The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

We’re #?

In Political world on October 12, 2010 at 7:45 am

It’s America’s mantra. “We’re number one! We’re number one!” You hear it at sports events. You hear it in discussions of democracy in the world or military might. You heard it during the debate on health care.

The sad fact is, we’re far from number #1 and dropping lower. We’re only #1 in a few very bad ways.

In an article today in Salon, “Collapsing empire watch,” author Glenn Greenwald says:

Just to underscore the rapidity of the decline, as recently as 1999, the U.S. was ranked by the World Health Organization as 24th in life expectancy.  It’s now 49th.  There are other similarly potent indicators.  In 2009, the National Center for Health Statistics ranked the U.S. in 30th place in global infant mortality rates.  Out of 20 “rich countries” measured by UNICEF, the U.S. ranks 19th in “child well-being.” Out of 33 nations measured by the OECD, the U.S. ranks 27th for student math literacy and 22nd for student science literacy.  In 2009, the World Economic Forum ranked 133 nations in terms of “soundness” of their banks, and the U.S. was ranked in 108th place, just behind Tanzania and just ahead of Venezuela.

Health and well-being, education, financial soundness — all areas in which you’d like your country to rank #1.

In order to get to #1, however, there must be agreement that focusing spending and attention on those areas is necessary. You have to decide that economic fairness and security is important for everyone, not just the top ten percent of income earners in the population. And you have to make a commitment to regulating the financial industry to make sure that it doesn’t prey on its own customers.

If we care so much about ranking, it’s time we look at what the rankings tell us. How we rank ultimately reflects our values. Forget politics, think people. What kind of a society do we want to be? What would we like the history books to say about the direction of the United States in the early 21st Century with us at the helm?

Compare the achievements of the New Deal of the 1930s, the time of the Great Depression, with the achievements of today, the Great Recession. During extreme hardship, people agreed to help deliver each other from poverty in old age with Social Security, to ensure the continuing of local economies through unemployment insurance, and to improve public facilities and infrastructure by putting the hopelessly unemployed to work in the WPA, the CCC, and other programs. How different the country would feel today if we worked together to improve our collective situation in joint effort. Wouldn’t we be proud?

Guess what we are #1 at. Arms delivery and incarcerations. No pride there.

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