countries? What are their distorted views?
August 10, 2012 at 1:45 pm #167308
I wonder how many people would be upset to learn that these media channels are not available to them due to deliberate region blocking. Or by the fact that they would have to pay and additional $4.99 per month for the privilege of watching something that is not filtered through the big media providers.
August 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm #167306
Discounting liesure travel (I tend to avoid policy discussions on vacation); I've had the opportunity to meet with various government counterparts, OECD officials and students in the UK, EU Parliament, France, China and Tiawan. I would say the Chinese had the best book learning about the U.S. government. Their knowledge of Congressional procedures and Executive branch operations was easily post graduate level but they lacked context regarding our culture and society. They often compared us to the early 20th century British Empire as they emphasized the need for "a new vigerous power" to take the baton from the old fading one. As they spoke, I could visualize the reaction to that idea in a steeltown bar. :-). The Tiawanese seem to think we are still stuck in the cold war and willing to base all our decisions on strengthening the economies and militaries of allied nations. I frankly wondered if their DC diplomats had ever gotten outside the beltway to get a flavor of the rest of the nation. The Brits shocked me with their lack of understanding of U.S. government structures. After over 1/2 a century of close working relations since WWII, most of them (including senior officials) did not seem to grasp the differences between a parliamentry/Westminster form of government and our own. They often assumed a level of deference by Congress to presidential decisions that was unrealistic. The EU, OECD and French staff tended to mirror the Brits.
Almost all of the foriegn staff and students I've met with on four official trips (small number but it is what I have to go on) seem to assume, or outright stated, the U.S. was a declining power who needed their partnership to prosper much more than they needed ours and we should make grater efforts to overcome our backward, gun loving, macho culture to embrace their more sophisticated internationalist and worldly views. I particularly remember almost all of the Europeans trying to communicate their superior intelligence while corroding their lungs with unfiltered cigarettes and never once realizing the irony. Many of these trips resembled a discussion of life and culture in the heartland of America with someone whose only knowledge of it came from the New York magazines and TV dramas.
August 10, 2012 at 2:27 pm #167304
If we're not # 1, then who is?
Russia, ruled by a kleptocracy that puts rock bands in jail for criticizing the government? The one-party state in China that runs slave labor camps? India, which can't provide reliable electricity for its citizens? Or maybe Europe, with an aging population and a collapsing currency?
We may be in bad shape now but we're resilient and free. And that makes all the difference in the world.
August 10, 2012 at 2:46 pm #167302
Agree. Known it for years.
August 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm #167300
Peter - what great perspective! I'm both envious and grateful that you're doing what you're doing.
I am sad to say that many Americans I've met appear to be educated by New York magazines and TV dramas too.
During the first Gulf war, I was pretty close to military logistics. A young man from the mid-west got in a sporting debate with me about what was going on at the time - much of it, I was unable to talk about. His assertions were so far removed from reality, I was literally astounded. I asked him where he was getting his information. He replied: "The same place you do. The internet."
Earlier in this discussion thread, we saw Robert Bacal and Kevin Lanahan talk about the idea of getting outside the US and looking in, but being deliberately blocked by internet Region Blocking. I've found similar phenomenon in with mass media. Ordinary radio is naturally "blocked" by limitations of radio waves and human agreements. Pockets across the country have their own spin on events - to include what gets reported, what doesn't get reported and how it gets reported. This seems most real to me during the elections. I watch the race unfold and wonder - how in the WORLD could rational people vote in this direction or that direction. I'm convinced that what media channels people are exposed to has a lot to do with it.
August 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm #167298
I think most people, wherever they live, think their country is #1. I do think that a lot of people in the US have the attitude that it is the "only" country worth living in. However, here are lots of countries with a comparable standard of living and freedoms that people have in the US.
I don't think it's appropriate to say that any country is #1. Every place has its pros and cons.
Regarding the "fat" comment: if this woman believes Russia has anything to brag about regarding their own obesity rate, she's obviously never been to Phuket, Thailand. The beaches there are covered with oversized Russians. In Speedos.
August 10, 2012 at 7:03 pm #167296
We may also want to remember that given the current social and economic challenges facing the entire planet along with the appaling lack of good leadership in almost every nation, how one country measures up against another may be just as meaningful as which deck on the Titanic was furthest from the waterline.
August 10, 2012 at 7:08 pm #167294
Good point, Peter.
August 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm #167292
LOL! Very funny, Elizabeth!
August 10, 2012 at 7:35 pm #167290
I agree. It's not a competition among the nations.
August 10, 2012 at 7:36 pm #167288
You are right Elizabeth. We aren't responsible for other people's body mass index...only our own.
August 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm #167286
A good read on this topic: That Used To Be Us by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. They talk about the problems of globalization, technology, deficits, and energy consumption but, more importantly, offer solutions that don't seem to be too far off to make America #1 again...
August 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm #167284
Why does any nation desire to be, or why should they desire to be, "number one"? I fully understand why they should desire to achieve, and especially provide, "more". And I fully understand why citizens should be concerned when they see, and can measure, declines in aspects of daily living, and global citizenship, that they consider to be important, and contrary to what they strive for. I fully understand why being at the bottom of Transparency International's scale ( http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2011/results/ ) is not exactly a source of pride. But what specifically is gained by a high ranking? If your nation is ranked in the top 3 of something...anything...but you aren't feeling it, as a citizen, what have you gained? Conversely, if your country's ranking has "slipped" from #1 or #2 to #8 or even #17, but you aren't feeling it, what has been lost?
August 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm #167282
I'd llike to go back to where David asked what the average government worker could do to change things.
I work at the local elementary school on my flex day doing science, art, and history projects to enhance the educational experience of students. We had hands on activities when I was growing up. We were allowed to make wood projects with saws, drills, etc. We had science labs. We made pilgrim suits and other history costumes of paper. I remember that those projects really brought the math, science and history to life and made it real. My children were stuck in classrooms with only books, memorizing things, and administration was not open to my participating in the classroom.
The projects I have been able to do at school? We made butter in a churn I drummed up. We stored root vegetables as the pioneers would have and cooked them at the end of the year. We made weather stations. We sampled wild greens and talked about how agriculture developed. We used wild plants for dyes. We made paper. I buy all the materials and research all projects. I paid hotel bill for an astrophotographer to do a presentation for the school. In case any of you want to do this, his name is Ken Crawford, and the kids were awstruck by the presentation.
I challenge all of you to make a difference in where America is going.
August 14, 2012 at 3:46 pm #167280
I agree. We can only change ourselves. I try to contribute within my job by participating in single stream recycling, etc.
August 14, 2012 at 6:23 pm #167278
Thank you for making this very local and very relevant, Janina. I wish I had you as a teacher when I was in school.
I love the fact that you're not only making the "difference" you make very personal, but that you're willing to share your project with others. Thank you for spending your own money on those kids! I bet the experience they've had in your class will be something they remember for life.
August 14, 2012 at 6:24 pm #167276
Every little bit helps, Karen. 🙂
August 14, 2012 at 6:34 pm #167274
Good points, Mark. I think the point is that people like to have pride in their country. They also like to know that they are leaving the country in good shape for their children and grand children.
When we see trends on important issues moving in the downward direction, many folks may have reason to feel motivated to do something about it.
Check out what Janina R. Harrison did with kids in her comment below. This is an excellent example of an ordinary citizen going above and beyond to make a difference. As she suggested, we can all make a difference in where America is going - especially if we're willing to go a little above and beyond the ordinary.
August 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm #167272
Correct. So we should stop worrying about rank, and spend more time making a difference. After all, that's what matters, and that's what you leave behind.
August 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm #167270
If you could pick one way to make a difference, what would it be?
August 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm #167268
Elizabeth stated, "I think most people, wherever they live, think their country is #1". I've had the opportunity to travel to like 15 different countries in the last few years, most of them developing, and at least from my experience, this statement is absolutely not the case. People in many countries - most I've visited, have serious concerns about various issues in their countries, and regularly compared their country unfavorably to many others. In fact, I have never run across anyone expressing that they have the best country in the world. Yes, many are proud of their people and where they live, but this is very different, I think. I wouldn't be surprised if folks in the US are among the very few in the world to regularly state this view (I have not been to Norway, Sweden or Finland, which usually rank fairly high in the quality of life stats).
And really, its a strange position to take. Why do we revel in being the best country on earth? I will say there are some terrific aspects about our culture that I am extremely proud of, having seen differences elsewhere. For most Americans, nobody has ever asked us who our father was on a job interview, for instance (in part this the ethnic mixing bowl phenomena - because we have last names from everywhere, we really have no idea where people came from). This is not the case everywhere, even in many free countries in Europe. For instance, if you are of Roma decent living in Europe, good luck on getting hired - they recognize your last name and will ask to make sure. Anyone who hangs out with the silicon valley tech crowd for any length of time gets truly blown away by the absolutely free spirited culture of innovation that pervades there.
I do agree the trend is toward the US becoming more integrated into a community of nations. As this happens, the "We are the best country on earth" sentiment should recede. The bigger issue though is whether our political process can ever recover enough to actually address these crippling problems that are bringing all these scores downward. Most of us believe the problems are solvable. But perhaps the institutional structure of our system really has destroyed our representative democracy (Gerrymandering - I'm looking at you!). Without true representative democracy, its impossible to tackle big problems.
Just as problematic is our kicking out of talented foreigners who come here to study. Welcoming and integrating people from all over the world is how we got #1 in the first place (a large percentage of small businesses in the US are started by foreign born naturalized US citizens, for instance). I really don't understand why everyone who comes to study here abroad and gets a degree (especially in math and science) isn't immediately offered a green card.
August 14, 2012 at 7:40 pm #167266
It's an interesting statement you make, Noel, regarding how the "We're number one" rhetoric should recede as America becomes more of a community of nations. I've felt this way when watching the olympics as Kevin Lanahan and Robert Bacal talk about earlier in this discussion.
I wonder how many Americans are actually embarrassed by the "We're number one!" chants on the global stage.
August 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm #167264
I want to be number one for the right reasons. Because we are helping other nations and not because they have resources we want. Because we run our country in a manner that warrants admiration.
I am embarrassed that we found justification to torture people, that we continue to contract with companies whose employees commit atrocities and seemingly go unpunished, that our social fabric seems to be heading back to the dark ages in attitudes.
The globe is a lot smaller now. I agree with a community of nations. Pollution we create affects everyone, what they create affects us. We have to start viewing the planet as a community and not as separate countries. We have to insist that companies act with social responsibility in what they let loose on our community.
August 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm #167262
Wow, Janina. You've clearly been watching the news.
What can we do at our level to create the country you describe?
August 17, 2012 at 3:52 pm #167260
Buy organic. Help stop agri business from using so many pesticides, herbicides and fetilizers that end up in our water and air, not to mention genetic modification and their patenting seeds which will endanger the diversity of crops. Then they are suing small farmers because once their crops cross polinate with the neigbors, according to patent it belongs to them. This is happening in other countries too by the same businesses.
Buy stock portfolios that invest in companies that engage in socially responsible and sustainable business practices. The returns may not be as high in cash but it is an investment in our future. Your broker can provide options, mine did. Invest in other countries, technology to find new solutions. medical research. Things that will serve the overall community in the long run.
Recycle and donate. Proper recycling keeps mercury and other contaminants our of our air and water and save resources. Every person who doesn't, because they think I am only one person, but if you think about how much you consume and the waste it creates ,and multiply that by millions, it is pretty dismal. Also recycling isn't such a pretty thing, bins for all the different 'stuff' can be cluttered. I know people who have huge bins provided by their cities and they still put most everything in the trash because it is too much trouble to have two garbage cans in the kitchen, one for recycling. So each week they put an almost empty recycling bin out for pick up. They throw away items that might be useful to others when they could throw them into the car and take them to any number of benefiting orgs. Used phones, bluetooth devices, electronics that still work can go to our troops.
Random acts of kindness. Charity. Community participation. Step out of your comfort zone and really take a look at the humanity around you. Start a coat drive for children, a food drive for a local food bank. FInd out where the needs are in your immediate community and then expand to help a cause in another country. Young children are being sold on the streets of America and other countries.
Most of us can still have a really good good life and do all these things. Just means a little less 'me' time and a little more 'US'.
Speaking of which, the Combined Federal Campaign will be firing up soon. A good opportunity.
August 18, 2012 at 9:51 am #167258
A tension we always face and have since our founding is the fundamental disagreement over what our government's role should be and what our national character should look like. For the past 30 years or so, the dominant vision was heavy on American Exceptionalism as displayed through power and wealth at the expense of the commonweal. What we're seeing now is widespread failure of policies based on those priorities. While comparison with other nations is useful in quantifying that failure, we could already see it in our culture - the disrespectful discourse surrounding some of our most pressing social issues like education and poverty is in itself a failure and could lead to nothing else but decline. I think the public mood is receptive now to a more humane and collaborative vision, and this creates a real window of opportunity for redefining the relationship between government and its citizenry. I just hope that come November we end up with an administration more likely to provide the support to do that.
August 18, 2012 at 12:07 pm #167256
Jackie - I really enjoyed reading your comment, and I agree all the way up to the last sentence. The more administrations I watch pass into history, the less relevant I think they are to the overall equation. I suppose I question any one administration's ability to make the changes necessary to deliver us into the new state you speak of.
I'd love to believe that some new administration (not interested in the context of this discussion whether democrat, republican, or long lost relatives of Atlantis) could simply declare a course change and it would happen. I'm afraid there are forces at work that swallow each and every attempt, and make them seem as if they never happened.
Because of this, I tend to concentrate my efforts locally - to become the change I want to see in my own tiny slice of the world. Whether I'm working for change as a government employee or running my own company, I seek individuals who share this vision and collaborate with them. I approach business and my work with a more humane and collaborative focus and hope that millions of other Americans are doing the same thing.
August 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm #167254
Lot's of great ideas that we as individuals can do to improve our slice of the world. Thanks for sharing, Janina!
August 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm #167252
I may have given the impression that I believe one administration can change things overnight, but that's not where I was coming from at all. What I was saying is that ultimately the environment in which public administrators function is set through political priorities and rhetoric, and that this has consequences over time. The failures and decline in confidence that we're seeing now didn't happen overnight, but are the result of slow erosion over several administrations - some rhetoric I find most unhelpful, such as that government should be run on a business model, has been pervasive for at least a century. I agree that there's a great deal that can be done and reformed at the local level regardless of who is in charge - that's the beauty of federalism and administrative discretion, and it's that kind of change I envision being a part of as I pursue my own studies in public management. Arresting or reversing overall, national decline and lack of confidence will be an incremental process as well but to do it necessarily has to include political leadership making a case for good government at the highest levels.
August 20, 2012 at 1:54 am #167250
Jackie, what would the case for good government sound like?
I have some links I'll look up for you tomorrow, but I've heard some pretty funny "cases" to include intollerance, higher taxes, and similar political suicide platforms. What does real good government look like?
August 20, 2012 at 3:51 pm #167248
Good morning all, Saw this link and thought you might be interested: http://whypolitics.com/2011/02/12/what-would-a-good-government-look-like/
September 11, 2012 at 4:24 pm #167246
Maybe this isn't too far fetched of a wish at all. According to the Huffington Post, the US is already ranked as the most charitable nation in the world: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/19/world-giving-index-us-ran_n_1159562.html
September 11, 2012 at 5:11 pm #167244
Well there you go; finally, an indicator that matters. Thanks.
September 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm #167242
Wonder if other than military might we have ever been ranked number 1?
April 21, 2014 at 3:22 am #167240
Simply the latest on the U.S. decline.
On this Easter weekend, I just got home from spending several days in a rural part of America. I found lots of good people who are actively working to keep their community in good health. The point of my writing this is to emphasize the word "actively." They don't do their 40 and go home to sit on the couch. They go out of their way to add value back into the community after the work day is done.
"The first 8 hours of the day is to put food on the table. What we do after that is an investment in our future." - Vince Lombardi
July 30, 2015 at 11:36 am #246379
In one month, it'll be three years since I published this article. Let's see how we're doing:
- According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. HAS DROPPED IN RANK FROM 17 to 169 IN INFANT MORTALITY in the world. One click below Poland and one click above Serbia.
- According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. IS NOW NUMBER ONE IN TOTAL HEALTH EXPENDITURES,up from number two three years ago and spending 17.9% of GDP on healthcare.
- According to the CIA World Fact book, THE US STILL RANKS 2ND IN THE WORLD FOR EXTERNAL DEBT.
- According to the CIA World Fact Book, THE US IS STILL THE “WORLD’S LARGEST CONSUMER OF COCAINE (shipped from Colombia through Mexico and the Caribbean), Colombian heroin, and Mexican heroin and marijuana; major consumer of ecstasy and Mexican methamphetamine; minor consumer of high-quality Southeast Asian heroin; illicit producer of cannabis, marijuana, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and methamphetamine; money-laundering center
Of course, there are lot's of opinion articles out there on a host of other subjects. I just like to circle back around with what our own CIA is reporting as facts from time to time. They seem credible.
- #63 in EDUCATION EXPENDITURES
- #18 in OBESITY
- #9 in MILITARY SPENDING
- #1 in three forms of transportation (Roadways, Railways, Airports), but #5 in WATERWAYS, and #26 in MERCHANT MARINE
I make my living now by understanding the way capital flows, how it is structured, formed, created, etc. I'll jump off the facts page for a moment to reveal my biggest concerns are in the areas of
- The economy
We've developed a "kick-the-can" and "hot potato" leadership standard (Republicans and Democrats are equal contributors). Privacy is clicked away every second of every day though Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policies that few people really read, are empowered to do anything about, or even know why it matters. And the economy of this country is going to seriously hurt a lot of people.
When the bubble of innocence eventually pops, this country will need some new heroes to keep us from getting crushed by falling debris. A part of me looks forward to what our country will produce in its next "time of need," if I live that long, but part of me is sick with the knowledge that corrections on many fronts are both necessary and inevitable.
August 14, 2015 at 4:59 am #246999
August 14, 2015
Topic: “America is Not Number One Anymore…”
Discussion: In the Olympics, sports, America, recently became# #01, but in the past, America has been as low as #10 nation. America is a large nation, and so, but it's the spirit of competitive sports to strive for excellence, and building friendships in the world, with other people, and staying in the game for the long term.
Question : Doesn't the same "spirit" apply for the international competition in the pursuit of economic well being and quality of life when compared to such "high" value nations such as Finland, Denmark, Germany, Japan and China, who are rapidly gaining on America in these other measures such as quality of life, economic well being, and education ? (As an example, See what we are doing in the State of Virginia to think long term, while work on the short term. See the highlights of "Virginia Report 2014" , created by an appointed thoughtful citizens group , Council on Virginia's Future )
August 19, 2015 at 7:06 am #247248
Topic: A Reply to David Dejewski July 30, 2015 at 11:36 am (DD July30-2015)
Sub Topic 01 (DD July 30-2015 Hypothesis 01)
•According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. HAS DROPPED IN RANK FROM 17 to 169 IN INFANT MORTALITY
Conversation: This is a "hypothesis", I am not convinced that "CIA Fact Book" is God's Gift to earth on scientific accuaracy of facts, and that this presentation has medical signifance. How many more "infants" are dying in USA in 2015 vs, 2005 or another year ? Which top 20% of the States (10 States) have the highest Infant Mortality in USA ? Based on what I know, in Virginia, one of the best states, in Infant Mortality, as a measure of "Live EHealthy", intant mortality is even lower than it was 10 years ago !
Will discuss Subtopic 2 U.S. Health Expenditure next time if anyone else is interested in "knowledge" and "wisdom" as many very thoughtful and learned citizens in USA have been working on this topic over the last 10 years and longer.
Question: Is a "wisdom" based conversation possible on this Sub Topic 01 (David D. July 30-2015 Hypothesis 01)
January 24, 2018 at 8:59 am #280129
Hello, fellow thought leaders... how do we feel about the US now? Are we on track towards becoming a nation that the young waitress in the original story would be proud of, or has the nation declined?
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